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.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life