Right. We’re midway through December – it’s time to get list-y.
Time to sift through the year’s theatrical memories and see what left a good impression and what left a bad taste.
For many the theatrical event of the year was Punchdrunk’s immersive production of The Masque Of The Red Death.
The company took over the entirety of the BAC in South London, utilising the whole of the building to create a unique and thrilling sensory ride. It was the antithesis of theatre as a passive experience, you had to throw yourself into it, to explore, to seek out stories and people’s responses to it were as varied as that implies, some rapturous at the sheer spectacle, others frustrated by the lack of narrative coherence and the subjectivity of the experience. If nothing else it enlivened the growing theatrical blogosphere, creating numerous opportunities for sometimes circular debate on theatre and the nature of criticism.
It was also a good year for Shakespeare, if such a thing can be said, with Ian McKellan taking to the stage to play Lear in Trevor Nunn’s Stratford production and Patrick Stewart with Rupert Goold directing delivering what for many people was a first class Macbeth, in Chichester and subsequently at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. And though it drew most of its column inches for the ludicrous sums its coveted tickets were exchanging hands for on the internet, Michael Grandage’s production of Othello at the Donmar Warehouse was a satisfyingly tense and gripping affair with a standout performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role (and Ewan McGregor’s Iago wasn’t half bad either).
The National Theatre of Scotland continued to produce excellent work, with The Bacchae starring Alan Cumming and Tam Dean Burn’s Venus As A Boy standing out. Meanwhile at the other National Theatre, an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse moved audiences to tears in a good way while Kneehigh’s A Matter Of Life And Death drew a more mixed response from the critics and inadvertently triggered the whole Nicholas Hytner “dead white men” hoo-ha in the process. Katie Mitchell remained a director to watch, producing distinctive, divisive work like Attempts On Her Life and Women Of Troy. Marianne Elliott’s accomplished production of Saint Joan was also a highlight.
The Young Vic was probably one of the most consistent venues around, producing intriguing, exciting theatre that included Tarell Alvin McCraney’s electrifying The Brothers Size and Debbie Tucker Green’s Generations. Out in Richmond, The Orange Tree continued to unearth fascinating, forgotten plays, this year turning its attention to work by women dramatists; both Diana of Dobson’s and Daphne du Maurier’s The Years Between were rewarding their own ways.
1. The Masque Of The Red Death
3. Saint Joan
In the West End, the insanely upbeat Hairspray proved a hit with critics and audiences alike. Ditto the wonderful Elling, a transfer from the Bush, which starred John Simm as a neurotic Norwegian trying to make sense of life outside a mental institution. This was one of the warmest, most endearing productions of the year. Elsewhere Broadway import The Drowsy Chaperone had barely opened before it was posting closing notices following some rather harsh press. The same fate befell Desperately Seeking Susan, only rather more deservingly. Oh and some chap called Daniel Radcliffe took his clothes off, but it’s barely worth mentioning as hardly anyone noticed.
This year’s turkeys? The ENO production of Kismet, starring Michael Ball was a thoroughly shambolic affair whereas Pinter’s People was a simply a hugely misguided – and, crucially, unfunny – attempt to stage the short comic plays of Harold Pinter. The War Next Door at the Tricycle, Absolute Beginners at the Lyric and The Merchant Of Venice at the Arcola were also singled out for opprobrium when I canvassed our team of reviewers to write this piece.