London Year-End Roundup: Best Performances of 2012

The classics offered London stage actors plenty to chew on this year—not just productions of Shakespeare but also Ibsen, Chekhov, Webster and Stephen Sondheim who, by this point, is an honorary Brit. All that, plus a fast-rising star in a new play requiring him to cook a sea trout on stage every night. (Recipe, please?) For a look back at five of an exciting theater year’s most exciting performances, listed in alphabetical order, read on.

Eve Best in The Duchess of Malfi, Old Vic Theatre
Actresses don’t often seem to shimmer on stage, but two-time Tony nominee Best glowed from within in the title role in this goriest of tragedies. John Webster’s Jacobean-era bloodbath is served up frequently on the London stage, but rarely with as lucidly spoken (and sexy) a heroine as that offered by the co-star of TV’s Nurse Jackie. It’s not easy to make goodness interesting on stage. Best managed that—and more, much more.

Hattie Morahan in A Doll’s House, Young Vic Theatre
This dynamic star comes naturally by her stage chops: Her mother is veteran actress Anna Carteret and her father, Christopher Morahan, directed Jonathan Pryce in The Caretaker in New York and London. Taking the lead in Ibsen’s classic of female emancipation, Hattie Morahan emerged as her own woman in much the same way Nora does in this landmark play. Her performance, by turns febrile, alluring, and witty, won a well-deserved Evening Standard Award.

Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre
Few who caught Jonathan Kent’s revival of the now-iconic Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler musical will soon forget the physical transformation achieved by Michael Ball in the title role and, especially, the wildly funny yet tremulous Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney’s accomplice in cannibalism. This Oscar nominee (for Vera Drake) doesn’t often do musicals, but when she does, watch out! Next up: her Mama Rose in Gypsy, coming to the West End in the fall of 2013.

Ken Stott in Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville Theatre
Chekhov’s classic play of love unrequited and dreams deferred was everywhere on both sides of the Atlantic this year, and Ken Stott mined the passion, pain and humor in the title character. Vanya’s director, Lindsay Posner, guided the Scottish-born actor to a 2010 Olivier Award nod for his Eddie Carbone in A View From the Bridge, and his current performance (on view through January 26) is every bit the earlier one’s match.

Dominic West in The River, Royal Court Theatre
A familiar face from TV’s The Wire and The Hour, West will jump from his current run (in Sheffield) as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady to the West End transfer of Jez Butterworth’s hypnotic and haunting drama The River. Playing an unnamed man who inhabits a remote cabin, West is at once lover, poet and chef—as well as something more disturbing and mysterious. Some plays barely reward one viewing; this performance makes a repeat visit essential.