2013 Year in Review: Gary Naylor's Best and Worst of Theatre

So, 109 shows reviewed in 2013 (with a couple more to come) - how to choose the best from that lot! Of course, I can't, as the variety and quality of London's theatre make comparisons invidious. They are, in any case, misconceived, as productions do not compete with each other, they compete with themselves to be the very best they can be. And it's a continuing source of wonder and delight to me that they so often succeed.

But choose I must and choose I shall. so here they are a few highlights (with links to the original reviews).

Just £12 was enough to secure a seat for a horrifically compelling Othello at Peckham's extraordinary Bussey Building back in January. My favourite Shakespeare of the year, this production was bang up to date, but captured all the poetry of the Bard's tale of jealousy and scheming. It was, as Shakespeare should be, entertaining and thought-provoking, delivered with energy and wit and made you look forward to seeing your next version of the work.

The best contemporary play I saw in 2013 was also at the Bussey Building. A Thousand Miles Of History told the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, capturing the 1980s New York Art scene zeitgeist with humour, pathos and affection. As the two principals, Michael Walters and Simon Ginty were superb, but even their stellar performances were somewhat overshadowed by Adam Riches' turn as Andy Warhol. Harold Finley's play deserves a much wider audience, so don't be surprised to see it back on stage in 2014.

My best musical theatre production of 2013 was OperaUpClose's brilliantly conceived and delivered Ballo at The King's Head. Setting Verdi's political opera in a North London Swedish flatpack furniture store gave Adam Spreadbury-Maher plenty of opportunities to bring this 19th century work up to date - all of which were taken with such panache. He was rewarded by magnificent singing and acting from a cast who caught the idea perfectly and ran with it from start to finish.

Theatrical event of the year was The Tiger Lillies' astonishing Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the Southbank Centre, an extraordinary mix of singing, music, acting, video, comedy, tragedy - well, I could go on. It would be wrong to say that it takes a lot to surprise me in theatre - I'm often surprised, such is the originality demonstrated week-in, week-out on the London stage - but I'm not often surprised so much, so often by any production.

Funniest show was (probably for the second time in the last three years) the Christmas show from the Charles Court Opera Company. Buttons brimmed with old-fashioned panto gags, clever pastiches of songs and unashamedly over the top performances. It's becoming a London tradition - so get your ticket request in early for next year's production as this year's has already sold out.

And worst? Well, the Jesus Christ Superstar megashow at the O2 just didn't work. Its bombastic, shouty singing, its ill-advised updating to incorporate the 2011 London riots and its staging that required actors to run on and off its huge expanse of space, which drowned them in a far too big venue, squashed all the life out of the show. Just a few weeks later, Arts Educational Schools' Evita got everything right that Superstar had got wrong, and restored my faith in Lord Lloyd-Webber's work.

Most of all, I retain, after a third year seeing over 100 shows, exactly the same tingle of excitement in the hush while mobile phones are switched off and the curtain is readied for its rising that I did when I started writing for Broadwayworld in 2009 - indeed, when I first started going to theatre back in the 1970s. For that, I thank all those involved in all the shows, who give their skills, their knowledge and their energy to make London Theatre as good as any theatre in the world.

Have a look for yourselves in 2014.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

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