Theatre Top 10 of 2013Posted by Laurence Green
Laurence Green's top 10 stage productions of 2013.
As 2013 draws to a close it is worth recalling the highlights of the theatrical year, a year in which London theatre truly flourished with sharply increased numbers of theatregoers despite the tough economic climate and ever spiralling prices. In addition to greater attendances, the quality of plays was at a generally high level with more successes than failures, although from hit movies and more new and original works and it is left to theatres like the Almeida and Royal Court to stage the most innovative and interesting productions. I have drama up a list of the ten top stage productions of the year, in order of merit.
My play of the year is Marianne Elliott’s superb production of The Curious Incident of the Dog of the Night-time, adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best seller. The protagonist is Christopher, a 15-year-old with Asperser’s syndrome, who has an extraordinary brain while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life, and whose detective work to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbour’s dog, takes him on a journey that upturns his world. This dazzlingly inventive production manages to get right inside the mind of its main character, Christopher, aided by tremendous central performance by Luke Treadaway.
In second place is Lucy Kirkwood’s ambitious and impressive three-hour drama Chimerica, in which the personal and the political become seamlessly intertwined in a story which moves from Tiananmen Square in 1989 as tanks roll through Beijing to New York 2012 and whose main characters are Joe, an American photojournalist and a memory haunted Chinese man, defiantly standing up to the Chinese authorities. This production works as a gripping thriller and newspaper drama, bristling with wit and energy, in which character development is as important as the storytelling and the issues it raises.
Third is Richard Eyre’s masterly staging of Ibsen’s Ghosts, an intimate and involving production, dealing with moral cowardice, patriarchy, class, sex, hypocrisy and heredity, which still resonates today, more than a century after it was written. The dramatic tension never wanes throughout its 90 minutes running time and the raw emotional truth and dark heart of the drama is strongly conveyed, as well as a good deal of dark humour too.
Fourth comes Peter Morgan’s irresistible The Audience, which imagines the weekly meetings held by the Queen with eight of her 12 Prime Ministers. Director Stephen Daldry elites an astonishing, marvellously lifelike performance from Helen Mirren, already a veteran at playing the monarch in the much praised movie The Queen, who manages to convey the compassion, grace, affection and humour of the sovereign, as well as capturing the Queen’s moments of vulnerability, not least during the breakup of the Prince of Wales’s marriage to Diana and her sudden anger on learning of plans to scrap her beloved Royal Yacht Britannia.
Fifth is Christopher Haydon’s outstanding production of George Brant’s one-woman play Grounded, about an F-16 fighter pilot whose career crash-lands when she falls pregnant, leaving her operating remote-controlled drones over Pakistan from an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas. Lucy Ellinson gives an electrifying performance as a woman suffering the effects of post traumatic stress as she struggles through surreal 12-hour shifts far from the battlefield – hunting terrorists by day and being a wife and mother by night.
My remaining top five shows are in brief: the Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park’s sparkling production of The Sound of Music which scrupulously avoids the saccharine elements of the film version, resulting in a far more realistic retelling of a tale based on a true story, enhanced by Rogers and Hammerstein’s glorious score; Sam Mendes’s spectacular musical production Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s classic, which imaginatively brings to life the strange and wonderful world of Willy Wonka in a show which is a delectable treat for young and old alike; Jonathan Church’s memorable production of Breht’s darkly farcical satire The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which charts Hilter’s rise to power through the story of a bunch of hoodlums in 1930s Chicago, and featuring a brilliant performance by Henry Goodman as the psychopathic protagonist of the title; the long overdue theatrical debut of a P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves novel Perfect Nonsense adapted from his 1938 work The Code of the Wooster by Robert and David Goodale, in which Bertie hires a theatre to stage his harrowing experiences at Totleigh Towers and the result is one of the most deliriously funny farces in the West End; and finally James Macdonald’s excellent revival of Arnold Wesker’s Roots, the centrepiece of his seminal post-war trilogy, a play which skilfully balances humour and sadness and has a truthfulness about the human condition which remains undimmed over the years.
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