The beginning of 2014 saw the tail end (no pun intended) of the National Theatre's War Horse, which returned for a second gallop in the summer. Between the two runs, the production contributed £15.5m into the Greater Manchester economy. That isn't ticket sales; that's how much money was spent in the county due to the production being there. It isn't surprising from this that Manchester City Council is putting money into building new theatres. Have we made the economic argument for subsidised theatre yet?
My own visits to The Lowry were fewer in 2014 than usual it seems, looking back, but our other Manchester reviewers were impressed with Akram Khan's Desh and Opera North's The Bartered Bride, La Traviata and The Coronation of Poppea.
I was a little disappointed with Hull Truck's A Taste of Honey, but no one could fail to be impressed by Lisa Dwan's stunning performance in the Beckett trilogy of Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby, whatever their views on Beckett.
The Royal Shakespeare Company brought the two parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV (parts 1 & 2) to Salford, which featured a very interesting interpretation of Sir John Falstaff from Sir Antony Sher that didn't portray him simply as a Shakespearean clown.
Palace and Opera House
The Opera House presented one of its smaller productions with a shrunken auditorium, which worked well for the powerful The Pride, which was flawed but contained some impressive writing and acting.
Robert Lindsay returned to Manchester for a pre-West End run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which many enjoyed but I found greatly flawed in the writing and a little lazy in some of the performances, despite some very impressive performances elsewhere in the cast. Barry Humphries brought his "farewell tour" to Manchester, which was all familiar but very good if you are a fan of his humour.
The inaugural production of Warwick Davies's Reduced Height Theatre Company was See How They Run, which looked very dated and didn't really show off the talents of the new company to best effect. Annie Get Your Gun also looked rather dated, but the production worked reasonably well and Emma Williams gave a barnstorming performance in the title role.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F mixed trained actors with real ex-soldiers who were injured in combat in a production that was effective and affecting but could have done with a more experienced director at the helm to freshen it up for a large-scale theatre tour. Still on the subject of soldiers but back to the Second World War, Lottie's War had an interesting story to tell about German-occupied Guernsey but wasn't terribly well-written.
This year's panto saw the return of Warwick Davies in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in which Tam Ryan showed once again his star quality as a panto comic but Priscilla Presley was a disappointing panto villain.
At the Palace, Rock of Ages wasn't as bad as I was expecting and even quite entertaining, and Avenue Q was as brilliantly witty as before in this new touring production from Sell a Door. Jersey Boys was, however, the big musical event of the year, starting its first UK tour in Manchester and showing just why it is the current king of the jukebox musicals.
Later in the year, Barnum had a good central performance from Brian Conley but it doesn't have a great book, relying on the circus effects to wow the audience, which I think were a little curtailed for touring. The Christmas production at the Palace was Shrek, which I think would have been better without the unmemorable songs, which not only didn't add to the show but actually made the story more confusing.