Looking back at London theatre’s 2013

Published December 30, 2013

Ah late December, the traditional season for inventing elaborate ways of using leftover turkey, but also the time when everyone looks back at the year just gone… and we’re no exception.

You’d be forgiven for thinking London theatre’s 2013 was all about musicals, what with a four week TV show dedicated to them and more stars singing on stage than a Live Aid reunion.

The Book Of Mormon arrived with more marketing clatter than a bunch of barrow boys on Christmas Eve, making the West End tunefully sing Hello and giving everyone entirely the wrong idea about the proper way to treat a cuddly frog. Once, as lauded as Mormon on Broadway, followed with a far more low key entrance, charming everyone with its touching tale of love or winning them over with its onstage bar.

We’ve had new musicals from old teammates Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the former’s From Here To Eternity bringing Hawaii to the Shaftesbury theatre and the latter bringing a tale of sex, political scandal and a dollop of nudity to the Aldwych with Stephen Ward. Dollop is probably the wrong word to use in this context, isn’t it..?

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory brought barely imaginable confectionery – Well, Willy Wonka brought the chocolates, Sam Mendes brought pizzazz and Douglas Hodge brought West End class – The Commitments brought Irish soul, and Tori Amos, after a wait that was a little longer than expected, finally brought The Light Princess to the National Theatre.

All of which just leaves another US hit, Kander and Ebb’s tale of discrimination The Scottsboro Boys, which received near universal acclaim when it opened at the Young Vic, and American Psycho, which surprised many and disappointed just a couple when it was unveiled at the Almeida.

And Candide… And The Color Purple… And Titanic…

Of course, 2013 was not just about new musicals, it was also a big year for those tuneful productions that have been bringing theatregoers back to London’s venues for years.

Thriller Live waved its single gloved hand with excitement as it welcomed its one millionth customer and became the Lyric theatre’s longest running production, Billy Elliot The Musical told its four millionth audience member exactly what it thought of Maggie Thatcher, while down the road Wicked cast a theatrical spell over its five millionth customer.

But it wasn’t all tuneful loveliness; 2013 was also the year that director-led seasons stamped their mark on the West End, with Michael Grandage and his former Donmar Warehouse Associate Director Jamie Lloyd taking control of the Noël Coward theatre and Trafalgar Studios. Grandage announced his entire season and its leading stars, which included Daniel Radcliffe, Sheridan Smith, David Walliams and Jude Law, in advance. Lloyd waited until the last possible minute to reveal each of his new offerings. Both delivered shows of a quality to make critics, award panels and the public quiver with excitement.

Then there were the Artistic Directors. Vicky Featherstone took charge of the Royal Court and promptly let her herd of tame playwrights lose in the building during the Open Court season. It was a huge success and kicked off Featherstone’s tenure in remarkable style. Rupert Goold joined the Almeida theatre, igniting his time at the Islington venue with American Psycho, a co-production with his former company Headlong, now run by Jeremy Herrin, former Associate at the Royal Court which is now run by… well, you see where I’m going.

Over at the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner announced that after a decade at the venue, in which time he has introduced the Travelex seasons, the NT Live cinema scheme and transferred a remarkable number of shows to the West End and New York, he would be stepping down from his post. We wondered exactly who would want to try and follow such a stunning regime, then NT Associate Rufus Norris stepped forward, eager to take on the challenge. The theatre world nodded sagely with approval.

Speaking of the National and the success that Norris will hope to emulate, the South Bank venue broke its own records once more when, at one point in 2013, it had four transfers running in the West End simultaneously: War Horse, One Man, Two Guvnors, Alan Bennett double bill Untold Stories and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

Curious Incident, to which it has been shortened to save hours of time in the Official London Theatre offices, swept the board at the Olivier Awards with MasterCard, picking up seven statuettes and equaling the record of category wins for a single show at one Oliviers ceremony set by Matilda The Musical the previous year.

Also hot on the night were Top Hat, which won three awards including Best New Musical, Billy Elliot The Musical, which collected the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award, and Helen Mirren, who collected yet another award for her portrayal of Her Majesty The Queen (This one far less controversially than the Evening Standard Theatre Award win that came later in the year and prompted the resignation of three judges).

And as we edged towards Christmas all talk in Theatreland turned, as ever, to Doctor Who, what with two past Time Lords taking to the stage; David Tennant sporting interesting hair extensions as he led the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Barbican theatre in Richard II and Matt Smith looking more buff than a vampire slayer wearing a beige-ish colour as he went a little homicidal in new musical American Psycho.

With the turn of every year, no matter how exceptional it might have been on stage, comes sadness, with the inevitable loss of friends, colleagues and fantastic theatre professionals. 2013 was no exception. Among those lost to us over the past year were stage and screen greats Richard Briers, Richard Griffiths and Peter O’Toole, and those taken far too young, including Sophiya Haque, Bernie Nolan and Paul Bhattacharjee. Let us celebrate the remarkable memories and enjoyment they gave.

On a more personal note, it has been a fantastic year for Official London Theatre. We’ve interviewed stars including Keeley Hawes, Robert Webb, Angela Griffin, Hattie Morahan and Daniel Radcliffe, and we’ve put your questions to Beverley Knight. We enjoyed an incredible West End LIVE, helped thousands of families experience London theatre through Kids Week and launched the chance for someone to win the most incredible money-can’t-buy London theatre prize.

We even got involved ourselves, learning to Blam, skating with Keith Chegwin and The Imperial Ice Stars, playing Who’s Behind You with Potted Panto, delving into Horrible Histories’ dressing up box, and even turning green with Wicked.

Yes, as years go, it has been pretty exceptional. Thank you 2013, here’s to more in 2014.