I've been procrastinating like a lazy thing with my round-up of things I have enjoyed most at the theatre this year. My old format of picking one winner per category left a lot of wonderful things unsung, and my attempts to come up with a top 5/10/15/25 list are better left uninvestigated. Seeing as choosing a format for praising theatrical excellence was proving such a trial, I ultimately decided to ignore formatting all together and just get on with it. As things currently stand, there'll be five posts in the end: plays I have loved, musicals I have loved, Shakespeares I have loved, performers I have loved, and creatives I have loved. So if you want to check out the twelve plays I have loved the most this year, read on:
12) The Wild Bride (Lyric Hammersmith)
I'm a bit late to the Kneehigh party and wasn't quite sure about them after The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but ultimately I was totally won over by this production. I loved the way music, movement, humour, and sheer creativity all wove together to tell this bizarre Hungarian folktale. I was also especially pleased with the presence of a ukulele and a banjo.
11) Frankenstein (National; Olivier)
The script was abominable. Some of the supporting performances were only fractionally better. But the leading performances were stupendous, the music was incredible, the lighting nearly blew my mind, and the rest of the production wasn't bad either. As a play, this may not have been a success, but as an experience, it's going to stay with me for a long time.
10) Doctor Faustus (Shakespeare's Globe)
It seems that being terrifically entertained by poorly-written dramas was a theme for me this year. I know this one wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but some great performances combined with nifty direction from Matthew Dunster made this one of the more giddily enjoyable shows I saw this year.
9) Emperor and Galilean (National; Olivier)
There is something terrifying about the thought of an English language premiere of Ibsen's longest play, but a suitably trimmed down version scribed by Ben Power and directed by Jonathan Kent was presented and turned out to be something of a success. This was thanks in large part to the electrifyingly thrilling central presence of Andrew Scott in the lead role of Julian, but also to the strong supporting cast (for me, namely John Heffernan and Jamie Ballard) and the Olivier-filling design.
8) Jumpy (Royal Court)
A genuinely funny comedy about well-rounded female characters? Perfect! Well, okay, not perfect, considering the male characters were somewhat underwritten and some of the plot points required just a little too much suspension of disbelief, but as flaws go, I find these strangely easy to overlook. Keep your eyes peeled in case rumours of a West End transfer for 2012 prove true.
7) The Heart of Robin Hood (Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
I wasn't planning on seeing this one, but some strong word-of-mouth came from a trusted friend, and she was right. Borkur Jonsson has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you most certainly can have brilliant designs for a thrust stage, and the RSC have once again produced a terrifically entertaining family show for Christmas.
6) Anna Christie (Donmar Warehouse)
Once again, the Donmar has produced a revival of an American classic that was tightly directed, thrillingly performed, brilliantly designed, and well worth any anguish involved in acquiring tickets. And oh how I associate this play with personal anguish...
5) Double Feature 1 (National; Paintframe)
Actually a double feature (which I understand may come as a surprise considering the title), both of these one-act plays were excellent. Edgar and Annabel was compelling, intriguing, and surprisingly funny, while The Swan was on the whole emotionally devastating. Both plays were performed to an incredibly high standard, and it was a real treat to not only see a usually-hidden part of the National complex, but also watch the stage crew giving the entire performance area a complete make-over during the interval.
4) Mogadishu (Lyric Hammersmith)
I believe I have already sung the praises of this play, but it really was tremendous. It's going on tour this spring, including a week at the Lyric, so if you didn't see it before, seize the opportunity to do so now.
3) Journey's End (on tour)
I saw this one on tour before it returned to the West End, and it was devastating. It's always been a peculiarly strongly-written play, but David Grindley's direction combined with a stunning cast guaranteed this one an unforgettably moving experience.
2) The Kitchen Sink (Bush Theatre)
It's funny how sometimes you can look forward to seeing a show for months only for it to not live up to expectations, and then how sometimes you can go to see something on a whim and find it far more satisfying than you could ever have dreamed. This sweet, gentle, funny, truthful, and deliciously moving play was an unexpected highlight of the year, with some of the best single lines of dialogue I can recall and performances so spot-on that I'm not entirely sure all of it was acting.
1) Flare Path (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Again, I have already loved this play beyond measure on this blog. I have nothing new to say about it, just a reiteration of my love for the solid design, the superlative performance from Sheridan Smith, and fanservice in the way of Clive Wood in uniform and a bonus ukulele.