If you were here in January, you know the drill. If not, it is as follows: musical performers and play performers are not differentiated between. Leading performers and supporting performers are not differentiated between. This is simply a top 5 of actors and a top 5 of actresses. And maybe a stray or two at the bottom, we'll see how it goes.
Top 5 Actors
5. Dominic West, Butley (Duchess)
It has been a long time since this play was seen in London, and when you consider what a job the titular lead has, you can understand why. Not only does he spend pretty much the entirety of the play onstage, he also needs to charm audiences in spite of playing an utterly reprehensible human being. I hope you will understand no disrespect is meant to Dominic West when I say he is perfectly cast in this role. His success as Ben Butley - who is not wholly dissimilar to that popular anti-hero Jimmy McNulty - means I cannot WAIT to see his Iago.
4. Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham's)
I was a little disappointed in this production. Played predominantly for laughs to sell-out audiences who were all too ready to succumb, it seemed rather to skim the surface of this more-complex-than-it-looks comedy. "All mirth and no matter", if you will. The one exception was Adam James as Don Pedro. He was so absolutely spot-on as my secret favourite character (and brilliantly dressed, thanks costume people!) that if he weren't such an ensemble player, he could easily have shamed the rest of the cast with the strength of his performance and depth of characterisation.
3. Bertie Carvel, Matilda (RSC)
A Quentin Blake illustration brought to life. Richard III by way of Cleopatra. Terrifyingly believable as a former Olympic shot-putter and child-hating headmistress. To see his headshot is to see an attractive dark-haired man with laughing eyes, but to see him in action in this brilliant show is to see your childhood fears towering over you in the flesh. Seriously, DO NOT MISS MATILDA.
2. Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein (National Theatre)
Benedict Cumberbatch as a cold-blooded emotionless scientific genius type is good casting. But at the same time, it's such obvious casting that there can't be any real challenge in it. If he does well at it, then you can commend him for it, but really, one may as well commend him for breathing. And so it is not his performance as Victor Frankenstein that brings him to my list this day, but rather his performance as the nameless, lonely, confused Creature. The level of commitment he brought to the role and the complicated emotions he portrayed are forever embedded in my psyche. He even managed to overcome one of the worst scripts I have ever heard and so, for all THAT, he deserves your commendations.
1. John Heffernan, Richard II (Tobacco Factory)
I'm sure a great deal of young actors dream of one day playing Hamlet. But all the cool kids know that Richard II is where it's at. It's a role that can require a great deal of affection and thought to play convincingly, and Heffernan has charmingly and effectively set the standard incredibly high for all subsequent Richards. Good luck, Eddie Redmayne!
Top 5 Actresses
5. Sarah Lancashire, Betty Blue Eyes (Novello)
What can I say? I love the pig. And Sarah Lancashire - what a pair of lungs! She fits the character of Joyce's social aspirations perfectly, along with Joyce's actual social status, and even managed to impress Liza Minelli with her big act one show-stopper. If you've not seen Betty Blue Eyes yet, why haven't you?
4. Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (RSC)
Rupert Goold's production of The Merchant of Venice is a bit weird. Putting it mildly. Set in Las Vegas, this was my first Merchant and I had a few ideas of what to expect. For one thing, I was expecting a little more emphasis on Shylock, but this production - both literally and figuratively - was very much The Portia Show. Fielding portrayed immense depth in the role and broke the heart more than a little. She is definitely one to watch, chaps!
3. Imelda Staunton, A Delicate Balance (Almeida)
It's easy to forget, when actresses reach a certain level of fame, that they have to be flipping good at what they do to get there in the first place. It was an absolute pleasure to spend three hours at the Almeida being reminded why Imelda Staunton commands such respect from audiences. She's a legend.
2. Sheridan Smith, Flare Path (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
An easy thing to forget about acting is how much of it is based in interacting and reacting. If you fancy a masterclass in reacting on stage, then I really hope you didn't miss Flare Path. My sincere wish for 2012 is that the powers that be see fit to give her another Olivier award next year; Doris couldn't be further removed from Elle Woods, but Smith deserves the award for the letter scene alone. You know it makes sense.
1. Eve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare's Globe)
Oh my goodness! The clue is in the name, guys. Warm, witty, hilarious, and vulnerable, she is everything you could ever need a Beatrice to be. I defy you to see her in this production and not fall in love!
Best ensemble - Journey's End
It is nigh impossible to single out anyone from this insanely brilliant production. They are all perfect. Graham Butler, Tim Chipping, Andy Daniel, Daniel Hanna, Simon Harrison, Nigel Hastings, Mike Hayley, Dominic Mafham, James Norton, Christian Patterson, Tony Turner - I salute you all.
To watch in 2011/2012 - Kyle Soller
Having first caught the eye in the Globe's touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream two years ago, Soller and his dazzling ginger bouffant single-handedly raised the Young Vic's production of Government Inspector from a mind-bogglingly cartoony mess to a star-making turn. He. Is. AWESOME.