As mentioned in the previous post it is the ensemble work that normally impresses most in the South West area but there were enough great leading performances this year;both from the established order and from those ready to break out and become the next generation of stars. Expect big things from all of these next year, if 2015 was good for them, 2016 should prove to be even better.
5. Frances McNamee- The One That Got Away Ustinov Studio
McNamee is becoming a Ustinov regular and will soon be seen in the cast of The Mother that will be playing at the Tricycle Theatre, and potentially like its companion piece The Father, the West End. In The One That Got Away her elegant poise was punctuated by moments of frenzied sexual desire as her belief in her husbands philandering saw her book her own hotel assignation that in typical Fedeau style ended up delivering a symphony of slamming doors and mistaken identities. She was a rather miscast Audrey earlier in the year in Little Shop Of Horrors where she couldn’t hide her own natural sense of grace but here she used it to astonishing effect in a turn both comically hilarious and surprisingly moving.
Phil Dunster- Pink Mist Bristol Old Vic
An ensemble piece that was given a sense of drive by a fairly recent Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate who in his edgy, slightly dark energy resembled a young Tom Hardy. Drama schools seem to produce a lot of floppy haired, slightly posh, will end up in the next BBC period drama, kind of actor but Dunster has something more intense going on behind the eyes and his tense physicality. You felt he could be your best mate having a drink down The Thekla but capable of glassing you in a scrap or capable of putting a bullet in you on the battlefield. With a London engagement at the Bush and then a return to Bristol Old Vic for him and this production next year expect his name to start being attached to bigger things.
Gina McKee- The Mother Ustinov Studio
As pale as a ghost and with a physicality that suggests she would snap with the next gust of wind McKee gave a performance as a mother potentially falling apart mentally that was as affecting and as devastating subtle as Kenneth Cranham’s had been in The Father. It is one of life’s mysteries why she never achieved the success of her co-stars in that pivotal 90’s TV drama Our Friends In The North but whereas Daniel Craig went to Bond and Christopher Eccleston to Who we have been privileged to see this actress still grace the stage in new, challenging works that show there is a change in the tide for great roles for actresses between pretty ingenue and old battle axe.
Emma Williams Mrs Henderson Presents Bath Theatre Royal
Williams has charmed me on stage for a good decade now, ever since I saw her in the cult Bat Boy at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2004. She’s beautiful of course, a shimmering, sexy, curvaceous blonde that comes across on stage as the kind of girl you want to take home to the family. She is also possessor of one of the finest musical theatre voices out there bar none. Mrs Henderson Presents in Bath was patchy but every time she sang one of Don Black’s standards you were aware that for her performance alone this show deserved a West End berth. She hasn’t taken the easy route with her career choices, always prepared to take a risk on the new (Love Story, Zorro) over the tried and tested classics which have meant I feel she has been widely overlooked by the general theatre going public. If Mrs Henderson Presents can sharpen up, this very British, very cheeky, very full-frontal show may give her more prominence.
Papa Essiedu Romeo and Juliet Tobacco Factory Theatres
I said in my initial review that a star was born in Essiedu’s Romeo. A year later he will open as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I would afford myself a pat on the back if it hadn’t been so obvious from his first entrance that this was an actor going places and quickly. He conveyed the little boy lost innocence of a man who can fall in love at the drop of a hat, the cheeky smile of a natural lady-killer (Juliet didn’t stand a chance) and a slightly unhinged mania that suggested his rash impulse to seek bloody revenge for the death of his best friend was an incident waiting to happen. It was a production full of thrills and spills and it struck gold with Essiedu, a lead with a natural affinity to the verse and who fully made sense of a character that is among the most challenging in the Bards work. He then went and played a sneering, charming, deceitful villain in Andrew Hilton’s The School For Scandal and proved if there was any doubt that he was the true acting MVP of the year.