STAGE SEEN: BEST OF 2014

There are no glittering prizes for Stage Seen’s 2014 awards, nor indeed any proper categories. But there have been some special theatre moments to share as the year draws to a close…

Matt Smith arises...

Matt Smith arises…

Best spectacle…Rupert Goold’s American Psycho at the Almeida tipped into 2014. It was an overwhelming show with Duncan Sheik’s stunning score, fabulous design from Es Devlin, and the splendid vision of Matt Smith as Patrick Bateman making his entrance through a trapdoor, flooded with UV tanning light and clad only in a pair of tighty-whities. Unforgettable.

Most rudely cut off in its prime…What happened to The Full Monty last March? The strong cast, including Kenny Doughty, flung themselves into the story, and it appeared to be extremely well received by its audiences. But even an Oliver Award nomination wasn’t enough to save its run at the Noel Coward Theatre after only five weeks.

Most heartwarming children’s show…The adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit at the Unicorn Theatre, directed by Purni Morell, was everything it should have been – clever, imaginative and packed with powerful messages about friendship, love, and the fear of abandonment. Christian Roe was adorable as the twitchy-nosed Rabbit – and a real, live, fluffy bunny hopped into the spotlight, too.

Hywel Baynes as Richard III

Hywel Baynes as Richard III

Best villain…Sweaty, greasy and ill-dressed, Richard of Gloucester’s true ambitions for the crown were well disguised by David Hywel Baynes in the Iris Theatre production of Richard III, performed in the grounds and church of St Paul’s in Covent Garden. A brilliant characterisation.

Best use of the Thames…As a site-specific show, Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d was a triumph for its use of the river as a backdrop, with inner-city Deptford standing in creditably for the Italian city at Paynes & Borthwick Wharf. Add to that the intense performances from Ashley Zhangazha and luminous Jessie Buckley, and it made a riveting show.

Most thought-provoking…Paula Rees was born with cerebral palsy, and it took years of determined efforts from all her family to challenge medical indifference and ensure she had opportunities to develop her talents. She was on stage throughout this autobiographical story of her life, Paula’s Story at the Chickenshed Theatre, with original songs played by Jo Collins. It’s a thoroughly inspiring venue, working to give hundreds of young people confidence and a better chance in life.

Most energetic cast…It was a mile-a-minute production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Lion & Unicorn in Kentish Town, directed by Ross McGregor. Hannah Ellis created a sparky, funny and charming Beatrice, and Christopher Neels was a force of nature as Benedick – like an adorable but untrainable puppy. Great use of contemporary music and dance too.

Up-close musical performance…David Bedella made a chilling but strangely gorgeous Sweeney Todd in the Twickenham Theatre’s intimate space. Excellent support from all the cast, including Sarah Ingram as grisly Mrs Lovett.

Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb. Pic: Bronwen Sharp

Pie shop plotters: Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb.
Pic: Bronwen Sharp

Best show in a Pie Shop…Another Sweeney, this time created in Harrington’s Pie Shop (really) by Tooting Arts Club. So good, Sondheim himself came to see it. And so did James Franco.

Dance spectacular…Around 8,000 boys and young men took part in workshops run by Re:Bourne, as part of the creation of the dance adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Performed at Sadler’s Wells, its combination of professionals and talented youngsters was inspirational and captured the chilling spirit of William Golding’s novel.

Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal. Pic: Kwame Lestrade.

Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal.
Pic: Kwame Lestrade.

Naughtiest Knight…From his first bleary appearance in Henry IV Part I and II, clambering out from under Prince Hal’s bedcovers, Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff had the Barbican audience entirely under his spell. Unmissable.

Feistiest fight…In The Knight of the Burning Pestle fight director Kevin McCurdy scattered the cast all over the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in a brilliant set-to that was almost balletic in its choreography. And very funny.

Miss Dusty 'O' as the Evil Mangelina

Miss Dusty ‘O’ as the Evil Mangelina in Sleeping Booty

Sauciest panto…It was a tale of two booties, with adults-only humour in Sleeping Booty at the Leicester Square Theatre, and Booty and the Biatch at Battersea’s Lost Theatre. Both packed full of innuendo, gorgeous costumes and X-rated comedy.

Nicest newcomer…OK, he’s scarcely a newcomer to the public, but in his first-ever stage performance as Kenneth Grahame, Alan Titchmarsh was a comforting narrator who radiated warmth and affability in The Wind in the Willows. This mix of dance and theatre from the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre is deservedly back in the West End for second year, at the Vaudeville.

The beautiful candlelit interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Pic Pete le May

The beautiful candlelit interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Pic Pete le May

Best storytelling…The Winter’s Tales at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse have proved riveting – great stories read in a single sitting, with music to accompany the tales. Deborah Findlay read four Katherine Mansfield stories; Aidan Gillen chose James Joyce’s The Dead. Chekhov, DH Lawrence, Daphne Du Maurier and F. Scott Fitzgerald are also on the winter menu, read by Penelope Wilton, Roger Allam, James Norton and Harriet Walter.

Happy New Year. Here’s to 2015…

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