It is difficult to sum up 2013’s theatre offerings in one phrase. After 2012 was described as a ‘bloodbath’ for London theatre, the 2013 Olivier Awards certainly reflected a thin choice of new musical nominees. Next year’s, however, will be full of choice as 2013 has seen the premiere of The Commitments, Tim Rice’s From Here to Eternity, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward the musical, The Light Princess, American Psycho, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Once, The Book of Mormon and the launch of next year’s I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical. It’s fair to say that all of those musicals have seen mixed reviews and some tepid audience receptions, but it’s excellent that there has been an array of new work in both the private and public sectors.
The West End has seen starry revivals of plays by Ayckbourn, Bennett, Brecht, Pinter, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Peter Nichols, David Hare, Simon Gray and Jez Butterworth which would make it a notable year for classic and modern classic plays. However, new plays such as Peter Morgan’s The Audience, John Logan’s Peter and Alice and Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica will also be well-remembered.
If there was a prize for best producing house this year, it would surely be between the National Theatre for its award-winning production of Othello and unbelievable and memorable celebrations for its 50th anniversary and the Almeida Theatre. The Almeida has earned two West End transfers in Chimerica and Richard Eyre’s production of Ghosts and has also found success in new artistic director Rupert Goold’s production of American Psycho. The National also had a record four of their productions (Curious Incident, Untold Stories, One Man, Two Guvnors and War Horse) in the West End.
2013 has also been a year where artistic directorships have changed with Vicky Featherstone taking over the Royal Court, Gregory Doran having his first full season at the RSC, Rupert Goold replacing Michael Attenborough at the Almeida, Laurie Sansom becoming head of the National Theatre Scotland, Paul Kerryson announcing that he will leave Curve next Christmas and (the most notable of them all) Rufus Norris being announced as Nicholas Hytner’s successor at the National. We have also seen the bulk of Michael Grandage’s starry and successful West End season at the Noel Coward Theatre, but we must not forget the more subtle and perhaps better programmed Trafalgar Transformed Season headed by Jamie Lloyd at the Trafalgar Studios. The season was due to carry on but instead will commence again in the spring.
After much press in the last two years of there not being enough parts for older women, it has been refreshing that there have been stage appearances from Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Zoe Wanamaker, Samantha Bond, Lesley Manville and Sheila Hancock. In fact, Peter Nichols’ Passion Play had six lead characters, four of which were women and five of which were middle-aged.
Regional theatre impressed this year with Piaf and Chicago at Leicester’s Curve, Oliver! at Sheffield’s Crucible, Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth at the MIF and the sell-out RSC production of Richard II with David Tennant. And back in London, it was perhaps a slightly lukewarm year for the Old Vic but they ended it with an acclaimed production of Turgenev’s Fortune’s Fool. The Royal Court also ended the year well with NT Scotland’s production of Let The Right One In, the Young Vic had success with The Scottsboro Boys and the Donmar Warehouse staged some successful productions including Coriolanus and the West End-bound The Weir.
As for award seasons this year, the Whatsonstage.com Awards split opinions as ever, there was some controversy over Lia Williams not being nominated beside Kristin Scott Thomas for Old Times, and the judging panel quit at the London Evening Standard Awards, throwing their prestige and authority into dispute. There was also a terrible incident at the Apollo Theatre where part of the ceiling collapsed, thus sparking a debate over the state and safety of older theatres and what exactly the restoration levy is going into.
Overall, artistically, there have been plenty of theatrical successes in 2013.
I didn’t get to see Othello, Chimerica or Ghosts but here are some of my year’s highlights in no particular order:
1. Quartermaine’s Terms (Wyndham’s) – Richard Eyre’s finely directed revival had an excellent cast led by Rowan Atkinson. Its gentle humour and poignancy struck a chord. As St John would say, it was ‘terrific’!
2. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales) – So it may have got a mixed reception from the critics, but I found the hit Broadway musical to be hilarious and have exhilarating songs. I would pick it as Best New Musical of the year.
3. Passion Play (Duke of York’s) – Brilliantly directed, great cast, theatrically exciting and very moving. Zoe Wanamaker is one of my favourite actors but the whole cast impressed. Samantha Bond and Oliver Cotton gave superior performances and Owen Teale gave one of the most honest performances I’ve seen this year.
4. The Audience (Gielgud) – Some scenes may have been forgettable and it was quite self-indulgent, but I enjoyed its theatricality and knockout performances.
5. Mojo (Harold Pinter) – An excellent revival of Jez Butterworth’s first professional play. Very funny and tense. Daniel Mays and Ben Whishaw gave stand out performances and Ultz’s set of this imagined 1950s’ Soho was very impressive.
6. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Apollo) – Its theatrical ingenuity and protagonist’s take on the world was extremely impressive. I recommend everyone to go and see it.
7. Peter and Alice (Noel Coward) – At the time, I found the play to be not very unique somehow, but its sentiment, fine performances and excellent direction and design have stayed with me. I also applaud the Michael Grandage Season and the great number of cheaper tickets.
A happy and healthy New Year!