Tuesday 21 December 2010

Review of 2010: Theatre - 10 Favourite Productions

While no single production stood out for me this year, 2010 certainly offered some incredible theatre experiences, of which the ten below - presented in order of viewing rather than preference - were among the ones that I enjoyed most. No new plays on the list, I’m sorry to note; again, this will hopefully be remedied in 2011. Click on the titles for full reviews of the productions.

In a year that saw some highly eccentric (though often exhilarating) takes on Shakespeare, it’s pleasing to recall Peter Hall’s marvellous traditional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre. Full of fun and feeling, the production was elegantly designed, finely detailed and well-cast across the board, with particularly good work from Rachael Stirling, who brought a wondrous grandeur and intensity to Helena’s unrequited love for Demetrius. But, inevitably, the star of this particular show was Judi Dench whose Titania (via Elizabeth I!) was variously ethereal and earthy, and never more cherishable than when hee-hawing with delight at Oliver Chris’s adorably transmogrified Bottom.

“Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon, my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot …” Somehow I never thought I’d shed tears during a Samuel Beckett play but Roger Rees’s delivery of Vladimir’s great late monologue moved me deeply, and exemplified the ways in which Sean Mathias’s brilliant production excavated the play’s tender, human heart.

Pitched somewhere between Restoration comedy and Whitehall farce, the National Theatre’s exuberant and utterly charming revival of Dion Boucicault’s 1841 comedy became something of a phenomenon. With deliciously florid, full-on star performances from Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, and great supporting turns from Richard Briers, Nick Sampson and Michelle Terry, Nicholas Hytner’s production gave pure pleasure from beginning to end, and I could happily watch it again tonight.

Marianne Elliot’s lavish staging of Middleton’s revenge tragedy had as many questionable ideas as good ones, and the elaborate (yet limp) staging of the final massacre was a silly and sad mistake. But at its best the production gripped like a motherfucker. It earns its place on this list due to the thrilling staging of the famed scene in which the fiendish Livia (Harriet Walter) distracts the Widow (Tilly Tremayne) with a game of chess so that the rape of the latter’s daughter-in-law can be accomplished. At such moments, Elliot’s production clearly had Middleton’s witty, warped vision entirely in its grasp.

Thanks to the venerable Mr. Ian Foster at There Ought To Be Clowns whose great review persuaded me to experience the delights of this hilarious, adorable and insightful musical at long last.

The best production that I saw at the Orange Tree Theatre this year, Sam Walters’s droll and very moving revival of Pinero’s play.

TV crews, security cameras, suited security guards with ear-pieces - I winced at the beginning of the NT’s Hamlet, and imagined that I was in for a miserable time. But by the end Hytner’s production had won me over entirely, and provided yet more reasons to love the Greatest Play Ever Written, not least Rory Kinnear, giving great Dane. 

Enticing me over to the Tricycle Theatre for the first (but definitely not the last!) time, Iqbal Khan’s stunning revival of Arthur Miller’s 1994 opus about the fall-out of Kristallnacht and its effect on a Jewish couple in Brooklyn ended up being perhaps my favourite production of the year. The extent to which Miller succeeds in linking what he calls “a public concern and a private neurosis” in Broken Glass is debatable. But the play’s flaws didn’t seem to matter very much, not with performances of this calibre: Antony Sher, Lucy Cohu, Nigel Lindsay, Madeline Potter and Emily Bruni were simply superb. Khan’s production was gripping, intense, haunting and beautiful; what a shame that it didn’t manage to transfer.

While it didn't quite match Rupert Goold's immaculate 2007 production, great performances from Deborah Findlay, Leo Bill, Sinéad Matthews and Kyle Soller distinguished Joe Hill-Gibbons’s thoroughly involving revival of Tennessee Williams’s classic.

Combining vaudeville and Latin Mass, carols and rap, puppetry and torture porn, Ed Hall’s all-male Propeller company re-imagine Shakespeare’s most notorious history play as some gonzo Victorian medical drama. Chilling, funny and frequently barking mad, the production dug out the play’s political seriousness and its ghoulish comedy to produce as exciting and inventive a staging as I can ever imagine having the privilege to see.

And finally, a shout-out to those actors, writers and directors whose talks and Masterclasses have offered so much insight and inspiration throughout the year, in particular Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale, Lesley Sharp, Miriam Margolyes, Deborah Findlay, Simon Callow, Willy Russell, and Judi Dench.


  1. As usual a great blog entry....makes me feel like a country hick, though! Next year I want to do more London theatre.

    I agree about Miriam Margolyes - a national treasure!

    Have a great Christmas.

  2. Same to you, JG!

    I think all of these guys are national treasures. :)

  3. Some good selections here. Loved both the Dench ‘Dream’ and the Kinnear ‘Hamlet’. Thought ‘London Assurance’ overrated and not so keen on ‘Women Beware Women’ though I like your phrase that it ‘gripped like a motherfucker’!? Sorry to have missed ‘Broken Glass’, sounds great.

  4. Sounds like a great year of theatre-going, Alex. I saw a different production of Waiting for Godot on Broadway a couple of years ago; it was good, but the one you saw sounds better. And I was lucky to see London Assurance here in Boston, thanks to NT Live and your recommendation. Thanks for introducing me to Simon Russell Beale and a hilarious play!

  5. Yes, it’s been a good year for theatre, much better than 2009... As I wrote you previously, I envy the productions you got to see on your last NYC trip!

    Really glad that you had the chance to see London Assurance as part of NT Live and that you enjoyed it; also that the SRB fan-club now has yet another member! I worked out that I’ve seen him in fourteen different productions over the last 10 years! The guy never stops.

  6. Excellent list. (With the exception of WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN - hated it!)

    I was at the Margolyes Masterclass as well - wonderful!

  7. Thanks. There's not much end-of-year love for WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN around, is there? :)