Entertainment & Arts

Theatre review 2011: Frankenstein, Rattigan and Passion

A look back at some of the theatrical events which made the headlines in 2011.

Media captionStars tell BBC News what their theatre highlight of 2011 has been

It was a year of Frankenstein, Rattigan and Passion in Port Talbot.

And despite the chilly wind of arts budget cuts, there were several comedies - old and new - to give people plenty to laugh about.

Celebrations for Terence Rattigan's birth centenary year included several major revivals.

Maxine Peake starred in The Deep Blue Sea at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; Sienna Miller and Sheridan Smith were in Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket; and Anne-Marie Duff in Rattigan's final play, Cause Celebre, at the Old Vic.

A previously-unseen Rattigan play, Less Than Kind, was also staged in January at the Jermyn Street theatre - featuring the playwright's old Royal typewriter as a stage prop.

Image caption The leading actors alternated roles in Danny Boyle's Frankenstein. (Photos by Catherine Ashmore)

It was also the birth centenary of Tennessee Williams. A Cavalier For Milady, one of his final works, had its world premiere in Kilburn's The Cock Tavern - nearly 30 years after the playwright's death.

One of the most anticipated theatrical events of the year was Frankenstein at the National Theatre.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternated in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and The Creature on different nights.

The play opened with an astonishing scene in which the naked creature flopped onto the Olivier stage from a giant man-made womb and spent several minutes learning to walk and talk.

It was director Danny Boyle's return to theatre after his films Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. From the lighting and production design, it looked like he had a movie-sized budget to play with.

Cumberbatch and Miller were named joint winners of the best actor award at last month's Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Bruce Norris's racial satire Clybourne Park made audiences laugh and squirm in equal measure when transferred to Wyndham's Theatre in February.

Another Royal Court hit - Jerusalem - returned to the West End in October after a successful Broadway run - with Mark Rylance reprising his role as Johnny Byron.

Over Easter, Michael Sheen brought his marathon 72-hour performance of The Passion to Port Talbot.

The National Theatre Wales project had a cast of more than 1,000 and saw the Welsh actor taking to the streets, clubs and beaches of his home town in what one critic described as as "one of the most ambitious cultural projects ever undertaken".

Sheen ate a "last supper" of beer and sandwiches at a social club, while the setting for the crucifixion scene was a roundabout.

Much Ado - times two

Later in the year, Sheen's much-anticipated portrayal of Hamlet at the Young Vic was hailed as "triumphant" by critics.

Image caption David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the reluctant lovers in Much Ado About Nothing

Ian Rickson's production sets the play inside a secure psychiatric hospital, with the audience guided through a maze of hospital corridors before taking their seats.

Elsewhere, there was no shortage of Shakespeare on offer.

Former Doctor Who stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate were reunited in Much Ado About Nothing in the West End in June.

Josie Rourke's production at Wyndham's Theatre transported Shakespeare's comedy to sun-drenched Gibraltar in the 1980s - complete with Rubik's Cubes and disco dancing.

The Tennant-Tate version came only days after an acclaimed traditional take on Much Ado opened at Shakespeare's Globe with Eve Best and Charles Edwards as reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick.

A sellout Richard III at the Old Vic saw Kevin Spacey with a walking stick and his leg in a metal brace.

Meanwhile Richard II - with Eddie Redmayne in the title role - brought to an end Michael Grandage's farewell season at the Donmar Warehouse as its artistic director.

Other plays in the season were Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, starring Jude Law and Ruth Wilson, and Inadmissible Evidence by John Osborne. The Donmar's earlier production of King Lear, with Sir Derek Jacobi, transferred to New York in April.

Image caption Kevin Spacey as Richard III at the Old Vic

Josie Rourke, formerly artistic director of the Bush theatre in west London, takes over at the Donmar in the New Year.

Over at the Royal Court, Arnold Wesker's Chicken Soup With Barley returned to the Sloane Square venue after more than 50 years.

Dominic Cooke's revival starred Samantha Spiro as matriarch Sarah Khan - a woman struggling to keep her family together against the backdrop of 20 years of political turbulence.

Upstairs at the Royal Court, Romola Garai gave an uninhibited performance in Penelope Skinner's comedy The Village Bike. Garai played English teacher Becky, newly pregnant and with an insatiable appetite for the collection of porn DVDs stashed in the attic.

One of the year's quirkiest offerings was Lullaby at the Barbican - in which theatre group Duckie encouraged theatre-goers to curl up in bed with a teddy bear and fall asleep during the show.

And on a darker note, there was a rare revival of Edward Bond's notorious 1960s play Saved at the Lyric Hammersmith. The play caused uproar when first staged at the Royal Court for a scene in which a group of young men stone to death a baby in a pram.

Among the new musicals, the stage version of Hollywood tear-jerker Ghost premiere had its world premiere at Manchester Opera House in March.

Image caption Romola Garai as mum-to-be Becky in The Village Bike at the Royal Court

Ex-Coronation Street actor Richard Fleeshman and Canadian actress Caissie Levy took the roles played in the hit 1990 movie by the late Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

The musical, with songs co-written by Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, moved to the West End in July.

In September, Ipswich hosted the world premiere of a musical about glam rock superstar Marc Bolan. The launch of 20th Century Boy coincided with the 34th anniversary of the singer's death in a car crash on 16 September 1977.

Betty Blue Eyes - a musical comedy based on the film A Private Function - hogged rave reviews in April but closed early in September due to poor ticket sales.

On a happier note, the RSC's production of Matilda The Musical transferred from Stratford-upon-Avon to the West End's Cambridge Theatre.

With songs by Tim Minchin, the musical take on the Roald Dahl story has been a five-star hit with critics and is set to make a star of Bertie Carvel, who plays child-tossing tyrant Miss Trunchbull.

God blog

There were important anniversaries to mark. This year's Edinburgh Fringe saw a number of shows staged to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Image caption Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman lead the cast in Ghost The Musical

While in a disused building in London's St Katharine Docks, Headlong theatre company created Decade, a site-specific, multi-authored piece incorporating contemporary dance and music.

London's new Bush Theatre put on Sixty-Six Books - a marathon theatrical event to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

The cycle of plays - involving 130 actors, 66 writers and 23 directors - kicked off with Catherine Tate in the role of God telling the story of Genesis via Twitter.

Contemporary events also got a look in - with England's summer unrest being reflected in The Riots at London's Tricycle Theatre.

The play was based on interviews with politicians, police victims and the rioters themselves. Critics called it "compelling" and "thought-provoking".

Those in need of a good laugh at the end of 2011 could take their pick from One Man, Two Guvnors (Adelphi), The Comedy of Errors (National), The Ladykillers (Gieldgud) and Noises Off (Old Vic).

One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden, had a sellout run at the National Theatre in May, and toured the UK prior to opening in the West End.

With a move to Broadway and a new London home on the horizon, it's one that looks set to run and run deep into 2012.

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