Behind the Arras Theatre Review of the Year 2018 by Gary Longden

Theatre continues to be very strong locally, both professionally, and amateur. I count myself fortunate to be able to see so much of it. I write almost all of my reviews immediately after I have returned home from a production, so as well as being factual, they are also an emotional response to what I have seen. It has been a delight to trawl back through those reviews for this piece, fond ( and not so fond) memories rekindled. The following awards simply relate to what I have seen. Inevitably others of merit will have evaded my critical gaze.
Derby Theatre continues to set the pace artistically in the region, unsurprisingly winning in the “Most Innovative Production” category. The Birmingham Hippodrome continues its position as the theatrical Dreadnought, putting on the biggest and most expensive productions on a stage that few in the West End can rival, Sutton Arts Theatre continues to be a beacon for amateur productions of the most consistently highest order, and I am pleased to report that the amateur Grange Theatre in Walsall survived closure due to building’s dilapidations and successfully reopened.
Show of the Year – Mathew Bourne’s Cinderella , Birmingham Hippodrome – a masterpiece.

Best Pro Play – The Kite Runner, Birmingham Rep. Visceral, compelling, funny, and tragic, an international story that had me spellbound.

kite runner
Best Am Play – The Perfect Murder, Sutton Arts . A decent formula thriller lifted above its station by a superb cast, and skilled direction.

Best Pro Musical – Spamalot , Derby Theatre. A riotously funny Monty Python outing performed lovingly by the cast, with the love and laughter returned in spades by an appreciative audience.

Best Am Musical – All Shook up, Lichfield Garrick. I tried to resist Elvis’s music, I tried to resist the cheesy script, I tried to ignore the joyful dance numbers, I tried to stop my feet from tapping and my fingers from clicking. I failed.

Best Pro Dance/ Ballet – Cinderella, Birmingham Hippodrome. An immense slice of theatrical genius in the ballet dance genre, by Sir Mathew Bourne, in which the Café de Paris is blown up on stage before your very eyes.

cdp dane
Best Pro Comedy – Private Lives Derby Theatre. A trusty old war horse of a show, brilliantly reimagined, but faithfully staged

Best Am Comedy – Boeing Boeing – Highbury Theatre, Sutton Coldfield. Amongst the best farces ever written, the company threw themselves into the show, the audience threw themselves around in laughter.

Best Children’s Show– Morgan & West Magic for Kids, Derby. Children’s shows are tricky. The children have to like it, obviously, but the parents who bring them along, and pay for the tickets, need to like it too. Morgan & West delivered that crossover, delighting children and adults alike, in a period magic show which had me wondering how they did it- let alone the children!

Most Innovative production- Two, Derby Theatre. The stage was extended and converted into a working pub serving beer to the audience and enabling the cast to interact with those seated around them. Brilliantly acted and executed, playwright Jim Cartwright himself was present, and declared it one of the best realisations of the play he had ever seen.

2 on set

On stage for “Two” with a working bar!

Best Male Professional Performance – From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Derby Theatre, Alex Walton is stunning as Martin, a Bowie fan who follows in his idols footsteps to find his hero, and himself. A one man tour de force.

Best Female Amateur Performance – Dick Whittington, Sutton Arts. Phebe Jackson as Fairy Bowbells. Her energy and singing brought sunshine whenever she appeared. Confident, assured and professional, she set a standard for the rest of the cast to aspire to.

And with 2019 almost upon us the schedule for the year is taking shape. Torben Betts is bringing the dark comedy “Caroline’s Kitchen” to Derby in January, Mathew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome in February, as does “Les Miserables” in April. “Avenue Q” tours at both Wolverhampton Grand and Derby. I can’t wait!

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