Theatre Review of the year: Stallions take the laurels from Shakespeare

It's been a fabulous year for blockbusters with brains but a nadir for Francis Coppola. Pop producers fought to stave off panic as cheap technology let everyone have a go. Dance said farewell to Darcey Bussell and hello to Hofesh Shechter, while Bob Dylan finally found himself ... on the radio. The 'IoS' critics give their overview of 2007

I didn't expect to begin a paean about the year's theatrical highlights by lavishing praise on a handful of puppets. However, the full-scale animal puppets in question were truly spectacular in the National Theatre's adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's First World War saga, War Horse. These magnificent creatures (designed by the company Handspring) looked like wonders of engineering made by Leonardo da Vinci, constructed from curved wood and gauze. Moreover, the sense that you were in the presence of living, breathing animals was uncanny. Right down to the rise and fall of the ribcage, the twitch of a leather ear and the slow muscular swish of a tail, this was puppetry of astonishing sophistication, taking the art form to a new level and all admirably done in the name of children's theatre.

The site-specific troupe, Punchdrunk, also pulled out all the stops for The Masque of the Red Death in Battersea. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, this adventurous young fringe company transformed the BAC's vast Victorian edifice basement, attics and all into a haunted mansion-going-on-Gothic madhouse, with fantastic detailing in the decor and visceral dancers in dark corners. Left to wander around this maze on your own, you could stumble into a candle-lit chamber lined with animal skulls or grope you way through a musty wardrobe, suddenly emerging into a grand parlour through its fireplace. Or you could get yourself locked in a lumber room with a ghoulish vamp who clasps you in her ice-cold fingers. A thrilling theatrical nightmare.

By way of light relief, it's been a wonderful year for comic performances, not least Simon Russell Beale and Zoë Wanamaker as Benedick and Beatrice, pretending they're not smitten with each other in Much Ado About Nothing. Paul Ritter was priceless as the sardonic bureaucrat, Lush, in Pinter's The Hothouse, also at the NT. Acting the innocent dimwit in the West End's improbably hilarious air-hostess farce, Boeing Boeing, Mark Rylance was pure delight coupled with Michelle Gomez as an insanely zany dominatrix. Nicholas le Prevost was a joy as well, maintaining the manner of a squadron commander while being ridiculously scatty in Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves (which toured for the Peter Hall Company).

Brilliant dramas focusing on black experience notably flourished in 2007, especially at the vibrant Young Vic. These included Debbie Tucker Green's highly poetic Generations, Ikrisma Kherol (A Christmas Carol poignantly relocated to South Africa) and The Brothers Size. The last was a riveting chamber piece about two African-American brothers written by a talented new US playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney. He combines chatty naturalism and Brechtian games quite brilliantly. The production's incisively superb director, ATC's Bijan Sheibani, will go far as well.

The Almeida brought us Theodore Ward's forgotten gem, Big White Fog, a family tragedy about racial discrimination, clashing ideals and political protest in Chicago during the Great Depression. The ensemble acting, with Danny Sapani among others, was excellent. The Almeida likewise contributed to a wealth of fine productions of Russian plays, rediscovering Nikolai Erdman's banned anti-Stalinist satire Dying For it (aka The Suicide), a wild felo de se farce. Along with that we had Gorky's Philistines at the National; Declan Donnellan's delicately traumatised Three Sisters for Cheek by Jowl (with an all-Russian cast), and the Maly Drama Theatre bringing their bewitching Platonov, by Chekhov, to the Barbican staged around and in a pool of glimmering green water.

It was a somewhat thin year for new British plays, but Dennis Kelly's pretend-docudrama about infanticide, Taking Care of Baby, was a powerfully disturbing exception (playing at Hampstead Theatre), and so was newcomer Polly Stenham's dysfunctional family drama, That Face (at the Royal Court).

More worryingly, London's commercial Theatreland seemed to be overrun with cruddy musicals. Desperately Seeking Susan, with the old hits by Blondie grafted on, was really just desperate, and Kismet was unbelivably awful tat at the English National Opera. That was surely the gobsmacking nadir of the year. Still, Hairspray was bouncy fun and, furthermore, Shakespeare made a distinct West End comeback, with director Rupert Goold's ingenious Stalinesque Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart, and with Ian McKellen in Trevor Nunn's RSC King Lear (respectively transferring from the Chichester Festival and Stratford). Kate Fleetwood gets my vote for Actress of the Year for her Lady Macbeth, an electrifyingly fierce femme fatale with suppressed vulnerability. McKellen's Lear was unforgettable too, like an imperious tsar with a rough Cossack side, blended with the doddery sweetness of a Chelsea pensioner.

Finally, for several regional theatres it has been a rocky twelvemonth and now there's a new furore about swingeing cuts by the Arts Council of England. The Bristol Old Vic, the Exeter Northcott (having only just opened after a 2.1m redevelopment), Guilford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and Derby Playhouse are all in jeopardy. Alas, this is not a happy ending.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss