I've done plays, so this time it’s all about the people in them...
|Images from here, here and here.|
Kevin Spacey - Clarence Darrow
It takes a very special performance to be able to make a play work when your co-stars are literally furniture. Luckily Kevin Spacey delivered one. I'm not sure I've ever seen finer acting than this, anywhere, to be honest. A privilege to have seen.
Bertie Carvel - The Hairy Ape and Bakkhai
2015 was the year I ‘discovered’ Bertie Carvel and I feel that this discovery has enhanced my quality of life (if not my bank balance) greatly. It’s his versatility that I find so fascinating - and hence why I've cheated and included two performances for the price of one here. Whilst I found Bakkhai and its endless songs about nets tedious and forgettable overall, Carvel’s dual role as Agave and Pentheus is/are one/two of the most memorable performance(s) I've seen all year. And his turn as Yank in The Hairy Ape, a part I can’t think a single other current actor would be able to pull off, was just phenomenal - physical, dangerous, sensitive and sad all at the same time. Bonus points for being a genuinely adorable human being at the stage door also.
Imelda Staunton - Gypsy
Ok, the gender balance on this list is not great but quality over quantity, y’know. This was not just the finest performance in a musical I saw this year, it was the finest performance in a musical I’ve ever seen. Obviously Imelda Staunton is amazing in everything, ever, but this was next level stuff even by her standards. And her Rose’s Turn was perfect.
Ralph Fiennes - Man and Superman
I'm very much a fan of the post-Voldemort, comedy actor that Ralph Fiennes is currently embracing of which his performance in Man and Superman was a prime example. Watching his arrogant Jack Tanner rendered utterly helpless by a mere woman over the course of three and a half hours was an exceptionally enjoyable way to spend a Saturday night. And frankly you have to respect the skill of anyone that can deliver three and a half hours of Shaw dialogue multiple times a week without having some kind of breakdown.
Kenneth Branagh - The Winter's Tale and Harlequinade
That Ken Branagh excels at Shakespeare is hardly a revelatory statement but no less true for that. That Ken Branagh excels at slapstick comedy is perhaps more noteworthy. He's gone and proved both of these things in the opening shows of his new theatre company's inaugural season - the very existence of which he also gets bonus points for. This man remains my hero.
Mark Strong - A View from the Bridge
Thinking about this performance still makes me feel slightly uncomfortable eight months after the fact, surely a fairly major indicator of quality. Full of quiet menace, this performance shone out of a really exceptional ensemble cast. Probably the best accent I've heard this year too.
Geoffrey Streitfeld - The Beaux’ Stratagem
And the award for the person who seemed like they were having most fun in their part goes to… A quite literally all singing, all dancing, joyously silly comedy turn from one of my increasingly favourite actors. There was a lot to do in this part, from high farce to wordplay to lots of skipping, and Streitfeld did it all with equal aplomb.
John Heffernan - Oppenheimer
One of the most consistently excellent actors around at the moment delivered again with a fascinating turn in the titular role of Oppenheimer. In a part covering a lot of emotional ground, Heffernan worked his arse off (technical acting term) to make Oppenheimer a three dimensional, sympathetic character. Rocked the circular sunglasses trend too.
Lucien Msamati - Othello
The first ever black Iago was also one of the best I've ever seen. Dripping menace from every pore as a really hard-edged, bitter Iago, Msamati absolutely owned this production. His performance was so intelligent and the subtle ways that the race card (for want of a better phrase) was played were incredibly effective.
Judi Dench - The Winter's Tale
A performance exactly as good as you would expect Judi Dench in The Winter's Tale to be. Which is really very good indeed. Scene stealer of the year, also.
Honourable mentions also to Assassins, undoubtedly the best ensemble cast of the year, and the RSC’s Henry V, Alex Hassell, who has the misfortune of having delivered my 11th favourite performance of the year for his humane and nervous King.