Review: Best of 2012 Theatre

The end of the year and time to once again reflect on the year’s theatrical offerings and try to assemble a list of highlights. In many ways this was a year where sport interrupted the theatrical calendar with the Olympic and Paralympic Games eating into the theatre going and providing their own unique, and hard to top, drama.

In a year when Shakespeare seemed to be on every stage in the land and venues where fighting arts cuts and the draw of the Games, it’s been a tough year to summarise.

There’s been a lot of ‘good’ work but ‘great’ has been more elusive; is that down to the climate and producers playing safe or just one of those years?

In no particular order then, here is my list of the best theatrical offerings for 2012.

Without You – Anthony Rapp at Menier Chocolate Factory
Based on his best-selling memoir following the creation of the musical Rent and his own mother’s battle with Cancer, Rapp’s one man show could so easily become a morbid affair. Instead the sheer warmth of the performer and the brutal honesty in which he tells his story makes this an emotional, uplifting affair that has the audience in floods of tears but in as much a celebration of life as of loss.

Mudlarks – HighTide Festival Theatre
Occasionally you stumble across a debut work that is so well crafted that you just can’t wait to see future work from its writer. Vickie Donoghue’s Mudlarks looks at three desperate lads in a dead end Essex town across one fateful night. It’s a work that perfectly marries plot, language, staging and acting together in a work that packs in a real emotional punch.

Carousel – Opera North
It takes something special to take an old warhorse such as Carousel and make it seem fresh and Opera North’s reclaiming of the work as an operatic masterpiece does just that. Beautifully staged, exquisitely sung and never sounding finer, this was a Carousel you just wanted to ride.

The Crash of The Elysium – Punchdrunk – Ipswich
Part theatre, part theme park attraction, Punchdrunk’s interactive Dr Who experience requires total participation from its audience. We run, we hide and battle monsters in an hour long adventure. It easy to be cynical in such immersive works but Punchdrunk play the piece with such conviction that it’s totally believable and totally terrifying.

Swallows And Amazons – Children’s Touring Partnership Touring
It’s a tough challenge to create a work that touches both adults and children but Swallows and Amazons manages to keep all ages enchanted. Through its mix of music, drama and humour its hard not to be drawn into a more innocent age. When Swallow and Amazon sails out over the auditorium it’s a truly magic experience.

Floyd Collins – Southwark Playhouse
A musical based on the story of a man who dies trapped in a cave sounds an unlikely subject but set in Southwark Playhouse’s evocative vaults it’s a subject that grips utterly. The score may not be easy but the work it requires pays off with a mix of blues, rock and gospel infused numbers that drive a strong narrative.

Private Resistance – Eastern Angles
What if Germany had invaded the mainland during the Second World War? It’s a tantalising ‘what if’ and one that Eastern Angles explore perfectly. A look at the now mainly forgotten resistance movement, a group who were prepared to sacrifice anything to defend their country. A poignant tribute to them and all who strive to defend their country.

Love Story – Gallery Players, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich
There may be some that query the inclusion of an ‘amateur’ production in this list but there’s nothing amateur about Gallery Players production of Love Story. Managing to scoop Broadway in obtaining the rights ahead of the USA, this faultless production rivalled the West End staging and still brings a tear to the eye at just the memory of it.

Silent – Hotbed Festival, Cambridge
It seems to have been the year for deeply personal productions and Pat Kinevane’s one man show about homelessness and substance abuse pulls no punches in its dark portrayal of the struggles Pat faced. It’s also packed full of dark humour and honesty though, instantly drawing you into the story.

Circa – Latitude Festival
There could easily be two Circa entries on this list. Their How Like An Angel came a very close contender, soaring through the gothic arches of Norwich Cathedral. Their self-titled showcase however just stole the crown with an impressive display of acrobatic skill that is almost too painful to watch.

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