From women alternating roles in a haunting Pinter revival to a pair of separate but equal psychos, from bracing new musicals to galvanic revivals, the London stage offered enough potent theater in 2013 satisfy any taste. Read on for a list of the year’s five best shows, presented in alphabetical order.
American Psycho, Almeida Theatre
Critics were divided on the merits of Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik’s stage take on the era-defining Bret Easton Ellis novel, and who can blame them? One must look back to Sweeney Todd to find a musical that makes such a compelling case for putting psychosis center-stage. In Rupert Goold’s expert production, British TV name Matt Smith (Doctor Who) makes the gym-fit Patrick Bateman a charismatic killer of anyone’s dreams…or, make that nightmares. You have until February 1 to be drawn in—and then recoil—for yourself.
Mojo, Harold Pinter Theatre
Can a play that looked show-offy and posturing in one incarnation seem mournful and even profound the next? The answer is there to be savored in Mojo, running through February 8 at the Harold Pinter Theater (an apt locale given that Pinter himself appeared in Jez Butterworth’s 1997 film adaptation of gangster low-life in 1950s London). The cast—encompassing Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, Skyfall’s Ben Whishaw and Downtown Abbey’s own Bates, Brendan Coyle—remains the starriest seen in London all year, and the peerless director is Ian Rickson.
Old Times, Harold Pinter Theatre
Two brilliant actresses, Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas and Tony nominee Lia Williams, traded roles throughout the run of Ian Rickson’s quietly dazzling take on Harold Pinter’s 1971 play, which meant audiences got two chances to ponder the shimmering mysteries at the heart of the text. This was a big year on both sides of the Atlantic for the Nobel laureate, with Broadway’s starry No Man’s Land and Betrayal competing for attention, as well. But Rickson and his cast of three, including the divine Rufus Sewell, stood a league apart. Can they go to Broadway, as well, please?
Othello, National Theatre
This was the year in which the National turned 50, and what better production to exemplify an extraordinary institution’s ongoing achievements than a time-honored classic refashioned to seem entirely fresh? For that, credit Othello director Nicholas Hytner, now in the final stretch of his distinguished tenure at the National, and a cast headed by Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear, who understood that Shakespeare works because of the stories he tells. Those tales, as it happens, rarely come more gripping than in this jealousy-fueled tragedy, beamed to a grateful world via NTLive.
Sweet Bird of Youth, Old Vic Theatre
Tennessee Williams’ 1959 play resurfaces far more often in London than in New York, and Marianne Elliott’s summertime revival was by some measure the best of the three I have seen here. Sex and the City alumna Kim Cattrall gave the performance of her stage career as the down-on-her-luck diva known as the Princess. As her stud-muffin consort, Broadway’s Seth Numrich (War Horse) made his London debut with flair and style, winning an Evening Standard Theatre Award for outstanding newcomer. How nice when the London theater welcomes an American to its ranks!