My theatregoing has now stopped until the new year arrives, so I think it's time to reflect on the shows that made the biggest impact on me in 2008. Top of the list was the RSC's triumphant Histories cycle at the Roundhouse, the kind of theatrical experience that only comes around once in a decade if we're lucky. I saw all the plays more or less in historical order and was bowled over. I particularly liked Jonathan Slinger as Richard III, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Prince Hal/Henry V, Katy Stephens as Margaret of Anjou and David Warner as Falstaff. So my special prize goes to RSC director Michael Boyd for steering his ensemble through this two-year marathon.
Best new play was undoubtedly Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters, which is about to return to the National Theatre for a deserved run on the bigger Lyttelton stage. Hall takes a not-very-conflictual story about a group of miners in the northeast who began to paint, and turns it into gold dust.
Best actor: if one counts the Donmar's Othello as a 2008 play, then Chiwetel Ejiofor gets it. If not, then I'm tempted to pick David Calder's Lear at Shakespeare's Globe, or possibly Jonathan Slinger's Richard III at the Roundhouse. The best male performances of the year have undoubtedly been in Shakespeare. David Tennant gets an honourable mention, having contributed mightily to boosting the readership of this blog.
Best actress: it wasn't a great year for female parts, with no Saint Joan or The Cherry Orchard or Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf to give those brilliant actresses a chance to dominate the men. I liked Deanna Dunagan as the horrid matriarch in August: Osage County at the National, the above-mentioned Katy Stephens at the Roundhouse, Jane Horrocks in The Good Soul of Szechuan and Nicola Hughes as Ella Fitzgerald in Marilyn and Ella at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.
Best Supporting: perhaps it should go to Tom Hiddleston for his playing of the priggish young doctor in Ivanov. I also enjoyed a truly Satanic performance by Douglas Henshall at the Almeida in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
Best Revival: The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Young Vic is probably hard to beat. This took Brecht's play out of rural village China and dumped it convincingly in the socialist/capitalist nightmare of modern industrial China, to great effect.
Best production and design: undoubtedly War Horse at the National Theatre, which left not a dry eye in the house, including mine.
I'm not awarding any gongs for musicals because I've seen very few, though I really enjoyed Trevor Nunn's production of A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The play I enjoyed least was undoubtedly The President's Holiday at the Hampstead Theatre, a work of leaden tedium and wooden cliche. Harper Regan at the Cottesloe was also on my shortlist of unfavourites, but I abandoned it at the interval and was later told by some people that the second act was better than the first. I may have missed some brilliant performances and some cracking new writing by not getting out more, but my energy and my wallet will only stretch so far.
My New Year resolution is to spend more time in fringe theatres and go to more new plays and fewer revivals; unfortunately the lure of a long tube journey to the suburbs sometimes isn't strong enough and I opt for the safer choice of an evening at the National or in the West End. Let's hope theatres continue to put bums on seats despite the recession. At least we should be spared another round of ticket price rises.