My top ten theatre productions of 2012 so far

Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in Constellations. Photo Simon Annand

I am not good with deadlines. Not so much that I miss them but I like pushing the boundaries, doing things last minute. So blogging about my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year some time in September is entirely in character. And everyone knows the year truly starts in September, right? (That’s my excuse anyway).

Before we move onto the actual list, a little teaser: There are four play starting with C and four plays revolving around exact sciences. It’s fair to say any play starting with C and about exact science is likely to be a huge hit with me. There are two productions from the Sheffield Crucible (more often than not, plays I see in Sheffield end up on my top ten list, Daniel Evans has done a great job), two adaptations by Simon Stephens (as well as being a great writer, he has been everywhere this year), and two plays starring John Heffernan.

In strictly alphabetical order, my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year:

Company at Sheffield Crucible: the only musical in the list, a Sondheim I hadn’t seen before and a fabulous company (no pun intended). I would see anything with Daniel Evans in it.

Constellations at the Royal Court: Nick Payne’s play takes a leap of faith with a bold structure that matches and compliments its emotional truthfulness. Michael Longhurst’s direction adds simplicity and lets Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins thrive in the intimacy of the play.

Copenhagen at Sheffield Crucible: Another trip to Sheffield and this three hander by Michael Frayn was a revelation. I felt the way I felt the first time I saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia: a roller coaster of ideas and moral dilemmas that produce real tangible excitement. All three actors were fantastic but I might have fallen a little bit in love with Geoffrey Streatfeild.

A Doll’s House at the Young Vic: Henrik Ibsen’s play looks modern, relevant and classic in this adaptation by Simon Stephens, a trick much more difficult to achieve than it sounds. Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan excel as the couple who love but don’t understand each other.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the National Theatre: Marianne Elliott’s production, of Mark Haddon’s book adapted by Simon Stephens, reveals Christopher’s world as an exciting, tender and welcoming place. Luke Treadaway playing Christopher will be showered with awards, and Paul Ritter playing his dad was heartbreaking.

Minsk at the Young Vic: I am as surprised as anybody that this play from the Belarus Free Theatre ended up on my top ten. Not as artistically accomplished as many other productions in the list, nevertheless it was vital, raw and more connected to real life than most of them (some of it was real life).

Noises Off at the Old Vic and She Stoops to Conquer at the National Theatre: I couldn’t choose between them, two perfect comedies finding their perfect expression in these productions.

John Heffernan as Möbius in The Physicists. Photo Johan Persson

The Physicists at the Donmar: some reviews found Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play to be irrelevant to the 21st century but I think they entirely missed the point: the play is not about the Cold War, it’s about ideas that, once thought, have a life of their own. Funny, affecting and with a tremendous central performance by John Heffernan (who also starred in She Stoops to Conquer).

Propeller’s Henry V and The Winter’s Tale: Neither productions were perfect but Propeller is in a league of its own, when it hits the mark there is nothing like it. The second half of The Winter’s Tale is unlikely to be matched by any other production of that play.

Tender Napalm at the Southwark Playhouse: Life and tragedy as play time, and the more affecting for it. Philip Ridley’s play justifies its title and what more can you ask?

Honourable mentions: although Matilda is one of my best theatrical experiences ever, I first saw it in 2010 so it can’t be included in the list; Timon of Athens at the National Theatre only narrowly didn’t make the cut, Simon Russell Beale’s performance alone could have put it there; Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo theatre was a very  very good production of the Eugene O’ Neill play with a quartet of perfect performances by David Suchet, Laurie Metcalf, Trevor White and Kyle Soller.

What else did I miss?

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