THEATRE REVIEW '93 / Facing the final curtain: Sarah Hemming asks directors, actors, writers and critics to elect the theatrical hits of the year. And the winners are ..

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PAUL ALLEN

My best night out was at Declan Donnellan's Sweeney Todd (National Theatre). You knew from the first note that everything was going to be all right - it was a difficult musical, given with total naturalness and skill. It was representative of the National's year - they haven't put a foot wrong. I also enjoyed Translations at the Donmar Warehouse - a small-scale realisation of a contemporary masterpiece - and A Passionate Woman at West Yorkshire Playhouse, a truthful contemporary comedy by Kay Mellor which proved that new plays can fill regional theatres.

Paul Allen is the outgoing chairman of the drama panel of the Arts Council

SIR PETER HALL

Although I've seen many fine theatrical performances this year, my vote goes to one on the opera stage: John Tomlinson as Hans Sachs in the Royal Opera House's production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. In my life I have witnessed a procession of overly sentimental performances of this role; John Tomlinson's was completely lacking in sentimentality and the most human portrayal I've ever seen, as well as being wonderfully sung.

Peter Hall's production of 'An Absolute Turkey' opens at the Globe Theatre, West End, on 4 Jan 1994

PHILIP HEDLEY

The most heartening work I've seen has been that of new companies such as the Posse, the BiBi Crew and the Moti Roti company. They represent the talent that is bubbling up among second generation, Afro- Asian artists who have an ever increasing contribution to make. My favourite performance was Mark Rylance, whose original and believable Benedick made Much Ado About Nothing a new play for me.

Philip Hedley is artistic director of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

NICK HERN

For all its flaws, the bravura in the writing of Tony Kushner's Angels in America (National Theatre) just swept me away. Part 2 reaffirmed my faith in Part 1. I liked Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea (Almeida) and I found Penelope Wilton completely compelling. Also Martin Crimp's The Treatment (Royal Court): I loved its pace and energy. In Arthur Miller's The Last Yankee (Young Vic and West End) I was amazed by his use of silences - he was writing in a way that I just didn't know he could. I also didn't know he knew that much about married people: the central relationship was achingly true. Absolutely top of the heap was Crazy for You (Prince Edward Theatre): joyous and immensely inventive. I also loved Billy Roche's Cavalcaders at the Peacock in Dublin (Royal Court in January). Again he gives us the stories of small-town life, but here the plot involved a close-harmony quartet who burst into classics like 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'. It's irresistible.

Nick Hern is head of Nick Hern Books, the drama publishers

JANE LAPOTAIRE

I loved Live Like Pigs (Royal Court) directed by Katie Mitchell; she's a brilliant director and the political relevance of the play is shockingly apt, given that it was written 20 years ago. Another favourite was an Oxford University student production, adapted and directed by Dominic Druce, of A Tale of Two Cities (Old Fire Station, Oxford). It was stunningly good - Druce let Dickens speak through the characters' mouths instead of thinking he could write better than Dickens - and it was delivered by an extremely talented cast. One of my best evenings in the theatre was a showcase of Half Time (coming to the Donmar Warehouse in February) by Christopher Luscombe. It's a one-man show about university life and some of the caricatures are side- splittingly funny.

Jane Lapotaire is appearing in 'Ghosts' at the RSC, Stratford

SAM MENDES

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (National Theatre) made me want to go out and buy a copy immediately afterwards. The most spellbinding peformance of the year was Mark Rylance's Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (Queen's Theatre): brilliantly witty, touching and understated, but with a real comedian's killer instinct. The most moving event was the David Hare trilogy (National Theatre); a brilliantly conceived theatrical canvas of present-day England with an outstanding acting ensemble.

Sam Mendes' is artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse

KATIE MITCHELL

I thought Machinal (National Theatre) was an extraordinary blend of acting and design, managed beautifully by the director (Stephen Daldry) and with a superb central performance (Fiona Shaw). Another highlight was King Lear at the Toga International Theatre Festival in Japan directed by Tadashi Suzuki. It was a very brave, searing and sophisticated adaptation, with no set: clean, sharp and beautiful.

Katie Mitchell's production of 'Ghosts' is at the RSC, Stratford

BARRIE RUTTER

I really enjoyed the central disintegration of Alan Howard as Macbeth (National Theatre). I liked some of the Indian productions I've seen this year, such as Yerma (Tricycle) - it was the first Lorca I've seen with any real sense of fun. The tragedy came out of a terrific sense of community, fun and laughter, so when it did come it was even more bitter. Also Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings (West Yorkshire Playhouse). It showed you what a remarkable piece it was when it was written.

Barrie Rutter's production of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' is at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

FIONA SHAW

'I enjoyed Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (National Theatre). His facility with intellectual ideas is dazzling: it's marvellous to have one's mind bent. I also loved Hysteria (Royal Court) by Terry Johnson. I was delighted by its theatricality and to see the Court programming so bravely. The performances were marvellous, it was very funny, and it will remain in the long term where other, more dazzling things, might not. I loved Peter Sellars' The Persians (Edinburgh Festival). It offered a glimpse of theatre of the future - very exciting, however uncomfortable. Also Deborah Warner's Coriolanus (Salzburg) because of its sheer size. Not since going to the circus as a child have I seen horses tearing up on to a stage with dust flying round them.

Fiona Shaw is appearing in 'Machinal' at the National Theatre

PAUL TAYLOR

Mamet's breathtakingly slanted Oleanna (Royal Court) generated heat but precious little light. With Moonlight (Almeida), Harold Pinter's art continued to offer itself the sincerest form of flattery. Both plays inspired terrific performances, though. I greatly enjoyed Hysteria (Royal Court), Terry Johnson's intellectual farce about Freud. Also Stoppard's Arcadia, which marked a splendid return to form. Full of cavorting ideas, the play remains with you as a deep, elusive emotion, tantalisingly realised in Trevor Nunn's excellent production. A wonderful year for the National: the David Hare trilogy, Sweeney Todd, Perestroika, and Machinal which enabled Stephen Daldry and Ian MacNeil to perform exhilarating open-heart surgery on the Lyttelton.

Paul Taylor is the 'Independent' theatre critic

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