Theatre: Best Of 2006

So, it’s that time of year again (insert reference to christmas shopping, mince pies, expanding waistlines here) and with it comes the inevitable end of year poll, the list of the very best shows to grace the stage in 2006.

Now we like a good list as much as the next person, so we’re not going to butt against tradition, but we thought we’d make the process as democratic as we could.

It’s in this spirit that we give you our theatre reviewers’ individual lists of the best – and worst – theatre of the year just gone.

  Natasha Tripney, Theatre Editor

1.Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter’s novel as staged by the excellent Kneehigh Theatre company. Beautifully done, with one of the most memorable closing scenes in years.

2.Caroline, Or Change at the National. Tony Kushner’s emotionally intricate musical. Not a bad voice among the cast, a rich and rewarding piece of theatre.

3.Much Ado About Nothing – Marianne Elliot’s highly enjoyable staging sets Shakespeare’s comedy in pre-revolutionary Cuba. One of the highlights so far of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival.

4.Avenue Q – OK, it’s not sophisticated or any where near as subversive as it thinks it is, but I haven’t laughed more in a West End theatre this year.

5.Yerma – Part of the Arcola’s wonderful Viva Lorca season. Kathryn Hunter may have been miscast but this production had a welcome warmth and inventiveness to its staging.

Turkey of 2006: Hilda – Dire production at Hampstead Theatre. Repetitive, dull, implausible and annoying.

  Simon Thomas, Contributing Editor

1.Henry VI, parts 1, 2 and 3 – A gripping 9 hours – inventively theatrical, great acting, the RSC as good as Ive ever seen it.

2.Winters Tale/Pericles – Marvellous acting, incredibly imaginative staging, innovative and truthful. Dominic Cookes brilliant direction bodes well for his tenure at the Royal Court

3.Krapps Last Tape – A major theatrical event with one great playwright (Harold Pinter) paying homage to another.

4.Waiting for Godot – Peter Hall’s funny, accessible and beautifully played revival staged by a veteran cast.

5. Sunday in the Park with George – Sondheims beautiful musical given a stunning production with great performances and amazing designs.

Turkey of 2006: Amadeus at Wilton’s Music Hall – a dreadful dreadful production of a play that hasn’t stood the test of time.

  Lisa Hunt, Staff Writer

1.Wicked – Idina Menzel’s performance elevates this big Broadway spectacle into something special.

2.Rock’N’Roll – I adored Tom Stoppard’s latest so much I saw it three times. Rufus Sewell was amazing.

3.Period Of Adjustment – Rare staging of a Tennessee Williams comedy at the Almeida, featuring two outstanding performances from Lisa Dillon and Benedict Cumberbatch.

4.A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A simply brilliant staging from the RSC, one of my favourite Shakespeare productions in recent years.

5.Nights at the Circus – A near perfect adaptation of the Angela Carter novel – weird, moving and quite wonderful.

Turkey of 2006: Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. Even Frances Barber’s Cleopatra could not rescue this mess.

  Richard Ings, Staff Writer

1.Summer and Smoke – Slim but vibrant resurrection of a little-known Tennessee William’s piece. Rosamund Pike proves there is dramatic life beyond James Bond and steals the show with a bewitching performance.

2.The Lightning Play – Bright, sparkling new play by the talented Charlotte Jones. Manages to capture the mood of middle-class Britain with alacrity and insight, and visually stunning to boot.

3.Gobsmack at the White Bear, Kennington. Because the author Ali Muriel is one of the UK’s brightest new playwrighting talents.

4.Here But There at Manor House Library in Hither Green. What theatre should be about – magnetic and intimate performances that capture your imagination. Chekhov brought vividly to life, and a joy even for those who, like me, dislike The Three Sisters.

5.They Won’t Kill You at Baron’s Court Theatre. Political satire which manages to keep the balance between humour and astute observation on the present climate of social conformity. Nice to see something so contemporary done this well.

Turkey of 2006: Marlon Brando’s Corset Bottom-drawer sitcom script satirising poor quality television soap scripts in pot-and-kettle irony shocker. And Les Dennis.

  Neil Dowden, Staff Writer

1.Waiting for Godot – Dublin’s Gate Theatre production, staged here as part of the Beckett Centenary Festival. Directed by Beckett collaborator Walter D. Asmus, and starring the excellent Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy as the two existential tramps Vladimir and Estragon, this (perhaps) definitive production of the most influential play since the war has been circling the globe for almost 20 years (Godot-like) but still powerfully illuminates the human condition.

2.Rock’N’Roll – Probably the best new play of the year, and certainly the most ambitious, it moves between Prague and Cambridge from 1968 to 1990, covering the end of Eastern-bloc communism and the rise of global capitalism, idealism versus pragmatism, and other big issues. But packed in with the heavyweight intellectualism are plenty of laughs and a surprising amount of feeling. Exemplary production by Trevor Nunn, with a career-best performance from Rufus Sewell – plus a great rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

3.The Life of Galileo – David Hare’s streamlined version, directed in modern dress by Howard Dav ies, brings focus and accessibility to a complex debate between the scientific rationalism of Galileo and the religious dogma of Roman Catholic church in 16th-century Italy. As the heretical astronomer, Simon Russell Beale commands the stage like the sun does the solar system.

4.In Extremis – Definitely the highlight of Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole’s debut season, Brenton’s intellectually challenging but emotionally involving and thoroughly entertaining account of the celebrated love affair between Abelard and Heloise in 12th-century monastic France. John Dove’s lively production features strong performances from Oliver Boot and Sally Bretton as two free spirits tragically ahead of their time.

5.A Moon for the Misbegotten – Kevin Spacey’s rollercoaster ride as Artistic Director ends 2006 on a high with this compelling production of O’Neill’s last-written, semi-autobiographical play about repressed yearning and guilt brought pulsatingly out into the open during a marathon moonlit drinking session between two would-be lovers. Spacey provides virtuoso acting but it is Eve Best who melts the heart under Howard Davies’s assured direction.

Turkey of 2006: Resurrection Blues – Miller’s penultimate play directed by legendary film-maker Robert Altman (who sadly died recently), boasting a stary international cast, sounded a great proposition on paper, but on stage it turned into a disaster. This heavy-handed satirical allegory about the mingling of politics, religion and the media, set in an unnamed Latin American country, featured some of the worst performances of the year. The best drama happened off-stage: after a quarrel between members of the cast resulted in one making a quick getaway, the show closed early – though even that was far too late.

  Clair Whitefield, physical theatre fiend

1.Fuerzabruta – A mind blowing spectacle courtesy of the gravity defying Argentine troupe De La Guarda.

2.Faust – Punchdrunks paradigm shifting production is magical. All theatre should be like this.

3.Twelfth NIght – Cheek by Jowls Russian all male version of this Shakespeare classic reinvigorated my love of theatre. It was a rich, raucous and finely honed production further testimony to Declan Donellans vision and mastery.

Turkey of 2006: Soul-Etude – an execrable display of flailing limbs and poorly executed concepts in a former abattoir in East London.

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