My 2013 Theatre Review

So another year filled with theatre has come to an end and it’s time to reflect on all the wonderful productions and moments I’ve enjoyed this year. After a personal record of 90 productions in 2012, last year returned to around my usual annual average, with a total of 53 separate live theatre productions, of which I returned to see six on more than one occasion giving a total of 72 theatre trips in 2013 (plus an additional five were seen via archive recording, NT Live Encore, RSC Live or Digital Theatre). It has been quite difficult to compile my ten favourite productions but after much thought and in no particular order (as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

 Top 10 Favourites:

  • Seawall (NT Shed) – at only 30 minutes, this beautiful monologue written by Simon Stephens a few years ago was revived at the National Theatre’s temporary theatre The Shed. Andrew Scott’s performance was utterly incredible and moved me to tears, making this one of the finest productions I have ever seen on stage. Such a pity a woman’s phone rang with just one line left to go, although Andrew is to be commended for keeping his focus and delivering the line with such power despite this interruption. Seawall is available to download for £3.50 and I recommend you do so as soon as you can (go to http://www.seawallandrewscott.com ).

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Photo for Paines Plough/National Theatre

  • Richard II (RSC – RST & Barbican) – Greg Doran’s time in charge at the RSC was off to a superb start with this brilliant production. Incredibly clear, wonderfully staged and finely acted by a strong ensemble, I loved this production and David’s interpretation of Richard’s unlikeable character, before generating true sympathy from me. Special mention to the superb Oliver Ford Davies as York and Oliver Rix, whose Aumerle is one of the stand out performances for me and whose scene at Flint Castle with David Tennant was played in a deeply moving way. If you can acquire a ticket before it finishes at the Barbican on 25th January I urge you to do so.

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Photo by Kwame Lestrade

  •  Bull (Sheffield Crucible Studio) – My first trip to the Studio at the Crucible is another highlight for me. At a mere 50 minutes Bull is a powerful play, highlighting the bullying power struggles that take place in the workplace. Adam James and Eleanor Matsuura brilliantly play two colleagues determined to be on top, whilst Sam Troughton’s portrayal of the team member caught in their sights was excellent. The tension builds throughout in the bull ring setting, until the explosive ending, which became almost too uncomfortable to watch. I hope this Mike Bartlett  play (which also transferred to New York in 2013) gains a new lease of life soon.

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Photo for Sheffield Theatres

  •  Untold Stories (Duchess) A gem of a production, which I missed at the National Theatre, where it was staged as two separate pieces prior to performances of Alan Bennett’s People. I had no idea what to expect and was surprised by how wonderful and indeed moving the two pieces were. I especially enjoyed Cocktail Sticks, in which Alex Jennings (a superb Bennett) describes his childhood life, in both humorous and tender anecdotes.

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  •  Macbeth (Manchester International Festival) – I found this production of Macbeth truly impressive. The setting of Shakespeare’s Scottish play in a deconsecrated church in central Manchester was an inspired decision, as the setting certainly added significantly to the evocative atmosphere of the play. Kenneth Branagh was very good as Macbeth, although it was Ray Fearon’s Macduff that really captured my attention, through his strong performance. I have never fully engaged with Macbeth until I saw this production and I think it will be a hard act to follow. No doubt it will be very popular when it transfers to New York.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  Edward II (NT, Olivier) – This production of Christopher Marlowe’s play didn’t appeal to everyone, but it certainly appealed to me (I saw it  twice). I found the staging to be exciting and something daring to be different, mixing live action, with scenes only visible through footage from hand held cameras, not to mention a brilliant scene incorporating  characters arriving at the theatre and proceeding to follow them on their route to the stage. As someone who thinks John Heffernen is a superb actor, it was wonderful to see him in the title role and I thought his portrayal of this unfortunate King who is ultimately deposed and his chemistry with Kyle Soller’s Gaveston was wonderful. I hope to see more productions taking such a daring approach in the future.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  A Doll’s House (Duke of York’s) – It took me far longer than I intended, but I finally saw the Yong Vic’s production when it transferred to the West End. I had heard nothing but praise for the production and so I had high hopes. I was not disappointed. The staging was wonderfully effective, with the revolving set letting the audience in to the lives of the family and Hattie Morahan’s portrayal of Nora was simply stunning. Every line spoken and every movement of her body captured the essence of the character beautifully and I think it will be a long time before I see anyone perform this role better. The production is available to buy from Digital Theatre if you missed it – http://www.digitaltheatre.com

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Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

  •  The Scottsboro Boys (Young Vic) – Of the musicals I have seen this year (which also included The Light Princess and the much-hyped Book of Mormon) the one that stood out for me was The Scottsboro Boys. I was not familiar with the tragic story it tells of the nine men wrongly accused of assault in Southern America. The structure of the musical, conveying such disturbing events in the form  of a minstrel show was very effective is highlighting the cruel treatment of the men. It was also performed by a magnificent cast whose singing and dancing were impressive to witness. I couldn’t fail to be moved by the end of this story and it was certainly a production that stayed with me for longer than any other musical I saw last year.

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Photo: Tristram Kenton

  •  Othello (NT, Olivier) – After a couple of cancelled trips, I finally saw the National’s acclaimed production starring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester in the last few weeks of its run and it was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. The military setting was realised perfectly for me and the interplay between Lester’s Othello and Kinnear’s Iago was electric. I was particularly excited by Kinnear’s performance as this was a very different role to any other I have seen him do on stage. I also enjoyed Olivia Vinnall’s Desdemona and I look forward to seeing her again later this month in King Lear with Simon Russell Beale.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  American Psycho (Almeida) – Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps but I thoroughly enjoyed this production and it has only grown stronger since it began (I saw it again this weekend). Yes the vocal ability of some of the cast may not be perfect, but then this is not your typical big West  End-style musical. I found it to be inventive, creative and I was excited to see something daring to be a little different. I had been sceptical of Matt Smith’s casting in the main role, but he is fantastic. He plays detached and emotionless superbly, giving his Patrick Bateman an underlying creepiness, but is also able to convincingly convey the emotional moments as well. It is also exciting to see he is growing in confidence in the role and when he is on stage I just couldn’t take my eyes from him. It is worth trying to get a ticket before it finishes on 1st February is you can.

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Photo by Manuel Harlan

Narrowly missing out on the top 10:

As it was so difficult to choose ten, these are the productions that could easily have been included.

  •  The Full Monty (Sheffield Lyceum)
  • Old Times (Harold Pinter)
  • Proof (Menier Chocolate Factory)
  • The Audience (Gielgud)
  • Peter & Alice (Noel Coward)
  • The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios)
  • The American Plan (St James Theatre)
  • The Pride (Trafalgar Studios)

Wonderful repeats from previous years:

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year and the highlights this year were:

  • After The Dance (NT Archive) – after over three years since I saw it live at the National Theatre, it was wonderful to see this beautiful production again. I love everything about it (see my earlier blog post about it!) and it remains my favourite production to date.
  •  Private Lives (Duchess from Chichester) – This was second on my list of 2012 when I visited Chichester and its transfer to London was just as wonderful. Superb casting and staging made this a joy to see again.
  • Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Apollo Theatre) – My favourite production from 2012 is just as wonderful in its West End home. A wonderful adaptation by Simon Stephens, astonishing staging and beautifully performed. I cannot recommend this enough if you have yet to see it.
  • Frankenstein (Cumber Creature, NT Live Encore) – A Halloween trip to the cinema to relive the      National’s 2011 Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller was very enjoyable, particularly with Cumberbatch playing the  Creature (my preference for the alternate roles). The only time I saw this version on stage was the very first preview and it was lovely to see how the production had grown over the run prior to this recording. I had also  forgotten just how incredible the first 20 minutes was when Cumberbatch’s Creature is learning how to take its first steps in life.
  • The Pitman Painters (Sheffield Lyceum) – After missing this at the National, I adored it at the Duchess Theatre in 2012 and it was lovely to see it on tour again in 2013. So funny and also heartfelt.
  • The Effect (NT, Cottesloe) – Had I not already seen it in 2012 this production would have been a contender for my top 10 this year. Billie Piper and Jonjo O’Neill’s performance, particularly at the end were wonderful.

 Disappointments of the Year:

Thankfully there haven’t been many of these this year and in fact the only ones that deserve a mention here are Viva Forever (so bad it was funny) and Afraid of the Dark (in short no I wasn’t and I can’t imagine anyone else ever would be).

Memorable Moments in Theatre:

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2013, which included:

–  My first experience of the incredible staging by Punchdrunk – entering the woodland level at The Drowned Man was quite incredible;

–  The lovely fold up style sets created for the National’s The Magistrate;

–  Experiencing the fantastic The Full Monty production for the first time in its rightful home of Sheffield;

–   Finally seeing The Mousetrap (performance 25,134 no less!);

–   The wonderful interplay between Judi Dench & Ben Whishaw in Peter & Alice (the end of which I found particularly moving);

–  Seeing Andrew Scott’s wide range of acting ability in the Pinter Shorts and his stunning monologue in Seawall;

–  A fascinating and hilarious reading of Death in Whitbridge at the Finborough;

–  The atmospheric setting of Macbeth in the Manchester church, the heat and smell of which I will never forget;

–  An incredible costume change in the Book of Mormon, carried out in a blink of an eye!

–  John Heffernen’s skill to consume half a fruit cake in The Hothouse!

–  The impressive vocal and movement skills of Rosalie Craig in The Light Princess;

–   An original take on the 12 Days of Christmas during Protest Song; and

–   A fascinating reading of Thomas of Woodstock by the Richard II ensemble.

All in all it’s been a fantastic year, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2014 will bring (and I’ll post my top 10 for 2014 shortly)!

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