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Catherine Love: Looking backwards, looking forwards

Catherine Love shares her highlights of 2013 and looks ahead at the theatre on offer all over the country in the next 12 months

So it's the end of another year and, as habit demands, I'm looking back at the last 12 months and ahead at the 12 months to come. While 2013 was slow to get going and has perhaps not offered as many truly mind-blowing productions as the previous year, it was not short of quality, innovation and excitement. The Lyric Hammersmith's Secret Theatre experiment has had the latter two in spades, even if it has yet to fully settle into its own aesthetic; Open Court was equally rough around the edges, but acted as a powerful and playful statement of intent for Vicky Featherstone's tenure at the Royal Court.

Mark Arends in 1984
© Headlong

Headlong, meanwhile, has had the sort of year most companies dream of, producing four hit productions in swift succession: Chimerica, The Seagull, 1984 and now American Psycho. Elsewhere, my attention was caught by the unapologetically knotty The Events, the gorgeous yet difficult writing of There Has Possibly Been an Incident, the relentlessly powerful Grounded, and the muddy joy of the RSC's As You Like It, to name just a few. On a smaller scale, How to Occupy an Oil Rig and A Conversation With My Father handled ideas of political protest with simultaneous anger and charm, while Beating McEnroe left me grinning like an idiot.

Theatre festivals, especially outside London, offered some of the year's unexpected theatrical gems. I was charmed and impressed by Transform's strong connections with its home city of Leeds, while Pulse in Ipswich offered a huge array of small-scale experimental work over a breathless few days. There were also festivals within festivals at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, as the return of Northern Stage at St Stephen's and Forest Fringe – housed in an open and airy new venue – provided some of the month's best theatre, not to mention the haven of their miniature, fleeting communities in the midst of the exhausting Fringe hubbub.

Brief mentions also have to go to brilliantly funny women in The Lady's Not for Walking Like an Egyptian and Fleabag; thoughtful considerations of the theatrical form in The Forest and the Field and what happens to the hope at the end of the evening; Fringe treats Squally Showers, Ballad of the Burning Star, Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel and the oddly compelling Freeze!; the fractured and often funny stories of Narrative; and, one of my highlights of the whole year, The TEAM's Mission Drift. I could go on.

But now I'm turning my attention to 2014 and the most tantalising theatrical events on the horizon. In London, I'll be looking forward to phenomenal seasons at both the Royal Court and the Young Vic; highlights at the former include new plays by John Donnelly, Simon Stephens and Tim Crouch, while the Young Vic has attracted the international directing talent of Ivo van Hove, Katie Mitchell, Peter Brook and Benedict Andrews, along with a whole host of other brilliant theatre-makers. There should also be plenty to get excited about in the Mime Festival at the beginning of the year and the return of LIFT in the summer.

Beyond the capital, there are plenty of promising productions in the pipeline. Manchester's Royal Exchange has a bumper season, including another new Simon Stephens play, Suranne Jones as the lead in an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and a new Much Ado About Nothing, director Maria Aberg's follow-up to her playful As You Like It. Concluding the season is a brand new retelling of The Iliad by poet and novelist Simon Armitage, running in rep with Bruntwood Prize-winning play Britannia Waves The Rules.

Catch 22 at Northern Stage

One of the productions I'm most intrigued to see in 2014 is Northern Stage's new version of Catch 22, directed by The TEAM's Rachel Chavkin. Following its run in Newcastle, the show will go on to visit a small selection of other theatres across the country, one of which is the Nuffield in Southampton. As I've already discussed, this theatre has announced an exciting new programme under new artistic director Sam Hodges, including a new production of Caryl Churchill's A Number, a short festival of art and science, and a selection of one act Noel Coward plays directed by Blanche McIntyre and playing in rep.

Also in the Nuffield's 2014 season is Anya Reiss' new version of Spring Awakening, with which Headlong no doubt want to continue the success of 2013. Under new artistic director Jeremy Herrin, the company is promising new work from Duncan Macmillan and Jack Thorne, as well as a co-production with the Royal Court, all of which looks like it could be interesting. Sticking with touring companies for the moment, Out of Joint's new show This May Hurt a Bit, which offers a timely examination of the NHS, might also be worth a look.

Other productions on my 2014 "to see" list include: two new Chris Goode productions at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol and The Drum in Plymouth; a new world premiere from Mike Bartlett at Watford Palace Theatre; Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, Graeae, New Wolsey Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse's co-production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera; the RSC's Roaring Girls season; Daniel Kitson's new storytelling show at the National Theatre; and the final offering in The Shed, Carrie Cracknell and Nick Payne's Blurred Lines. As early indications go, it looks like a promising year.

You can also read Michael Coveney's highlights of the year or our round-up of all the best theatre in the Northwest.

What were your highlights of the last 12 months in theatre? Let us know by voting in the 2014 WhatsOnStage Awards.