Theatre review of 2012: An Olympian year

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The Olympics loomed large over the performing arts in 2012.

But while predictions of a "bloodbath" in London's theatreland proved to be wrong, away from London there were stark warnings from regional theatres about funding cuts.

Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony turned out to be a theatrical event on a grand scale that would both bewitch and baffle its global audience.

Here's a month-by-month look back at some of the theatre stories that made the headlines in 2012.

JANUARY

The new year is ushered in with Andrew Lloyd Webber's prediction that the Olympics will cause "a bloodbath of a summer" for London theatres in 2012.

At the National Theatre, Katherine Kelly - formerly Coronation Street's mouthy Becky McDonald - adjusts to life away from the cobbles in Oliver Goldsmith's 18th Century comedy She Stoops To Conquer.

FEBRUARY

Charles Edwards (centre) with Jonathan Hyde and Emma Fielding in The King's Speech Charles Edwards (centre) with Jonathan Hyde and Emma Fielding in The King's Speech

Almost a year after the film reigned supreme at the Oscars, The King's Speech finally makes it to the stage at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford. Playwright David Seidler calls it "the fulfilment of a very long dream".

MARCH

Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett and Michael Ball as Sweeney Todd (Photo: Tristram Kenton) Sweeney Todd was a hit with critics at the Chichester Festival Theatre

The King's Speech opens in the West End's Wyndham's Theatre to strong reviews (see also May).

Stephen Sondheim's blood-splattered musical Sweeney Todd arrives in the West End from Chichester with Michael Ball as the demonic barber and Imelda Staunton as pie-making Mrs Lovett.

Handspring Puppet Company, best known for its work on War Horse, gives a first glimpse of its creations for a new show based on Ted Hughes's dark and mythical Crow poems.

APRIL

Matilda stars Sophia Kiely, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Kerry Ingram and Cleo Demetriou Matilda stars Sophia Kiely, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Kerry Ingram and Cleo Demetriou

Matilda the Musical is top of the class at the Olivier Awards, scooping seven prizes. Its four child stars steal the show, jointly sharing the best actress in a musical prize. Songwriter Tim Minchin pays tribute to "the little twerps" as he collects the gong for best new musical.

One of the Matildas, 10-year-old Eleanor Worthington-Cox, becomes the youngest recipient of an Olivier in the award's 36-year history.

National Theatre Wales' The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning - about the US soldier accused of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks - is performed at his old school in Pembrokeshire.

At London's Apollo Theatre, David Suchet takes on the role of miserly, drunken former actor James Tyrone in a new production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night.

The World Shakespeare Festival kicks off with the Globe to Globe festival - which sees 37 plays performed in 37 languages. First up is Troilus and Cressida in Maori. The Greek-language production of Pericles can be watched on The Space.

Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe makes a cameo appearance at London's Royal Opera House in a non-singing role in comic opera La Fille Du Regiment.

MAY

Tom Chambers (centre) and the male ensemble of Top Hat Tom Chambers (centre) and the male ensemble of Top Hat.

"That's the way to do it!" Mr Punch, the squawking red-nosed puppet, celebrates his 350th birthday with a big party in London's Covent Garden piazza.

David Hare's South Downs and Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version arrive in the West End after a sellout debut at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011. South Downs was part-inspired by Hare's own experiences as a boarder in the 1960s at Lancing College, in West Sussex.

Fred Astaire's daughter is in the audience for the West End opening of the musical Top Hat, based on the 1935 RKO film with Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers stars with Summer Strallen in the new stage production.

Playwright Laura Wade updates her 2010 sellout play Posh to reflect the changing political climate for its West End transfer.

Coronation Street stage musical Street of Dreams is postponed after opening in Manchester to mixed reviews.

Meanwhile, the The King's Speech closes less than two months after its West End transfer after the producers admit that the play had followed too quickly after the film.

JUNE

Ed (Stephen Mangan) finds that gas and air brings little comfort in Birthday Ed (Stephen Mangan) finds that gas and air brings little comfort in Birthday

The London 2012 Festival launches - a 12-week "explosion of arts and creativity" that runs alongside the Olympics.

Its theatre highlights include a new all-black production of Julius Caesar at the RSC, set in post-independence Africa; Julie Walters in The Last of the Haussmans at the National; and the Festival of Chaos at Northampton's Royal and Derngate.

Audiences with eight hours to spare went to Gatz - a marathon word-for-word staging of The Great Gatsby in the West End.

Over at the Royal Court, Stephen Mangan got pregnant in Joe Penhall's blackly comic Birthday.

JULY

Hattie Morahan in A Doll's House and Emma Hamilton in Hedda Gabler Hattie Morahan in A Doll's House and Emma Hamilton in Hedda Gabler

A feast for Ibsen fans: Hattie Morahan stars as Nora in A Doll's House at the Young Vic, while Emma Hamilton takes the title role of Hedda Gabler in Northampton. The lesser-known St John's Night has a UK premiere at London's Jermyn Street Theatre.

Actors' union Equity calls for "transparent monitoring" of casting in subsidised theatre to address the imbalance of roles for women and men.

Chichester Festival Theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary - it opened in 1962 under the leadership of its first artistic director Laurence Olivier.

Up to a billion people worldwide watch the London 2012 opening ceremony, a spectacular celebration of British social, cultural and industrial history. Danny Boyle's huge cast includes the Queen, James Bond, Mr Bean and hundreds of volunteer performers.

AUGUST

Ferdinand Kingsley (God and Jesus) Ferdinand Kingsley (God and Jesus) in the York Mystery Plays

With the Olympics under way, Andrew Lloyd Webber admits he was wrong about a "bloodbath" for London theatre. Box office takings for the first seven days of the Games are actually up £250,000 on the previous week.

But ticket sales for the Edinburgh Fringe are down by about 1%. It is thought the Olympics are a major factor.

The first stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opens at the National Theatre with Luke Treadaway in the lead role.

The York Mystery plays, a theatrical tradition dating back to the 14th Century, are resurrected in an epic production involving 1,700 enthusiastic local people. Ferdinand Kingsley, son of Sir Ben, plays both God and Jesus. Satan is played by Graeme Hawley, best known as Coronation Street villain John Stape.

Tamsin Greig returns to the West End in the transfer of April de Angelis's Royal Court comedy Jumpy.

SEPTEMBER

Adrian Scarborough and Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Johan Persson Sheridan Smith with Adrian Scarborough (left) in Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic

Musical Chicago closes in London after nearly 15 years and taking more than £120m at the West End box office. Guest stars over the years have included Christie Brinkley, Brooke Shields, David Hasselhoff and Ugly Betty's America Ferrara.

Sheridan Smith admits her latest role as Hedda Gabler, at London's Old Vic theatre, pushed her way beyond her comfort zone.

Chekhov's Three Sisters gets a radical revamp at the Young Vic - in one scene, the cast bursts into a singalong of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.

OCTOBER

Miranda Raison and Dominic West in The River Miranda Raison and Dominic West in The River

The Theatre Awards UK honour the cream of regional theatre with Theatre Royal Bath's production In The Next Room, Sarah Ruhl's story about sex, intimacy and equality, named best new play.

Sweeney Todd star Imelda Staunton wins the best musical performance prize, while Henry Goodman gets the award for best performance in a play for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (also at Chichester).

Sir Nicholas Hytner says that regional theatres face a "clear and present danger" from funding cuts, while presenting the National Theatre's annual report.

At the National's Cottesloe Theatre, the audience for James Graham's Westminster play This House sits on replica Commons benches.

Over at the Royal Court, Jez Butterworth defends the decision to sell tickets for The River only on the day of the performance. Critics said the unusual move could encourage touting and exclude those outside London.

NOVEMBER

Performers clap as the Olympic rings are seen above, during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games Danny Boyle was honoured at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for July's Olympic opening ceremony

Danny Boyle and Sir Nicholas Hytner and the heads of regional theatres voice fears about venues at risk of closure from budget cuts.

One of London's longest-running musicals, Blood Brothers, closes after 24 years and 10,000 performances. Theatre critic Mark Shenton says it fell victim to the Olympic Games.

Sir Peter Hall apologises to Downton Abbey actress Laura Carmichael after he "unintentionally disrupted" her West End debut in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. The 81-year-old, who could be heard speaking during Carmichael's final speech, said he had been "disorientated" after falling asleep.

Stephen Fry makes his official return to the West End stage as Malvolio in an all-male production of Twelfth Night, a transfer from Shakespeare's Globe alongside Richard III.

Meanwhile, Alan Bennett's new play People at the National Theatre sees the playwright take a provocative swipe at the National Trust.

Also at the National, Lucy Prebble follows up her 2009 hit Enron with The Effect - a new work about love and neuroscience starring former Doctor Who actress Billie Piper.

And at Stratford-upon-Avon, The Orphan of Zhao - "the Chinese Hamlet" - becomes the first Chinese play ever produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At the end of the month, Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony is honoured at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Senior arts figures take the opportunity to speak out at the awards against government cuts, prompting a response a few days later from Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Constellations, with Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins as a couple whose relationship is explored in alternative universes, is named best new play.

DECEMBER

Simon Russell Beale (centre) in Privates on Parade Fruity role: Simon Russell Beale (centre) in Privates on Parade

Critics hail a new all-female version of Julius Caesar set in a women's prison. Phyllida Lloyd's production at London's Donmar Warehouse stars Frances Barber as Caesar and Harriet Walter as Brutus.

Michael Grandage's new company launches a 15-month West End season of five plays with camp classic Privates on Parade, starring Simon Russell Beale (whose other must-see performance was in Timon of Athens at the National over the summer).

And musical Viva Forever! - featuring the hits of The Spice Girls - premieres in London. Written by Jennifer Saunders, it tells the story of a girl band who pursue stardom on a reality TV series. Reviewers aren't impressed: The Mail's Quentin Letts dubs it "a prize Christmas turkey".

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