(A new year's resolution, in case you didn't work it out.)
So to start HERE'S MY TOP 10 of 2008...it's silly and weird, like myself, but there you go.
In no particular order...
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC - Menier Chocolate Factory - Dir. Trevor Nunn
My first time seeing this Sondheim musical live, and I adored it. It's always a treat to see a musical in the intimate confines of the Menier, especially a musical with such a ravishing score and a production so packed with detailed, delicate performances. Some of the casting could have been stronger, but Alex Hanson and Hannah Waddingham (above) anchored the whole thing beautifully, and Kaisa Hammarlund's rendition of 'The Miller's Son' lifted me halfway to heaven. More than a little magical night music here, then.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES - Playhouse Theatre - dir. Terry Johnson
I disagree that this show feels dated. I'm exactly the 'demographic' who is supposed to find this hopelessly dated with regards to current gay concerns, and yet it resonated strongly with me. But this show isn't in my top 10 because of its topicality - it's because this is a wonderful production, from its sparkling design to the incredible Cagelles, and from Denis Lawson's fabulously sung Georges to Douglas Hodge's absolutely stunning, intricate and heartbreaking performance as Albin. He is electrifying in this role. I left the theatre bouncy and weightless as a beach ball on the sand.
NOW OR LATER - Royal Court Theatre - dir. Dominic Cooke
A short but searing new play from US playwright Christopher Shinn, I found both the play and the production thrilling. Superb direction from Cooke ensured strong performances from the whole cast, but Eddie Redmayne, on stage throughout, was a revelation, utterly believable as the Presidential candidate's gay son caught up in events beyond his control. Not perfect, but the most exciting thing I've yet seen at the Royal Court.
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR - Gielgud Theatre - dir. Rupert Goold
I loved this wildly inventive take on Pirandello's classic play; Rupert Goold has fast become one of my favourite directors after his outstanding 'Glass Menagerie'and 'Tempest', and now this utterly original reinvention of an old, overdone play has really shown off the crazy depths of his imagination. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. Technically astonishing and completely gripping, this was a theatrical feast to savour.
Helium - Barbican Pit - dir. Alan Lane
This was a magical little show which has lingered in my mind long after seeing it. Only half an hour long, you experienced the show one person at a time, as your own personal guide led you through a series of box rooms (literally) to explore the sad story of Bella's grandfather Max. Haunting and moving, the show was full of beautiful images and moments, and I am eager to see what Slung Low, the company behind it, come up with next.
THAT FACE - Duke of York's Theatre - dir. Jeremy Herrin
I guess this is technically from 2007, but I didn't see it until the West End transfer, so shh. I LOVE this play. It is painful and truthful and raw and violent and shocking and beautiful and I can't wait to see it again in some form. (Not sure about a film, though.) Lindsay Duncan's performance was sensational. Matt Smith was also excellent. I am really really excited about Polly Stenham's next play. That is all about this one.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER - Haymarket Cinema - dir. Emma Rice
A beautiful immersive environment was created in this grand old cinema by Kneehigh for this show, and it was emblematic of the detail and feeling throughout the whole show; a magical combination of film and performance, music and movement and speech, and lots of wonderfully tortured emotion. Visually beautiful, well performed, lovely music; I became a contented 80 year old with no teeth called Beryl, that's how happy I was.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG - Watermill Theatre - dir. John Doyle
I love this show. I love the score, I love the story, I love the structure, the ending BREAKS MY HEART. This was the first time I saw it live, so needless to say I was excited. And I love John Doyle's actor-musician productions, so it was a good combination. This didn't work as well as Sweeney or Company, but it was still exhilarating, moving, and occasionally, such as during Jo Hickman's 'Not a Day Goes By' and of course 'Our Time', I found myself in musical paradise. I really want to direct it now...
And then the last two come from my trip to New York in September...
SPRING AWAKENING - Eugene O'Neill Theatre - dir. Michael Mayer
Oh my god, I loved this show. I'd got a little bored of the songs as I'd had the recording for ages, but finally seeing them in context, seeing the show live, totally reinvigorated it all for me. A mostly-fabulous cast, led by the very talented (and preeettyyy) Hunter Parrish, from Weeds, a spectacular set, and a brilliant score combined to make this an exhilarating experience, despite occasional dodgy acting or numerous problems with the book. I can't wait to see the London cast.
[TITLE OF SHOW] - Lyceum Theatre - dir. Michael Berresse
I didn't want to see this show. The premise sounded irritating, the fans sounded irritating. I couldn't have been more wrong; this mini-miracle of a musical speaks to all of us who have ever tried to create something, who have ever wanted anything so badly... a hopelessly loveable cast and a decent score (with a number of sensational showstoppers later on in the show) transcends any problems to create something of unexpectedly beautiful potency. I wept openly from my front row seat as the cast, also crying, stood before me and said ''this is the last line of our show''. No, it's not, not by a long shot, is all I could think....
First year in a while that I haven't had something in the top 10 from the National...it reflects the less-than-vintage year at the NT. It wasn't awful, there were quite a few shows that I liked, but nothing that set me on fire - the only things I loved at the NT this year were War Horse and Waves, two revivals! I enjoyed Her Naked Skin and ...some trace of her, (and I hated Fram) but they didn't capture me enough to make it in to the top 10.
Hamlet - Novello Theatre - dir. Greg Doran
Ivanov - Wyndhams Theatre - dir. Michael Grandage
Xanadu - Helen Hayes Theatre, New York - dir. Christopher Ashley