Happy New Year! Although this is my first blog of 2013 before I say a final goodbye to 2012 I thought I would share with you (in no particular order) my top ten favourite productions of the past year…
Firstly, of the various West End revivals, I felt that Long Day’s Journey into Night stood head and shoulders above the rest in Anthony Page’s superb production of Eugene O’Neill’s masterful play with first-class performances by David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf.
Meanwhile over at the RSC, I greatly enjoyed Maria Aberg’s (the director to watch in 2013) thrilling radicalisation of Shakespeare’s King John. That production might be best described as a marmite show which you either loved or hated. The same was also true of the Open Air Theatre revival of Ragtime which was the best-sung musical I saw last year. I liked Timothy Sheader’s bold updated revival which highlighted the power of this show’s score and book reaffirming it as one of the great musicals of the 20th century. I enjoyed a more traditional revival at Singin’ in the Rain – the best production of this musical that I have ever seen and whose company made it their own and were not just simply impersonating the movie. It was lame pickings for original new musicals in 2012, but my highlight was Soho Cinders by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
I also greatly enjoyed two very different but beautifully crafted solo shows. Comedian Mark Thomas’ Bravo Figaro, a moving story about his tough East End father and his love of opera, and Barry McGovern’s exquisite performance in Samuel Beckett’s Watt.
Of the new plays, my highlights were Lisa D’Amour’s entertaining play Detroit painting a dark portrait of suburban America, whilst closer to home David Eldridge’s In Basildon and Mike Bartlett’s Love Love Love. All had stellar acting performances especially from Stuart McQuarrie, Linda Bassett, and Victoria Hamilton respectively.
There were also some particular stand-out performances for me in productions which did not make my top ten but are worth honourable mentions: Jonjo O’Neill in both Richard III and The Effect; Eileen Atkins in All That Fall; Simon Russell Beale in Privates on Parade; Charles Edwards in The King’s Speech; Danny Webb and Pippa Bennett-Warner in The Witness; Patterson Joseph in Julius Caesar, Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler; Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd and Heather Headley in The Bodyguard.
Finally, my disappointments of 2012. Leaving aside Viva Forever! which more or less delivered what I had expected, there were three others. I was surprised to note that they are all from the National Theatre: Travelling Light, Scenes from an Execution and Damned by Despair should – on paper – all have been remarkable productions with leading actors Antony Sher, Fiona Shaw, and Bertie Carvel starring in them respectively. They were also written or adapted by three of our finest writers: Nicholas Wright, Howard Barker and Frank McGuinness. It serves to demonstrate that, in theatre, nothing is predictable; if it was, then it certainly wouldn’t be half as interesting.