2011: That was the year that…

Published December 21, 2011

As the calendar eases closer and closer towards an exciting 2012, Official London Theatre takes a brief look back at the capital’s stages in 2011, the year that…

… new musical productions charged back into the West End

You could barely move in London this year without hearing a show tune or seven. Shrek The Musical turned Drury Lane green with excitement, Ghost The Musical sent shivers through the Piccadilly, Matilda The Musical made parents and kids so excited they could eat an entire chocolate cake without throwing up and Lend Me A Tenor The Musical brought an old-fashioned sensibility to Shaftesbury Avenue. Betty Blue Eyes proved that you didn’t need to have ‘The Musical’ in your title to be a new West End musical, while Rock Of Ages, Million Dollar Quartet and Backbeat all splashed some well-loved pop tunes around old London town.

But possibly the most talked about musical of the year came at the National Theatre, where Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork worked with the community affected by a series of murders to create an affecting musical unlike any other, London Road.

… the Artistic Director merry-go-round got very busy

The leaders of London’s theatres seemed to suffer with collective itchy feet that a consignment of Canesten couldn’t cure in 2011, sparked by Michael Grandage’s late 2010 announcement that he was leaving the Donmar Warehouse. Josie Rourke was duly appointed as his successor, leaving a Madani Younis-shaped hole at the Bush theatre. Luckily Madani Younis is happy to fill it in 2012. Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell announced they’d be leaving the Gate open for Christopher Haydon, Tony Graham decided to leave the Unicorn theatre in the capable hands of Purni Morell and even the Tricycle’s long-serving Nicolas Kent has had enough and, in response to this year’s arts funding cuts, is leaving the Kilburn venue to Indhu Rubasingham in 2012. Not to be left out, the Royal Court’s Dominic Cooke has just announced that he will stand down in 2013, which means, with many successors already appointed, we can all start talking about who will take over there now instead.

 … celebrations were supersized

The Olivier Awards were relaunched with a bang – and a new sponsor in the form of MasterCard – in 2011. Moving back into a theatre, they were able to include jaw-dropping performances from Angela Lansbury, Barry Manilow and a selection of stunning musical nominees. Sweeney Todd co-stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton hosted with a delicious chemistry that boded well for their teaming in Sondheim’s murderous musical.

Free entertainment festival West End LIVE expanded too, leaving its previous home in Leicester Square and exploding onto Trafalgar Square, where it continued to bring a free taste of everything the West End has to offer to thousands of excited fans.

… we juggled and jiggled

Among the dramas and musicals that make up most of the West End’s usual offerings, a few more eccentric acts stood out. The Hurly Burly Show shook, shimmied and made eyes pop out on cartoon stalks while car horns metaphorically sounded in the background, bringing, as it did, modern burlesque to the Garrick theatre.

Down the road at the Vaudeville, the far more clothing-covered Flying Karamazov Brothers threw all manner of objects into the air at the same time… and caught them too.

… we laughed and cried

There was almost as much giggling in Theatreland as music this year, much of it emanating from the National Theatre or the Adelphi, where One Man, Two Guvnors has been making people laugh until they couldn’t laugh any more… until they saw The Ladykillers, at which point the chortles kicked off again and grew into a rapturous rumble of raucousness. A brace of Much Ados, a belligerently grumpy Butley and a dose of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead helped to keep spirits high.

During 2011, an antidote to ‘appiness could always be found at the Harold Pinter theatre (a swift mid-year name change from the Comedy theatre). The tales of a falsely accused teacher (The Children’s Hour), a relationship floundering amid deceit (Betrayal) and a former prisoner with revenge in her grasp (Death And The Maiden) kept the tension high but the laughter low.

… we stayed up all night

The Bush theatre celebrated leaving behind its old home above a pub and moving into the Old Library building by staging a cycle of short plays inspired by every book of the Bible. Hard core theatregoers could watch all 66 pieces in one 24-hour cycle. Worn out arts journalists with very young children could watch the first few pieces, then go home to bed before being woken up very early in the morning.

… then went to sleep

At the Barbican, Duckie staged the first show that positively encouraged audiences to doze off. Lullaby aimed to give a room full of adults the perfect gateway into the land of nod, with acts to soothe and quiet the modern mind. The only downside on press night, of course, was that you would wake up next to a theatre critic.

… and dreamed of monsters

In a move reminiscent but entirely different to Olivier and Gielgud swapping between the roles of Romeo and Mercutio, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller spent the spring alternating as Dr Frankenstein and his creature in the show that marked Oscar-winner Danny Boyle’s return to the stage. The image of a confused, man-sized monster emerging naked from a beating red womb onto the Olivier stage is one of the most memorable images of the year.

… the stars continued twinkling

As ever the London stage proved a magnet for the world’s biggest stars. From Hollywood darlings Keira Knightley (The Children’s Hour), Rebecca Hall (Twelfth Night) and Thandie Newton (Death And The Maiden) to more experienced actors including Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones (both Driving Miss Daisy), the West End glittered more than a RESPECT La Diva disco ball.

Michael Sheen left the big screen behind to offer his version of Hamlet at the Young Vic, Kristin Scott Thomas returned in Betrayal and the Doctor Who alumni were out in force, with David Tennant and Catherine Tate teaming up in Much Ado About Nothing, Karen Gillan making her London stage debut in Inadmissible Evidence and Arthur Darvill getting Faustian at Shakespeare’s Globe. Ralph Fiennes was tempestuous, Scott Bakula took Terrible Advice and Billie Piper had a reason to be pretty.

… and we said goodbye

With so much to celebrate, there was also sadness. As the year passed, the arts world lost actors Pete Postlethwaite, Elizabeth Taylor, Miriam Karlin, Duclie Gray, John Neville, Anna Massey and Margaret Tyzack, writers Pam Gems, NF Simpson and Shelagh Delaney, and arts leader Richard Pulford. They will all be missed.

All that’s left for 2011 is to look forward to 2012, a year that already promises to be full of excitement and opportunity with the arrival of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, a new roster of shows to enjoy and a wealth of possibilities.

Happy New Year.

MA