Top Lists of 2013


Top Shakespeare

1.  All’s Well That Ends Well, (RSC RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
2.  As You Like It (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
3.  Titus Andronicus (RSC, Swan Theatre).
4.  Julius Caesar (Donmar Warehouse).
5.  The Taming of the Shrew (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal)
6.  Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios).
7.  Richard II (RSC, RST and Barbican).
8.  Othello (National Theatre).
9.  Hamlet (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
10.  Twelfth Night (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal).
11.  Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse).
12. As You Like it (Globe).
13,  Macbeth (Globe).
14. Henry V (Noel Coward Theatre).
15.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe).
16. The Merry Wives of Windsor (RST).
17.  The Winter’s Tale, (RST and York Grand Opera House).
18.  Richard III (York Theatre Royal).
19. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Noel Coward Theatre).
20. The Tempest (Globe).

Top Theatre (Not Shakespeare)

1.  The Effect – Lucy Prebble  (National Theatre).
2.  This House – James Graham (National Theatre).
3.  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens (National Theatre at the Apollo).
4.  Edward II – Christopher Marlowe (National Theatre).
5.  Talk Show  – Alistair McDowall (Royal Court).
6.  A Boy and His Soul  – Colman Domingo (Tricycle).
7.  A Mad World My Masters – Thomas Middleton (Swan).
8.  Jumpers for Goalposts –  Tom Wells (Bush Theatre).
9.  Blink – Phil Porter (Soho Theatre).
10. Chalk Farm  – Kieran Hurley and A.J. Taudevin (Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
11.  There Has Possibly Been an Incident – Chris Thorpe (Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
12.  Same Deep Water as Me – Nick Payne  (Donmar).
13.  Feast -Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield, Gbolahan Obisesan (Young Vic/Royal Court).
14.  The Victorian in the Wall – Will Aamsdale (Royal Court).
15.  Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist and Jack Thorne (Royal Court)
16.  The Weir – Conor McPherson (Donmar)
17.  Wot? No Fish! – Danny Braverman (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe Festival)
18.  Home – David Storey (Arcola).
19.  Candide – Mark Ravenhill (Swan).
20.  Choose Your One Documentary – Nathan Pennington (Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).


1. David Bowie (Victoria and Albert)
2. Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain)
3.  Life and Death in Pompeii (British Museum)
4.  Lowry (Tate Britain)
5.  Elizabeth I and Her People (National Portrait Gallery)
6.  Paul Klee (Tate Modern)
7.  Manet. Portraying Life. Royal Academy
8.  Summer Show (Royal Academy)
9.   Peer Doig (National Gallery of Scotland)
10. Glam The Performance of Style (Tate, Liverpool)

Looking for Richard III (RSC March to Sept 2012 and The Globe, 29th September 2012)

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It’s often the case that there are several productions of the same Shakespeare play around at the same time.  I saw the Globe production of Richard III on 29th September after seeing the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) production develop over the summer from its first previews in March until the final performance in September.

The RSC production took a minimalist approach to staging and which made use of light bulbs that descended to indicate a character was about to die.  The costumes suggested that the RSC production had a modern setting, but the inclusion of armour and the sword fight at the end added a timeless element.  On the other hand, the Globe production was an original practice performance. It attempted to represent some of the playing conditions on the original Globe with male actors playing female parts and the audience sitting in the boxes above the stage.  The result of this was a visually stunning production with bright dynamic colours and rich textures.

What was striking when seeing the productions around the same time was the very different approaches to Richard that Mark Rylance at the Globe and Jonjo O’Neill at the RSC took.  Where O’Neill bustled on stage, Rylance, in contrast, bumbled as if surprised at finding himself in the middle of a play.  If Antony Sher was the bottled spider and Simon Russell Beale was the bunch backed toad, then Rylance was more like a hedgehog.  O’Neill did not take the approach of basing his physical appearance on bestial imagery and played Richard with a slight limp and unexaggerated hump.  His Richard was like a moody youth, who did what he did because he could.  One example of this was bawling at Buckingham (Brian Ferguson) that he was not in the giving ‘ vein’ (4.3.105) and storming off stage in a sulk when Buckingham requests his rewards for his support.  O’Neill’s showman Richard developed through the run, playing with the audience, acknowledging an audience member’s sneeze with a ‘bless you’ and directing ‘was ever woman in this humour won’ (1.2.236) to someone sitting on the front row. This showman element was exemplified in O’Neill’s British Museum’s Staging Shakespeare exhibit where he had a look of Robbie Williams, and there was much of the ‘Let Me Entertain You’ in O’Neill’s performance.  Rylance addressed the groundlings in the pit throughout, but without the confidence that O’Neill had shown over the summer.  It was as if he was unsure of himself, and that the play demanded him to  follow the path that he does and he is carried along with it all.

In both productions, there were some very strong performances in the female roles. The absence of Margaret in the Globe production felt strange. Paola Dionisotti had delivered such a powerful performance in the RSC production that Margaret’s presence had become a beat underneath the action. Dionisotti’s Margaret stamped her foot on the metal stage as she cursed the court, making her prophesies hard to forget as characters moved closer to there deaths.  Siobhan Redmond’s Elizabeth played the grieving mother with great effect, and Pippa Nixon’s performance as Anne was sharp and nuanced and when she spat in Richard’s face the audience gasped (1.2).  In the Globe production Samuel Barnett’s Elizabeth made a bold move and took control by kissing Richard at the end of 4.4, an approach I’d not seen before.

One of the strengths of the RSC production was in the supporting roles. Alex Waldmann’s Catesby was a particular example of an excellent supporting performance, and he always seemed to be there in the background, and encouraging the citizens to support Richard (4.1). He presented Catesby as a geeky character wearing glasses in the first half, but growing in confidence alongside Richard as Richard moves closer to the throne. There was an incredible performance from Iain Bachelor as Richmond, who felt very much like the nation’s saviour.  His ‘why then ’tis time to arm and give direction’ (5.3) speech not only seemed to motivate the soldiers in his camp, but the audience as well. Joshua Jenkins’ and Neal Barry’s murderers were a very comic double act, and Edmund Kingsley made a walk so effective and moving as Clarence purposely crossed the stage to the bed where he would die.  The bed was placed in the same place as Henry’s coffin had in 1.2, drawing attention to Clarence’s ‘royal’ persona, but also foreshadowing the murder.

In the RSC production, the scenes with the citizens and Lord Mayor were almost slapstick. These showed Richard to be both manipulative, and a comedian at the first time.  As the lights went down on the first half, O’Neill would grin at the audience and sometimes wave. As an audience, we were clearly meant to enjoy this, but we were also complicit with Richard in his machinations.

The sword fight in the RSC production made the most of the small Swan stage and the close proximity of the audience. It was energetic, exciting and unnerving and there were actual sparks generated when the swords clashed.   At the end, the RSC production took a motif from Michael Boyd’s 2011 RSC Macbeth. The ghost of the young Prince ran on stage to distract Richard, and that’s when he is overthrown by Richmond. The Globe went one step further and all the ghosts appeared, but this seemed rather excessive and did not work well.

The lights came up at the end of the RSC production to signal the new regime. The Globe production brought close through the dance. In a play where Richard has two-thirds of the lines, there’s a lot for the actors to work with and O’Neill and Rylance took different perspectives of Richard’s character and presented both villain and comedian in different ways and held the audience’s attention throughout.

Reviews and Previews

Richard III Globe 2012

The Stage / Reviews / Richard III

Mark Rylance in Richard III, Globe Theatre, review – Telegraph

Blog Richard III – Shakespeare’s Globe « Gareth’s Culture and Travel Blog

Blog: There Ought To Be Clowns: Review: Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe

Richard III, Globe Theatre, London The Doctor’s Dilemma, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe, London –

Richard III; The Doctor’s Dilemma; The Fire Garden – reviews | Stage | The Observer

Richard III – review | Stage | The Guardian

Richard III RSC 2012

Richard III, RSC, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, review – Telegraph

Blog: Battle of Richard III’s part 1: RSC’s Jonjo O’Neill (Rev Stan’s theatre blog)

A northern light on Shakespeare’s ‘broken’ mona…

Richard III, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK –

Richard III – review | Stage | The Guardian

The Stage / Reviews / Richard III

Blog: Partially Obstructed View: Theatre review: Richard III (RSC / Swan)

References are to the Macmillan/RSC text


In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and  in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see.  I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.

Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.

The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February.  Some of the productions that I liked  in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving.  In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’  nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre.  I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra  in the Swan theatre.  When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly.  The last day  that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet.  The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.

The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting.  This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world.  Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage.  Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas.   However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan.  This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.

Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper.  I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.

In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.

I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and  I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did.  I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.

I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production  which was set in a mental hospital.   The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.

I saw three different Comedy of Errors.  The year with the magnificent all male Propeller  Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed  in April.

Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and  Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.

…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well.  James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.

Best of 2011

Here is my best of.. lists. The following post discusses what I thought about the year.

Shakespeare in the Theatre

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC at the RST)

2. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

3. Hamlet (The National Theatre)

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

5.The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Sheffield)

6. Antony and Cleopatra with Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva (RSC at the RST)

7. Macbeth (RSC)

8. The Merchant of Venice (RSC)

9. King Lear (RSC at the RST and Roundhouse)

10. Hamlet (Young Vic)

11. Othello (The Crucible, Sheffield)

12. As You Like It (RSC at Roundhouse)

13. Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)

14. All Well That End’s Well (The Globe)

15. The Comedy of Errors (Young Person’s at RSC)

16. Hamlet (Northern Broadsides at West Yorkshire Playhouse)

17. Hamlet (Globe touring)

18. The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre)

19. Richard III (Old Vic)

20. Richard II (Donmar)

21. Hamlet (Young Person’s at RSC)

22.  King Lear (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

23.  The Tempest (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

24.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC, RST)

25. Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Other Theatre

1. Jerusalem (Apollo)

2. The Homecoming (RSC at the Swan)

3. Frankenstein (The National)

4. One Man, Two Guvnors (The Lowry)

5. Anna Christie (Donmar)

6. The City Madam (RSC, The Swan)

7. Dr Faustus (The Globe)

8. Betrayal (Harold Pinter/Comedy)

9. Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar)

10. Cardenio (RSC, The Swan)

11. Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead (Haymarket)

12. Grief (The National)

13. 13 (The National)

14. Silence (RSC at Hampstead)

15. Little Eagles (RSC at Hampstead)

16. Season’s Greetings (National Theatre)

17. Juno and the Paycock (National)

18. Cause Célèbre (Old Vic)

19. Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

20. Moonlight (Donmar)

21. The Crucible (York Theatre Royal)

22. The Heretic (Royal Court)

23. Forty Years On (York Theatre Royal)

24. American Trade (RSC at Hampstead)

25. Beggar’s Opera (Belt Up at York Theatre Royal)

Note: Forty Years On is here for proud Mum reasons.


1. John Martin (Tate Britain)

2. Ford Maddox Brown (Manchester City Art Gallery)

3. Degas (Royal Academy)

4. Leonardo da Vinci (National Gallery)

5. Juma Plensa (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

6. Glamour of the Gods (National Portrait Gallery)

7. Gerhard Ritcher (Tate Modern)

8. First Actresses (National Portrait Gallery)

9. Miro (Tate Modern)

10. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum)

11. Gabriel Orozco (Tate Modern)

12. Watteau (Royal Academy)

13. Hokusai’s Great wave (British Museum)

14. Treasures of Heaven (British Museum)

15. Devotion by Design (National Gallery)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show 2012

17. Building the Revolution (Royal Academy )

18. Barry Flanagan (Tate Britain)

19. Grayson Perry (British Museum)

20. Tacita Dean (Tate Modern)

My great cultural moments of 2011

Meeting Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn

First night of Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing

Last night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Romeo and Juliet

First night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – King Lear

The performance of the year – Adam James as Don Pedro in Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing – just wonderful.

Edinburgh Festival

The RSC Ensemble Revealed at the Swan Theatre.

Best actor and actress

Best Actor – Adam James in Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

Best Actress – Eve Best in Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe)