Theatre in 2009: Entrances, exits, and Judi disguised as a Walnut Whip

Weisz was a wow, Mortimer bowed out – and Ian Hart made a dramatic gesture offstage too





This has been a bumper year, offering an array of contenders. These included Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar, with Rachel Weisz as a subtly raddled Blanche Dubois.

Corker of the year

Then there was Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge with Ken Stott as the covertly incestuous Eddie, like a seething pitbull. But the prize must go to Jerusalem, which premiered at the Royal Court with Mark Rylance's tour-de-force performance at its heart. Jez Butterworth's darkening comedy was a weird and wonderful modern pastoral, set in the woods of the West Country. There Rylance's Johnny – an ageing daredevil biker-turned-gypsy drug dealer – lolled around, spinning yarns for all the idling youth and local nutters drawn to his den.



Rylance's comic timing was priceless and his first entrance was unforgettable, lurching out of his caravan like a hungover hobgoblin, spliffs sprouting from his boots. He had a touch of the Pied Piper and Peer Gynt, and his yarns were wonderfully surreal, modern folk tales, not least when he boasted of chatting with a giant just off the A14. Jerusalem is back in January 2010, when it transfers to the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue.



The megaflop



The Donmar's star-studded West End season, at Wyndham's, was mainly greeted by wild applause. But Madame de Sade was a bewildering anomaly, an absolute stinker. Yukio Mishima's costume drama – penned in 1960s Japan, set in 18th-century Paris and cruelly rescued from obscurity by Michael Grandage – proved to be flabbergasting garbage dolled up in lavish frocks. A handful of ladies stood around, blathering about the sexploits of the Marquis de Sade, and the notorious sadist never even showed up. Think Les Liaisons Dangereuses without any actual liaisons. Playing his incomprehensibly adulatory wife, Rosamund Pike spouted meaningless purple prose ("He is a threshold between me and the impossible, or perhaps between me and God" etc) while our diminutive national treasure, Judi Dench, was all pursed lips. Rigged out in a pyramidical wig and ruched silk, she looked like a morally outraged Walnut Whip. Torture.



Face of the year



Being electrifyingly brilliant twice, in quick succession, the rising actor Andrew Scott was one of this year's hottest theatrical properties. First he was riveting, alone on stage in Sea Wall at the Edinburgh Fringe. A monologue written by Simon Stephens, it seemed like a stand-up routine at first: an affable piece about settling down with your girlfriend and having a kid. But then Sea Wall suddenly spiralled into harrowing tragedy. Scott's performance was minutely, unnervingly detailed in its naturalism, slipping quietly from the comical to the chilling. At the Royal Court Upstairs, he was thrillingly paired with Ben Whishaw in Mike Bartlett's painfully funny chamber play, Cock. Playing Whishaw's jilted lover, Scott was scorchingly intense: sardonically witty and ultimately bruised, as the duo circled each other like boxers, verbally punching below the belt.



Surprise of the year



The West End show Speaking in Tongues – a murder mystery where you're unsure if a psycho is on the loose – went haywire one Monday night in November. John Simm's co-star, Ian Hart, instead of taking a bow, bounded off into the wings in a blind fury and re-emerged in the auditorium to scream at a gobsmacked punter. Only a few weeks earlier, in a platform talk, Hart had alarmingly declared that he found theatre audiences abhorrent and considered them an intrusion. On the evening in question, said punter had supposedly been talking while Hart was in mid-flow. Prevented by Simm from leaping directly into the stalls, Hart bolted round through a pass door and had to be physically restrained by the ushers. Now that's dramatic.



R.I.P



British theatre waved a fond farewell to the veteran barrister, playwright and, from 1990 to 2000, chairman of the Royal Court, John Mortimer. A splendidly genial fellow, he was much loved for his droll tales of Rumpole of the Bailey, but also for his more poignant autobiographical drama, A Voyage Round My Father, which starred Alec Guinness at the Haymarket in 1971, and then Laurence Olivier in a television version. Keith Waterhouse also bowed out, aged 80, having been celebrated for Billy Liar, his great comic novel which became a stage hit in 1960, starring Albert Finney as the titular compulsive fantasist. More shockingly, Natasha Richardson – daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, and wife of Liam Neeson – was snatched away at only 45, following a skiing accident. She was last seen on the London stage at the Almeida, in 2005, playing Ibsen's haunted heroine, Ellida, in The Lady from the Sea.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones