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My theatre hits and misses of 2013

This week I thought I would take a final look back at 2013 and share with you (in no particular order) my top ten theatregoing highlights of the last year

In January, my first show of 2013 and of my top ten, Complicite’s The Master and the Margarita (Barbican) set the bar incredibly high. It again demonstrated the remarkable vision of director Simon McBurney with also a magnificent performance from Paul Rhys.

Meanwhile over at the RSC, it was the talent of director Maria Aberg on show in her terrific main-stage debut with As You Like It (Royal Shakespeare Theatre/Newcastle). Last year, her thrilling Swan production of King John was one of my 2012 shows of the year and I said then, as I do again here, she is the director to watch and currently one of the RSC’s greatest assets. But the key to the success of last year’s strong RSC season was due to its ensemble; one of the finest I have seen in recent years.

There was also excellent ensemble work to be seen in Josie Rourke’s pitch-perfect revival of The Weir (Donmar), demonstrating again with this timeless play why Conor McPherson is one of the greatest writers of his generation.

If McPherson was a nineties playwright discovery then all eyes should be on new American playwright Ayad Aktar whose Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced received its UK premiere (Bush) and was my play of the year.

From a new American writer to a legendary one: the late August Wilson, whose seminal play Fences (Duchess/tour) received a first-class revival. But it was Lenny Henry, alongside an exemplary ensemble, including newcomer Ashley Zangazha, who were the revelations giving powerful and moving performances.

I had a similar revelatory experience watching Rupert Everett step up to the league of great acting performances with his moving and memorable portrayal of Oscar Wilde in the superb revival of David Hare’s play The Judas Kiss (Duke of Yorks).

At the Edinburgh Fringe, Feral (Summerhall) was a deeply moving portrait of a declining British seaside resort from young company to watch, Tortoise in a Nutshell.

Richard Eyre’s adaption (which he also directed) of Ibsen’s Ghosts (Almeida) was both fresh and exhilarating.

The same was also true of Alistair Beaton’s brilliant adaptation of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Duchess). Henry Goodman’s remarkable UI was my drama performance of the year, and to date it has disappointed me how he has been overlooked in the various London theatre awards and nominations.

My performance of the year in a musical was also my discovery of the year. Cynthia Erivo’s thrilling performance in The Color Purple literally saw a star born in front of us. But, this was a year that will actually provide a credible race for best musical come Olivier time. However, it was the revival of A Chorus Line (Palladium) that for me stood out most and I include here in my top ten. It boasted some of the finest singing and dancing of the year and arguably the best American accents I have ever heard from a British cast performing an American musical.

What were my misses of 2013?

For me there were two standouts. With the talent of Sheila Hancock, Lee Evans, Karl Johnson and Keeley Hawes on display, I had expected great things from Clive Exton’s new play Barking in Essex (Wyndhams). Similarly with Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and director Mark Rylance, Much Ado About Nothing (Old Vic) should, on paper at least, have been a recipe for success.

Both productions, however, proved to be huge disappointments and served to demonstrate that there are never any guarantees in theatre. Thankfully 2013 has offered very few of these experiences for me and this week my new year of theatregoing begins – see you in the stalls.