In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see. I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.
Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.
The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February. Some of the productions that I liked in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving. In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’ nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre. I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra in the Swan theatre. When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly. The last day that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet. The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.
Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.
The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting. This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world. Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage. Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas. However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan. This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.
Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper. I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.
In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.
I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did. I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.
I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production which was set in a mental hospital. The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.
I saw three different Comedy of Errors. The year with the magnificent all male Propeller Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed in April.
Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.
Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.
…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well. James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.