Looking back to the start of the summer, it seems odd to think that many West End theatres will have completely different shows in them by the start of summer 2013. For plays, which often only do a limited run, and musicals with short engagements, this isn’t that uncommon but 2012 has also seen many long-running shows either close or move. With Blood Brothers, Chicago, Ghost, The Wizard of Oz, Shrek the musical and Dreamboats and Petticoats either gone or soon to be gone and Mamma Mia having moved to the Novello, it seems that there is an excitement in theatreland of some fresh new shows coming in 2013.
Once again, subsidised and non-commercial theatre triumphed with the RSC’s Matilda the musical garnering a record 7 Olivier Awards at this year’s ceremony and the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of the new musical Loserville transferring to the West End (albeit for only a short-lived run). The Old Vic achieved great success with their first West End transfer in Noises Off and Shakespeare’s Globe’s productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night also gained five star reviews and transferred to the much-transformed Apollo. The National not only managed find new success in Alan Bennett’s latest play People and the West End bound Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time but also produced much acclaimed productions of Timon of Athens and Collaborators, both proving popular in the awards’ ceremonies, with the critics and more importantly, audience members. Furthermore, they also continued their West End success with War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors, the latter of which proved to be just as successful with a new leading man. Further afield, OM2G has embarked on an international tour, stormed Broadway and it has also been announced that War Horse will tour the UK next year as well.
The Royal Court is just about to finish off an extremely successful West End season at the Duke of York’s as well as producing new work with In Basildon, The River and Love and Information. Chichester Theatres have also had a successful year with their West End transfers of Sweeney Todd and Singin’ In The Rain and London transfer of Kiss Me, Kate, but it is a shame that The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which was rumoured for transfer, didn’t happen thus leaving the Wyndham’s Theatre dark for a short period.
One of the most successful directors of the year is Lindsay Posner. With Noises Off, Abigail’s Party, Relatively Speaking and Uncle Vanya under his belt, all of which have been or will be in the West End, he has directed several nuanced and popular productions. Admittedly, Relatively Speaking hasn’t been widely reviewed yet and Uncle Vanya wasn’t much to shout about (despite Peter Hall allegedly thinking otherwise), his attention to detail and ability to direct a variety of productions is something of which to be proud. The acting ‘equivalent’ of him would be Jonathan Coy. Finishing 2011 with the West End Much Ado About Nothing, he went on to be in Noises Off at the Old Vic and Novello, is currently in The Magistrate at the National and will soon be returning to Relatively Speaking which toured this Autumn and will be at the Wyndham’s Theatre next summer.
It’s been a great year for acting as well, with there being plenty of performances to choose from and argue over in the upcoming awards’ season. Mark Rylance opened the year by playing Johnny Rooster Byron in Jerusalem and ends the year by playing Richard III and Olivia in Richard III and Twelfth Night respectively. We had summer blockbuster performances from Simon Russell Beale and Julie Walters at the National, Jonathan Pryce in King Lear at the Almeida as well as Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in West End.
Farce and comedy continued to be ever successful this year in the face of a recession and show no signs of slowing down. Indeed, 2013 will see Noises Off tour and Privates on Parade has only just opened. However, next year also sees a slight change in comedy offerings, more of which I will mention in my next blog entry. However, not every one was a success. The reaction to A Chorus of Disapproval seemed to be lukewarm and the all-star, all-commercial West End revival of Joe Orton’s 1960s’ controversial farce What the Butler Saw was a flop with the critics and the box office. However, the production did seem to take on a celebratory and British tone which reflected the patriotic mood of the summer. Alas, this didn’t quite bring in audiences though, much like many West End shows over the Olympic period, thus leading to closures. However, one show which didn’t close was Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap which celebrated its 60th anniversary this November with an all-star cast for a special, one-off performance as well as launching a popular UK tour.
The summer also saw the announcement of the blockbuster 15 month run of the inaugural West End season of the Michael Grandage Company. Five plays made up of a mixture of new and classic plays, the season boasted 100 £10 seats on sale throughout the auditorium for each performance. Although these nearly sold out within the first 24 hours (apart from the day seats), it proved a popular scheme that was soon repeated in Trevor Nunn’s West End revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval.
For regional theatre, where Sir Nicholas Hytner has raised his concerns that there might be struggles with the arts cuts, receiving houses have seen tours of musicals Oliver!, American Idiot, Phantom of the Opera, Blood Brothers, Lion King and many more. In terms of producing houses, Leicester’s Curve triumphed with the UK’s first major revival of Gypsy for many years as well as hosting the try-out run for the much publicised Finding Neverland, with the producer and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein proclaiming how impressive he found the theatre. Sheffield Theatres also had a successful end of the year with their production of My Fair Lady.
Here are my 2012 highlights:
1. Blood Brothers, by Willy Russell, at the Phoenix Theatre – the ‘ultimate’/ final cast.
2. Posh, by Laura Wade, presented by The Royal Court at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
3. Noises Off, by Michael Frayn, at the Old Vic.
4. Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, at Shakespeare’s Globe.
5. Long Day’s Journey into Night, by Eugene O’Neill, on tour at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, with particular mention to Laurie Metcalf’s and David Suchet’s performances.