I admit it, I’m slightly obsessed and about £1800 less well off. The two short acting courses clearly left an impression because this year I saw 68 productions which is almost three times the number I saw in 2009! I’m certainly picky – it’s very rare that I’ll book for a show before reviews are published – and as a result I’ve been lucky enough to some very fine productions this year.
What makes the experience of live theatre unique is the relationship we have as an audience with the actors. When it comes to West End theatres, I freely admit to being a ‘Stalls Snob’ (if I can’t sit in the first 12 or so rows of the stalls I’d rather give it a miss) but I very rarely pay full price. Fringe theatres provide an amazing opportunity to sit within literally touching distance of actors and the whole experience becomes so much more powerful as a result. For me this has been the biggest thrill of 2010. We are fortunate in London to have so many fringe venues producing high quality work and we should support them as much as we can.
2010 has been a year of rediscoveries – It’s very many years since I’ve been to the Bush Theatre and Donmar Warehouse but the former in particular provided a couple of treats with The Aliens and My Romantic History. I look forward to seeing the Bush Theatre continue to do great things in 2011 as they move to a larger new home in the old Shepherd’s Bush library. There have also been many discoveries including the Almeida, Arcola, Finborough, Menier Chocolate Factory, Old Red Lion, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Royal Court (why has it taken me so long?) and the Young Vic. So without further ado, here are my highlights and lowlights of 2010.
- After the Dance (National Theatre) – beautifully acted and completely engrossing.
- All My Sons (Apollo) – David Suchet was superb.
- Design for Living (Old Vic) – just a joy to watch from beginning to end.
- Jerusalem (Apollo) – incredible performance from Mark Rylance.
- Posh (Royal Court) – I loved this new play and the tight ensemble acting from the entire cast.
- Rope (Almeida) – a completely thrilling and very atmospheric production in the round, had the entire audience on the edge of our seats.
- Spur of the Moment (Royal Court) – this new play from a 17 year old playwright was timed to perfection.
- Sweeney Todd (National Music Youth Theatre at Village Underground) – I was blown away by the sheer vitality and performance quality for such a young cast.
- Taking Steps (Orange Tree) – I’m not a huge Alan Ayckbourn fan but with the man himself directing this revival, it’s hard to imagine how this could have been any better.
- The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Young Vic) – a confident, pacey and gutsy production.
Least Scary Production:
- Ghost Stories (Duke of York’s Theatre) – after all the build up, the actual show was a disappointment.
- Wolfboy (Trafalgar Studios) – it’s hard to put into words how awful this was and it’s all Stephen Fry’s fault!
- Dumb Show (Rose Theatre, Kingston) – an underdeveloped and unconvincing play.
- A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky (Lyric Hammersmith) – great idea meets weak writing and execution.
- Nation (National Theatre) – all the elements were there but it was a clunky and laboured experience.
Best Set Design:
- After the Dance (National Theatre) – breathtaking to look at AND there were ceilings!
- All My Sons (Apollo) – real grass, big tree and a cute wooden house.
- Design for Living (Old Vic) – three wonderful sets for the price of one.
- Red Bud (Royal Court) – more real grass, a fire pit and authentic American truck (unassembled, winched up to the fifth floor then reassembled) demonstrated how adaptable their upstairs space really is.
- Salome (Hampstead Theatre) – stunning industrial set with mud, puddles and actors not afraid to get dirty. How wardrobe must have loved that one!
- The Aliens (Bush Theatre) – simple but very atmospheric external service area of an American diner with lots of corrugated steel. Nice touch of pebbles in a concrete screed on the floor.
- The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Young Vic) – isolated rural cottage in Ireland got extra points for audience entrance experience with ‘rain’ running down plastic sheets.
- The Railway Children (Waterloo) – ingenious adaptation of old Eurostar platforms, the tunnel scene was particularly well done.
- The Gods Weep (Hampstead Theatre) – started off as quite a bland looking set and turned into something quite different.
Best FOH Dressing:
- Ghost Stories (Duke of York’s Theatre) – foyer and corridors to auditorium had hanging light fittings, damaged carpet and police incident tape everywhere.
- After the Dance (National Theatre) – the realistic lighting complemented the superb sets perfectly.
- Rope (Almeida) – less was definitely more for creating tension in this great production.
- The Prince of Homburg (Donmar Warehouse) – subdued and effective. The sound design was also very good.
- The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Young Vic) – the set was a small cottage in rural Ireland with a tiny window and most scenes were lit like a panto! A shame since the lighting on night time scenes was very good.
Best Theatre Websites:
- Bush Theatre – I love the friendly and approachable personality of this new site design and their online booking is well done too.
- Royal Court – it’s a wonderful building and this warm and vibrant site really shows it off to the full.
So that’s it for 2010, let’s hear it for a fantastic year for the theatre capital of the world and here’s to more great shows in 2011!