Review of 2012: Theatre

Nick Payne's 'Constellation' sparkled, elsewhere stars Hattie Morahan and Toby Stephens shone

 

Best new play

Though December is so nearly over, there is still just time to catch the outstanding two-hander Constellations, playing at the Duke of York's in London's West End to 5 January, a transfer from the Royal Court. Nick Payne's darkening romantic comedy (starring Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins) plays intricate games with time, toying with the notion of parallel universes, this being the fractured story of a love affair between an earthy beekeeper and a theoretical physicist. Charming, funny then intensely poignant.

Top biodramas

Farewell to the Theatre was another unforgettable, beautifully understated premiere. Would that I could see Roger Michell's production again. Staged with quiet acumen at Hampstead Theatre, Richard Nelson's biodrama about actor-manager and writer Harley Granville-Barker – who helped to revolutionise British drama pre-First World War – took a surprisingly tangential approach, developing into a Chekhovian group portrait. Adrift in provincial Massachusetts in 1916, with other expat thespians, Ben Chaplin's Granville-Barker (above, centre) concealed disillusionment and loneliness behind nonchalant wit. Melancholy, humorous and, in the end, tentatively hopeful about the restorative joys of the stage.

In a twelvemonth enriched by several fascinating biodramas, Nick Dear's The Dark Earth and the Light Sky proved to be a deeply moving chamber piece about depressive poet Edward Thomas (Pip Carter). The piece contemplated his strained marriage, his devotion to the English countryside, his budding friendship with Robert Frost, and his possibly suicidal decision to join up – dying at the front in 1917. Directed with sensitive aplomb by Richard Eyre, this production is still running at north London's Almeida until 12 January. Not to be missed.

Most brilliant actresses

If Hattie Morahan was breathtakingly good as a neurotic Nora in A Doll's House at the Young Vic, she is even better asThomas's painfully devoted wife in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky – fiercely loving, spiralling into mental breakdown, absolutely heart-rending.

Denise Gough shone as an edgy, predatory but also needy Abbie, the young second wife, in Eugene O'Neill's farmstead tragedy Desire Under the Elms, one of several excellent 2012 productions by the Lyric Hammersmith's Sean Holmes.

Most dazzling actors

Toby Stephens put in the performance of a lifetime – to date at least – in Noël Coward's Private Lives at Chichester. Scintillatingly funny and sexy, but also delightfully naturalistic and rumpled, his Elyot spent an enjoyable amount of time intertwined on chaises longues with his old flame, Anna Chancellor's Amanda.

Meanwhile, Iain Glen was terrifically funny and frustrated in the title role of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, given an intimate, off-West End staging by the Print Room's outgoing artistic director Lucy Bailey. Jonathan Pryce was a blazing Lear at the Almeida, and Paul Chahidi almost stole the limelight from Mark Rylance – as a gloriously funny, buxom Maria – in the all-male Twelfth Night on Shaftesbury Avenue. Paterson Joseph was also a superb, impassioned Brutus in Julius Caesar, in which ancient Rome's political shenanigans were brilliantly translated to modern-day Africa by the RSC's imminent AD, Gregory Doran.

Names to watch

Pint-sized actor Joshua McGuire is surely the new Tom Hollander, zipping around with brio as the precocious brat in The Magistrate, Pinero's Victorian farce at the National. As for assured, fast-rising directors, these include Polly Findlay, who staged Antigone at the NT with Christopher Eccleston, and Titas Halder who found startling humour and warmth in Strindberg's The Dance of Death, with Indira Varma, inset left, at the Trafalgar Studios.

It was also a prime year for actors morphing into impressive new playwrights. In Red Velvet at the Tricycle, Lolita Chakrabarti explored the groundbreaking career of African-American Ira Aldridge (superbly portrayed by Adrian Lester). Aldridge took over the role of Othello, from Edmund Kean, at Covent Garden in 1833, when Britain was still furiously riven over slavery.

Hot on Red Velvet's heels came Nathaniel Martello-White's debut Blackta at the Young Vic, an electrifyingly snappy, slangy and satirical play about contemporary black British actors strutting their stuff and struggling to get to the top. Stephen Beresford's serio-comedy The Last of the Haussmans – with Julie Walters at the NT – was an underrated first play, ruminating on the legacy of 1960s hippie parenting.

Nadir

It's hard to decide which was more excruciating. One contender is Forests, devised for the World Shakespeare Festival by avant-gardist Calixto Bieito. It featured a bunch of British and Catalan actors wallowing in mud and sado-masochistic abuse while reciting soundbites from the Bard, apparently unaware that half the lines were about heaths, meadows and battlefields, not woods and trees.

Or was Walking more torturous? Conceived for the Cultural Olympiad by the internationally revered Robert Wilson, this promenade through the countryside, with installations en route, should have been blissful. Indeed, the woods and beach of Norfolk's Holkham Hall estate were lovely, under blue skies. If only Wilson hadn't forced everyone to trudge, in line, at an agonising snail's pace (three miles taking three and a half hours). I remained calm only by pretending I was an arthritic nonagenarian.

Epic achievement

Globe to Globe was, by contrast, a once-in-a-lifetime marathon, hugely enjoyable and culturally expansive. As the main attraction in the World Shakespeare Festival, the timber-framed Globe on Bankside drew delighted crowds as it hosted troupes from all over the planet, performing 37 plays in 37 languages and a multitude of styles. Three dozen cheers – and then some – for producer Tom Bird who travelled from Armenia to Zanzibar seeking the best companies and co-ordinating this event.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
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
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
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