Best production of the year: When the Rain Stops Falling at the Shaw Festival
It only played for a few weeks in the Niagara-on-the-Lake festival's smallest theatre, but this fantastic family epic still haunts those who saw it. Australian playwright Andrew Bovell's drama was exquisitely directed by Peter Hinton, and three generations of acting talent in the Shaw ensemble rose to challenge. (Visit the Nestruck on Theatre blog for a full list of the top productions of 2011 in Toronto and Vancouver.)
Biggest disappointment of the year: Saint Carmen of the Main at the National Arts Centre and Canadian Stage
Best of times, worst of times for Hinton. His revival of Michel Tremblay's 1976 tragedy was stunningly designed, but spectacularly missed the point of the play. Alas, critics used this solemn production as a stick beat both Hinton and the new artistic direction at co-producer Canadian Stage – a pity, because our classic plays do need less reverent reinventions.
Stand-out performance: Tom Rooney as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.
It's no small feat to steal the show in a company as talented as the one assembled for Des McAnuff's production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. And yet, Rooney was magnificent as the sad, self-regarding steward secretly in love with his mistress. His rendering of letter scene was the funniest, most enjoyably cringe-worthy five minutes of acting this year.
Character walk of the year: Sophie Cadieux in Blanche-Neige & La Belle au Bois Dormant (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty)
The Québécoise star dazzled in Martin Faucher's stylized production of these two barely penetrable plays by Austrian Nobel-winner Elfriede Jelinek at Montreal's Espace Go. Cadieux's somnambulistic beauty teetered around in high heels, martini in hand, waiting for her prince in a performance that went beyond physical comedy to become physical satire. Her dance in a bunny costume (alongside a giant inflatable pig) is an image that has seared itself into my memory, for better or for worse.