This time last year I outlined some of 2014’s most notable cultural activities, and managed to get to almost all of them. Although it seems a very long time ago now, the year opened with Sam Mendes’s epic imagining of King Lear although Simon Russell Beale’s central performance didn’t quite fire. Then came Angela Lansbury in a marvellous revival of Blithe Spirit, a gripping Twelve Angry Men and Tom Hiddlestone’s brutal Coriolanus, not forgetting Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan’s engaging Skylight. It was the Young Vic’s year though with two stellar productions; Gillian Anderson is rightly winning every award going (with more to come) and out-performed her co-stars with her portrayal of Blanche Dubois which dominated A Streetcar Named Desire in the summer. But, it was their stunning A View from the Bridge that was my favourite production of this year headed by Mark Strong and Nicola Walker – with not a fault to find, it was breathtakingly good, and I needed to go and sit in quiet room afterwards to calm down. Can’t wait to see it again when it transfers to the Wyndhams from February.
Galleries and museums had quite a mixed year however. Whilst a lot of big shows came to London including huge and enjoyable retrospectives for David Bailey and Jean Paul Gaulthier, some of the offerings related to the Great War centenary were less than acceptable. The new First World War galleries at the Imperial War Museum were pretty disastrous and a huge missed opportunity. Likewise the Conflict-Time-Photography exhibition at the Tate Modern was critically acclaimed but essentially meaningless, and although their Matisse show was excellent their tendency to charge a small fortune for admission is getting preposterous. A better year though for the V&A who are back in my good graces with the beautiful Constable: The Making of a Master which was my favourite exhibition of this year.
It was also an excellent year for the BFI, hosting another great film festival, their regular seasons and some interesting previews – the James Dean season back in April was very welcome as were pre-screenings of Oscar-tipped scientist biopics The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. Another great London Film Festival in October mixed fantastic but little known works like The Night Bus and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, with yet to be released bigger budget offerings A Little Chaos and Testament of Youth (review to follow in a couple of weeks), but let’s not mention Serena. Although I didn’t review them my favourite mainstream films this year were American Hustle, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this may surprise you, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Looking ahead then, theatre in 2015 is already going to be more than a match and that’s just the things that have been announced. The theatre will be dominated by the big 5. No, not a play about African game hunting, but 5 of our biggest actors heading for the West End in the coming months – McAvoy, Strong, Fiennes, Lewis and Cumberbatch. James McAvoy opens the year at the Trafalgar Studios with The Ruling Class, a story of an unlikely Earl struggling against his new family. I missed his Macbeth but his role in Three Days of Rain a few years back was fantastic. As mentioned, from February, Mark Strong reprises his role as Eddie Carbone in the West End transfer of A View from the Bridge, which may well (and probably should) get an NT Live screening. Ralph Fiennes is heading to the National for Bernard Shaw’s philosophical comedy Man and Superman also from February while the Wyndhams chalks up another potential hit with Damien Lewis planning a heist in David Mamet’s American Buffalo from April. Come August all eyes will be on the Barbican for Benedict Cumberbatch’s long anticipated Hamlet which sold out a year in advance, although day seats will be announced nearer the time. Tickets for the others are still available and if you manage to get to all of the big 5 you’ll have done very well, and my reviews will appear here as usual.
Over in the art world it’s looking less inspiring at this point, although the V&A have Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty from March; I just hope they’ve learnt from recent fashion-exhibition disasters. The Portrait Gallery has some Audrey Hepburn portraits over the summer and you can always rely on the Barbican and Hayward galleries to put on some good shows. Otherwise, at this point, it’s distinctly underwhelming. But I expect things will come along.
In cinema so far there are only two things I’m eager to see; the latest Bond instalment, Spectre, which is currently filming and due for release on 23 October and a new film version of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard which ought to be stunning – a January / February release date was anticipated but not yet confirmed. In fact, if I could have one theatre wish for 2015 it would be for Fassbender to find time for a play but there’s zero chance with the number of films he’s signed up for. Perhaps as a back-up wish, I’d like David Tennant to try some Noel Coward, maybe Present Laughter, or a Terence Rattigan – it would be great to see him turn his hand to something more modern. In art, how about getting some Edward Hopper paintings back in the UK, it’s been a while! Ludicrous wish lists aside, 2015 is looking to be a fantastic year for culture in London and I can’t wait to get started.