In a year in which the London theater has regularly made the news thanks to celebrity sightings that have ranged from Kathleen Turner and Jerry Hall to Daryl Hannah, Macaulay Culkin and Jessica Lange, homegrown theater
practitioners have variously made their marks more quietly. TheaterMania salutes them all as it offers a personal guide to the Top 50 in their respective fields.
1. Simon Russell Beale's appearance as Hamlet at the National Theatre confirmed his elevation to the top rank of British stage actors.
2. Michael Gambon is universally known (thanks to the late Ralph Richardson) as the Great Gambon. This year, he made Nicholas Wright's Cressida into more
than it deserved and starred in a revival of Pinter's The Caretaker.
3. Bill Nighy has long been one of my least favorite actors, but thanks to one performance this year--in the new play Blue/Orange at the National--he
catapulted to the other side; the ill-manners and quirky mannerisms totally served the part.
4. Roger Allam, one of the most reliable and versatile of all English stage actors, was as brilliant as ever in two of the National's Russian
attractions, Summerfolk and The Cherry Orchard.
5. Stephen Dillane proved just how compelling a performer he is in the the Donmar Warehouse production of The Real Thing that was revived in the West
End at the beginning of the year before going to Broadway.
1. Maggie Smith's appearances on the London stage are always collectible, but none more so than this year when she appeared in the title role of Alan Bennett's moving The Lady in the Van. That's why the lady became a tramp!
2. Penelope Wilton, one of Britain's most unsung but most reliably brilliant actresses, was a marvelous Arkadina in The Seagull for the RSC.
3. Maureen Lipman's star turn as the late play agent Peggy Ramsay in Peggy for You brought a fascinatingly bizarre and influential figure of the
British theater to startling and hilarious life.
4. Vanessa Redgrave was a somewhat bizarre Prospero in The Tempest at Shakespeare's Globe, but starring with brother Corin in two shows on either side of it--an otherwise pedestrian revival of Coward's A Song at Twilight in the West End, and the National's Cherry Orchard--she proved her mettle.
5. Victoria Hamilton is the new Judi Dench: the career of this young actress has been gathering momentum with every appearance she makes. After a National Theatre season that included notable roles in Troilus and Cressida and Summerfolk, she delighted in a Sheffield production of As You Like It that traveled to London's Lyric Hammersmith.
1. Alan Ayckbourn remains Britain's most prolific and popular playwright. This summer, he took over most of the National Theatre for two plays, House
and Garden, performed simultaneously in both the Olivier and Lyttelton Theatres--by the same cast!
2. David Hare's latest, My Zinc Bed, was a Royal Court disappointment, but was nevertheless buzzing with ideas if not dramatic imagination. Perhaps someone other than Hare himself should have directed it and persuaded him to give it more shape.
3. Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange at the National's Cottesloe was the year's most challenging new play by a writer whose specialty subject seems to be mental
illness--and who saw his earlier play in a similar vein, Some Voices, become a terrific movie. Blue/Orange is being revived for a transfer to the West End's Duchess Theatre in the New Year.
4. Sarah Kane has continued to exert an influence over British theater long after her death by suicide. The Royal Court's posthumous production of her last and possibly most personal play, 4:48 Psychosis, showed that she remains a powerful presence even when peering into life's abyss.
5. Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay for Stephen Daldry's hit film Billy Elliot, has also had a busy theatrical year with West End runs of Spoonface Steinberg (a monologue for Kathryn Hunter), his original comedy Cooking with Elvis, and his RSC adaptation of Goldoni's A Servant To Two Masters.
1. Trevor Nunn has lately created come into a lot of criticism for stewardship of the National Theatre. But, as a director, he remains beyond compare on the British stage, as witnessed this year by his productions of David Edgar's epic Albert Speer and Chekhov's intimate Cherry Orchard.
2. Sam Mendes returned to the Donmar Warehouse for the first time since he directed Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room there, and following his subsequent, Oscar-winning triumph with American Beauty. His beautiful Donmar staging of To the Green Fields Beyond demonstrated his consummate skill at orchestrating actors and creating atmosphere. Unfortunately, he is about to be lost to the movies once again.
3. Nicholas Hytner's return to the London theater was long overdue, given his cinematic disappointments The Object of My Affection and, especially, Center Stage. He reminded us of his worth as a stage director with Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van in the West End and a Donmar Warehouse revival of Orpheus Descending.
4. Jonathan Kent's epic, complementary stagings of Richard II and Coriolanus for the Almeida, subsequently seen at BAM, proved he is a brilliant stager of the classics. The Almeida, which Kent co-runs with Ian McDiarmid, keeps going from strength to strength.
5. Howard Davies' triumph with All My Sons in the National's Cottesloe revealed his trademark, illuminating eye for detail, as his Iceman Cometh (starring Kevin Spacey) had previously done.
1. Joanna Riding, star of such National Theatre musicals as Carousel and A Little Night Music, moved into a different league when she stole the show from her fellow witches in The Witches of Eastwick at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
2. Elaine Paige remains the undisputed First Lady of the English musical theater, as she immodestly bills herself. But why be modest? It's simply true, as she showed us once again as Mrs. Anna in The King and I at the London Palladium.
3. Ben Elton, who wrote the book and lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical The Beautiful Game, galvanized the composer to produce his most interesting show since Evita.
4. Matthew Bourne's dance works for his company Adventures in Motion Pictures are so exciting that they look like musicals, even though there's no singing (but a lot of sexy, sensational dancing). His latest, The Car Man at the Old Vic, is no exception.
5. Sharon D Clarke (the D should stand for Diva) is London's biggest unsung talent, though she sings fit to burst in a smoldering belt. She's currently to be found playing Rafiki in The Lion King.
1. and 2. Producers Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company remain the pre-eminent factory houses of new musicals. Both fielded
new entries this year--The Witches of Eastwick and The Beautiful Game, respectively--and both broke the mold of what they've done before.
3. Bob Crowley seems to design every big musical of note in New York and London nowadays, whether it's Broadway's Aida or the West End's Witches of
Eastwick. But he can also do small and perfectly formed shows, as witness his Donmar designs for Orpheus Descending.
4. Howard Harrison has quickly become one of the lighting designers of choice in London since giving up a backroom career at Cameron Mackintosh's office. He is equally adept at designing lavish musicals like The Witches of Eastwick or Mamma Mia and intimate dramas like To The Green Fields Beyond.
5. David Ian co-produced the London edition of the Broadway King and I revival, and he has now been appointed to head SFX's UK producing arm.
FIVE TO WATCH
1. Chiwetel Ejiofor's stunning performance as a mentally disturbed patient in Blue/Orange at the National has forced us to learn how to pronounce his
name; and he was one of the few saving graces as Romeo in an otherwise misconceived production of Romeo and Juliet at the National.
2. Paul Nicholls, a one-time television soap star, has been making forays onto the legit stage with increasing success. After a terrific appearance in Mrs. Steinberg and the Byker Boy at the Bush, he is now to be found playing one of Jessica Lange's sons in Long Day's Journey into Night (with
Broadway's Paul Rudd as his brother).
3. Adam Kenwright--nephew to prolific West End producer Bill, but now estranged from him--has kept himself firmly in the family business, producing highly unusual (and increasingly profitable) shows like Stones in His Pockets, Madame Melville, and De La Guarda.
4. Lucy Bailey's production of Baby Doll (first seen at the regional Birmingham Rep) brought this Tennessee Williams screenplay to the National Theatre in a staging that was at once highly theatrical and full of
5. Josie Walker, the hitherto unknown star of Lloyd Webber's The Beautiful Game, is like a young Judy Kuhn: a belter with class and resonance.
1. Sam Walters, who founded Richmond's Orange Tree and runs it as one of London's most interesting fringe theaters, is to be applauded for an artistic policy that looks outward from the community served by the theater to
the whole canvas of world drama, classical as well as new. The Orange Tree is truly a National Theatre in miniature.
2. Mike Bradwell, artistic director of the influential but hitherto uncomfortable Bush Theatre, is a hero for finally putting us out of our misery and introducing proper seating at this home for new writers.
3. Carol Metcalfe founded the Bridewell Theatre, London's best, most versatile and atmospheric laboratory space for small-scale musicals. Among the treats there this year were two cannibalistic musicals, a promenade
Sweeney Todd and Eating Raoul.
4. Penny Horner co-founded the Jermyn Street Theatre, a tiny but terrific venue in a restaurant basement just off Piccadilly Circus.
5. Nicholas Kent runs Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre as a true community resource, specializing in plays that appeal to the largely black or Irish local population but also attract audiences from much further afield, thanks
to the quality of the productions.
BEST OUTSIDE LONDON
1. Michael Grandage, a former actor whose directorial star is rising with his work at the Donmar Warehouse (his revival of Passion Play
transferred to the West End and now he is directing Sondheim's Merrily We
Roll Along there), has also been gaining a gathering reputation at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre--and rightly so, as a transfer of his As You Like It from there to the Lyric Hammersmith proved.
2. Paola Dionisotti scored a major triumph starring in Glasgow's Tron Theatre production of a highly unusual new play, Further than the Furthest Thing,
that was subsequently seen at the Edinburgh Festival and all-too-briefly at the National Theatre.
3. Loveday Ingram, a director who seems to have come from nowhere (but in fact was serving a long apprenticeship as an assistant director at the
National), emerged as a leading light at Chichester's Minerva Theatre, where her revival of David Hare's The Blue Room originated before transferring to
4. Mark Clements directed one of the year's best and most underrated new plays: Speaking in Tongues, by Australian Andrew Bovell, at Derby Playhouse (which Clements runs) and subsequently at London's Hampstead Theatre.
5. Peter Nichols has been so shamefully neglected by the both the National and the RSC (for whom he was once a regular playwright) that he has had to return
to his native Bristol, where the local company Show of Strength has staged his latest, So Long Life, and thereby proven that he is still at full strength as a
writer. And the published version of Nichols' personal diaries is easily the most entertaining theatrical book of the year.
1. Michael Billington, writing in The Guardian with tact, taste, and unflappable enthusiasm, remains our most dignified senior critic, despite a rare lapse this year when he reviewed Jerry Hall's first-ever preview
performance in The Graduate rather than waiting for her official press night the following week.
2. Michael Coveney of the Daily Mail is influential partly because of the paper he now writes for (he's previously been at the Financial Times and The Observer), but mainly because he's both highly entertaining and usually
3. Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph is the man who coined the now infamous 'pure theatrical viagra' phrase in reference to Nicole Kidman's appearance in The Blue Room, but even if his pen doesn't always rise to the occasion, he's a reliable commentator when not unduly excited by unclothed bodies.
4. Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard, London's local evening paper, is important because of the readership he serves, but is an uncommonly hard
taskmaster who rarely seems to enjoy actually going to the theater.
5. Matt Wolf, as the London critic for Variety, often sets the tone for how shows are perceived abroad, particularly in America. Even if he can be willful and occasionally prone to personal attacks, he is a very good
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