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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone