PLAYBILL PICKS: The Memory of All That! Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2012

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21 Dec 2012

Luke Treadaway in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

MARK SHENTON, Playbill.com London Correspondent

2012 was dominated in London, of course, by the staging of the Olympics (and then the Paralympics) in July and August. It had a massive impact on the economy of the city, and not always favorably — at least for the theatre, where advance publicity of how unmanageable transport would be over the period (and the fleecing of tourists by hotels who hiked their rates) kept both locals and foreign, non-Olympics tourists out of central London alike. It meant that long-runners like Blood Brothers and Chicago finally closed in the wake of the Olympics in their 24th and 15th years respectively.

On the other hand, the year's two most unforgettable live shows took place for one night only each: the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (directed by Danny Boyle) and the Paralympics (co-directed by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey). I was in the Olympic stadium myself for the latter, and can testify to the thrill of seeing this stunning show live; while the Olympics saw a stand-in stunt-double for the Queen flying into the stadium with Daniel Craig's James Bond, the Paralympics had an even more extraordinary and moving sight, as Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend — who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan — flew the Paralympics torch into the stadium. The rest of the theatre year couldn't match it those ceremonies for spectacle or budget (the combined price tag was a reported £81 million, even more expensive than Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark). But there was still plenty to celebrate in the theatre, too:

The National provided several of the most unforgettable shows of the year. The stage version of Mark Haddon's book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott (co-director of War Horse), was one of the most electrifying: a study of a 15-year-old boy suffering from a behavioral disorder making sense of the world from his own point of view, spellbindingly played by the extraordinary Luke Treadaway; it transfers to the West End's Apollo Theatre from March 1. Lucy Prebble's The Effect, directed by Rupert Goold, took us into the heart of a clinical drugs experiment and into the minds of its volunteer participants. Also at the National, artistic director Nick Hytner did brilliantly with both Alan Bennett's People, a perceptive look at the heritage industry and the desire to preserve the past, while also sending Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, hurtling into the present.

Beale was also seen at the end of the year in another guise (and disguise) entirely; that of a cross-dressing officer who leads a British army entertainment unit in late 40s Malaya in Peter NicholsPrivates on Parade, launching the new Michael Grandage Company's year-long residency of star-studded productions at the West End's Noel Coward Theatre. Still to come in the season: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in a new play by John Logan; Daniel Radcliffe in a revival of a Martin McDonagh play; and Sheridan Smith, David Walliams and Jude Law in Shakespeare. The West End may finally give the subsidised sector a run for its money — in every sense.

Shakespeare's Globe provided the year's most extraordinary Shakespearean festival of the year, offering all 37 plays, each in a different language, by companies that came there from around the world. Then the Globe saw returning hero Mark Rylance — previously the theatre's artistic director —reprising his previous turn as Olivia in Twelfth Night and newly performing Richard III. Both transferred to the West End, where they are now running at the Apollo through Feb. 10, 2013.

The best musical productions of the year were on the fringe, where there were stunning revivals of Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins (at Southwark Playhouse) and Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde (at the Union), as well as a stunning U.K. premiere for Marvin Hamlisch, Craig Carnelia and John Guare's Sweet Smell of Success at the Arcola. The biggest musical belly-up (and ache) was Viva Forever!, the new jukebox show constructed out of Spice Girls songs, which is likely to be Viva Gone in the not-too-distant future.

On a more personal front, my own most unforgettable theatrical encounter of the year was my headline-making confrontation with Bianca Jagger, who had taken flash photography regularly throughout the Barbican premiere of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach in May. Afterwards, I challenged her (summoning my inner-Patti LuPone) to ask, "Who do you think you are?" The fact that I didn't actually know the answer at the moment I asked her probably startled Jagger even more than being challenged on her role as an unofficial production photographer. It made national U.K. news, and led Wilson to tweet his support of her — a bizarre thing for a director to do for a person who had undermined the audience's enjoyment of his production so brazenly.



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