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London Year-End Roundup: Five Best Performances of 2013

London Year-End Roundup: Five Best Performances of 2013
Rosalie Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw & Matt Smith
Matt Wolf chooses 2013's best performances on London stages.

The quality of acting in London over the past year was at a characteristically high level—literally so as regards one prize-winning performer who spent much of her show flying above the stage. Below, in alphabetical order, are five reasons one can look back very fondly on the capital’s theater in 2013.

Rosalie Craig in The Light Princess, National Theatre
Musical veteran Rosalie Craig achieved lift-off as the airborne title princess in this first show from American singer-songwriter Tori Amos. (The tale resembles Wicked in reverse, with a heroine who is unable to touch the ground and craves gravity as opposed to defying it.) As the weightless Althea, Craig won the first-ever Evening Standard Theatre Award for outstanding musical performance, a pacesetting trophy that was richly deserved.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in A Season in the Congo, Young Vic Theatre
One feels lucky simply to be in the presence of some actors, and Chiwetel Ejiofor surely tops that list. Last summer found him back on the London stage playing Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated in 1961, all but dashing the country's hopes for democracy. Directed by filmmaker Joe Wright (Atonement), Ejiofor offered a star turn of startling depth and range, qualities moviegoers are now seeing in 12 Years a Slave.

Rory Kinnear in Othello, National Theatre
“The banality of evil” found fresh theatrical form in director Nicholas Hytner’s superlative reappraisal of Shakespeare’s timeless tale of misspent passion and jealousy run rampant. As half of a double-act with Adrian Lester's fine Othello, Rory Kinnear anchored the proceedings as a seemingly ordinary guy beset by extraordinary demons. Kinner gave us an Iago you might meet one boozy night at the pub and then deeply regret it in the light of day.

Matt Smith in American Psycho, Almeida Theatre
So what if TV’s recent Doctor Who can’t really sing? Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street high-flyer at the center of Duncan Sheik’s terrific new musical, isn’t exactly Curly in Oklahoma! What Smith could—and did—do brilliantly was mine the murderous perversions of a buffed anti-hero. Against the odds, he even awakened sympathy for a character whose modern-day equivalents, the show suggests, walk among us still.

Ben Whishaw in Mojo, Harold Pinter Theatre
From an American psycho to a British one: Ben Whishaw led a starry array of performers in Ian Rickson’s major revival of Jez Butterworth’s career-defining play and managed to illuminate a deeply damaged soul who goes by the (ironic) name of Baby. Whishaw’s brief lapses into song during the play also revealed the sinewy actor to have a first-rate singing voice. Ben Whishaw as Sky Masterson someday? One can only dream.

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