When considering this feature, it swiftly became apparent that depending on one’s outlook, there could be several different theatres that might fit the definition of “The Best Theatre in the World / United Kingdom”.
In fact, so many came to mind that this week’s column will feature some favourites from outside the United Kingdom and, unless anything better gets in the way, next week’s will look at those closer to home.
The Best Setting and Architecture
While these might have been separate categories, in this critic’s experience there is one undoubted winner, whichever way you look at it.
That is at the Sydney Opera House. Like the writer, on an initial visit there, you might feel compelled to walk around and around admiring the outside of one of the most stunning architectural creations outside the seven wonders of the world. It is none too shabby inside either, whether you head into the opera house or the main drama theatre.
While circumnavigating this glorious building, you also inevitably look in the opposite direction out across Sydney Harbour to the almost equally amazing bridge. It helps that given the southern hemisphere climate there is every chance of glorious sunshine to illuminate the harbour, the bridge and the opera house.
The Best Outdoor Theatre
There is a slight difficulty here. Inevitably, this will be a matter of taste and some could regard a Grecian amphitheatre as sine qua non, while others will be seeking something with a more rural aspect.
In addition, it is a fact of life that you can’t go everywhere and therefore this selection is largely based on hearsay, since the writer has only seen the Delacorte Theatre, home of New York’s legendary Shakespeare in the Park, out of season.
However, reading about its attractions in a book about the Public Theatre that will be reviewed in the next few days, there seems little doubt that the combination of setting and programming make this venue unbeatable.
The Best Opera House
Once again, there will be few people who have visited all of the great opera houses of the world and therefore the choice is inevitably limited by experience.
However, on the basis that excitement quotient on visiting a theatre is as good a measure as any, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York will take some beating.
Before the visitor even arrives at the front door, he or she is welcomed by two stunning hanging murals created by Mark Chagall. The interior is almost as sumptuous, providing unbeatable comfort, those wonderful Met titles allowing viewers to see the libretto in a choice of languages and great performances on stage.
The Best Online Theatre
Once again North America takes the biscuit with a choice of three exceptional offerings.
In many ways, the imagination and invention of Jonathan Bank in bringing New York’s Mint Theater to the sitting rooms of the world, with its classic programming that features hit after hit, should have been enough to beat off the competition.
However, working on a larger scale and with far better production values, Canada’s Stratford Festival with its superlative productions of Shakespeare’s finest, not to mention revivals of lesser works by the Bard that are almost equally enjoyable and even the odd play by other writers, turned a bleak pandemic drought into something far more palatable with its reminders of what we were all missing.
Had the Met not already received an accolade, it would also have been worthy of great praise for sharing its back catalogue with viewers across the globe.
Next time around, the British version will have a slightly different slant, which reflects the fact that this critic and the majority of readers will be more familiar with theatres on their own home turf.