Renovation was the name of the game for London theatres in the past year, followed closely by change of ownership in many cases. In the first of a three-part series reviewing the year 2000 in London theatre, Whatsonstage.com contributing editor, Mark Shenton, shortlists some of the year's biggest changes and bids farewell to a few leading lights.


1. The Court Comes Home. The Royal Court returned to Sloane Square, at last, after a long period in exile in the West End, where it happened to galvanise not one but two venues, the Ambassadors (now re-branded the New Ambassadors and specialising in the same kind of showcasing of new and interesting work that the Court pioneers), and the Duke of York's. The splendid re-fit of their old theatre, however, managed to both preserve the integrity of that charmed space while also offering much more comfortable seating and more handsome front-of-house facilities.

The opening year's productions in the main house were a bit disappointing: Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol didn't live up to The Weir, but what could? Ditto Jim Cartwright, whose rough-edged talent was first hewn at the Royal Court with Road but whose Hard Fruit was a lot more clumsy and less poetic. Martin Crimp's The Country was calculatedly impenetrable. And David Hare's summer hit My Zinc Bed was wordy and worthy.

But things were brighter at the studio Upstairs, where some of the year's most interesting new work was being produced, not least Gary Mitchell's The Force of Change which subsequently moved downstairs, Caryl Churchill's brief Far Away (now moving to the Albery), Sarah Kane's final play 4:48 Psychosis, the excellent David Eldridge triptych, Under the Blue Skies, and two intriguing German plays, Mr Kolpert and Fireface. The Theatre Upstairs was the theatre of the year.

2. The Bush Gets Backrests. The Bush Theatre closed for the summer while the pub downstairs was being refurbished and re-branded - and itself re-opened considerably spruced up, with (praise be!) proper backrests to the seats for the first time, to replace the knees of the person behind you that you used to have to rest against!

3. The Almeida Multi-tasks. The Almeida took over the former Gainsborough Film Studios in Shoreditch for a summer double bill of Richard II and Coriolanus, with Ralph Fiennes in the title roles of both, and briefly created a stupendous performance space that is now being torn down to make way for luxury flats.

Meanwhile, at its home theatre, the Almeida ended the year by beginning its destruction and a thrilling production of Shakespeare's valedictory play, The Tempest, that is the theatre's own farewell, at least temporarily, while it too is being completely refurbished. The waterlogged island created on the Almeida's stage, with an Ariel who is literally aerial when he s not under water, was one of London's most extraordinary spectacles.

4. The Open Air Spruces Up. The Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park also had a refit - but its still not got a roof! This year's summer musical, The Pirates of Penzance, was one of their best yet.

5. Gone But Not Forgotten. Farewells were said to two of the UK s most beloved stage actors: John Gielgud and Alec Guinness.

6. Landlord Lloyd Webber. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group took over control of the ten, mostly prime, theatres in the Stoll Moss portfolio, thus becoming the West End's single most powerful landlord. The other biggest chain, formerly Associated Capital Theatres (ACT), also changed hands, being bought out by the Ambassadors Theatre Group.