2012 ROUND-UP: Our Reviewers' Best Of UK Theatre - Part Two
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For Part Two of our year's round-up, reviewers Gary Naylor and Kaite Welsh have their say...
Gary Naylor: It's been my great privilege to review 144 Productions in 2012, the overwhelming majority of which have been somewhere between very good and excellent - a fantastic testament to the variety of London's theatre and the extraordinary breadth and depth of talent turned out by an education system in which the government seem determined to marginalise arts.
It's (yet again) the price of everything and value of nothing thinking from men (and maybe one or two women too) who believe that education's role is to shape young people the way a plane shapes wood - knocking off every rough edge until everything looks like it should. That's not how you get Olympic Opening Ceremonies like London 2012 and it's not how you get theatre as good as London's in 2012.
I don't give stars in reviews - how absurd it is to reduce all that effort, all those contributions, all that magic to a five point scale - so it's hard to write about the best of the year. Nevertheless, I'm going to - so there. Having carefully done the math to make certain that the price was equivalent to £6 and not £60, Nabucco at Moldova's National Opera House was moving and beautiful, with the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves a spine-tingling highlight. Amongst a consistently strong offering at The Arcola all year, Purge was the most powerful drama I saw: contemporary writing about contemporary issues performed with complete commitment.
The Arcola finished the year with my favourite musical, Sweet Smell of Success - catching the zeitgeist as the press lurched from one ethical crisis to another.
Theatre's also about fun, of course, and I had the most fun watching Jeff Achtem's hilarious, poignant and inventive puppetry in Swamp Juice - storytelling of the highest order.
Just shading Martyn Jacques' Hamlet at the Southbank Centre as my favourite show is The Print Room's Uncle Vanya, a classic delivered with verve and utter confidence, thrillingly close-up. Like my favourite last year (London Road) it had a swift return run, so strong was audience demand. Like London Road, it wasn't a "Happy Ever After" piece, nor was its humour of the kind that provokes bellylaughs, but it engaged from start to finish, tearing you from one compelling character to the next as life - with all its ugliness on show - demanded attention. Above all, it was theatrical - its alchemy creating something still unique in the age of 3-D movies and hyper-realistic computer games. It was the kind of show (and there were many others) that made me not so much thankful to have seen so many productions this year, but regretful to have missed so many too.
And now next year beckons - I can't wait.
Kaite Welsh: I deliberately held off writing this until I'd seen Phyllida Lloyd's all-female production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse, on the grounds that it would end up being my favourite show of the year. For once, my epic powers of procrastination were right - this gritty, bleak production might be one of the best things I've ever seen. Set in a women's prison it shifted seamlessly from the claustrophobic world of the inmates to the play they escape into. In true Shakespearian style, the moments where the 'real' world intrudes - an actor being called away by the prison guard a stage fight turning nasty and being broken up, Harriet Walter breaking off from a speech to snarl "shut the f*** up, w***ers" at her rowdy companions - only serve to heighten the tension of the main action.