Our 2022 Theatre Awards
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
As the end of another year fast approaches, we here at Theatre4Everyone have warmed up a mince pie, freshly brewed some festive coffee, thrown another log on the fire and settled down to look back on the wonderful shows we have been privileged to see. It has been yet another brilliant year for North East theatre with so many great productions, inspired actors and dedicated creatives. To show a little sense of our appreciation we have counselled opinion from our extensive team of reviewers (well, me, Lisa and Jess) to come up with our award winners, so if you’re on the list below, please take a bow, pat yourself on the back and rest well in the knowledge that your efforts have been truly appreciated.
Let’s begin with probably the toughest of all the categories. When you have the honour of watching some amazing & brilliant cast it will need to be something truly unique that pips the rest to the top spot and this year that accolade goes to Robert Wilfort as Spike Milligan in Ian Hislop & Nick Newman’s Spike (Darlington Hippodrome October). Bringing to life Milligan’s psychoses, genius and one of a kind humour was no mean feat, but to do so without ever making it an impression or a pastiche was simple brilliant.
A year of many great musicals for North East patrons including Rock of Ages, The Osmonds, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Addams Family and many more, but for sheer immersive spectacle, eye’s wide wonderment and non-stop chatter on the drive home it has to be Les Miserables (Sunderland Empire November). There are not really any words left to write about Victor Hugo’s French Revolution tale, backed by Schonberg’s words and music and the instantly recognisable Kretzmer score and despite it being decades old, it never ceases to amaze and enthral.
For pure realism, and, despite being set almost 100 years ago, feeling very much of the hear and now, the award for best drama does to Helen Forrester’s Twopence to Cross the Mersey (Darlington Hippodrome October). You would not believe that so much grit, frustration and collective sense of desperation would make for comfortable viewing and in part it doesn’t – it is not meant to be a ‘comfy watch’ but a timely reminder of how some periods in time which we try to confine to the history books have an uncanny knack of coming around again.
Something lighter now and the best comedy was a hotly contested award – panto’s aside (they have their own award) we were treated to Darlington Operatic Society’s (DOS) Shrek, the 60’s farce Boeing Boeing, Book of Mormon and The Play that Goes Wrong but just squeezing them all into 2nd place was the afore mentioned DOS with their production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Darlington Hippodrome May). Sequins, feathers, Aussie accents (well, mostly Aussie) and the smell of cheap perfume, this was a wonderful watch, a great show and brilliantly choreographed.
Best Children's Show
David Walliams has long been heralded as one of the best modern children story writers, bringing his oft off-the-wall humour to brilliant tales which engage and enthral both kids and adults. His Billionaire Boy (Sunderland Empire May) produced by Birmingham Stage was given the royal seal of approval by our youngest reviewer and I for one could find no reason to disagree.
For no other reason than there were so many of them and they were all very persuasive when they rang my doorbell, the best ensemble goes to Book of Mormon (Newcastle Theatre Royal June) and their happy band of white shirt/black tie/perpetual smiles. Giving course to rethink your beliefs on everything from sex to religion, storytelling to geography (and with a rather disturbing Mormon Hell dream) I think were the real Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to adopt a fraction of this show into their approach they would be inundated with converts.
When you are invited to see a few (actually quite a few) pantomimes in a festive season it can be challenging to look upon each one with fresh eyes – after all, once you’ve shouted “Oh yes we are” a few hundred times the enthusiasm starts to ease. That said, we are blessed in the North East with having many different styles of pantos, so we are not simply comparing one against the other – instead I like to gauge my feelings on the response from my guest for the night (a non-reviewer but someone who is as equally, if not even more critical and demanding, my granddaughter Emilia) – how much did they enjoy it. For 2022, our winner of the best “He’s behind you” goes to Beauty and The Beast (Billingham Forum) which got 2 thumbs up, a fab-u-lous and many, many instances of eyes and mouth wide open. Well done to Laim Mellor and the whole gang at Billingham (and the wonderful Front of House team there too).
Best ‘small show’ production
Box of Tricks Theatre brought their “The Last Quiz Night on Earth” to the region to lighten up a dark and dreary January and, through playwright Alison Carr’s words and Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder’s guidance we were dropped full on into a pub quiz with a rather cataclysmic last round. Dystopian, fast paced and feeling very familiar, this was a wonderful start to the theatre year.
A joint award for The Invisible Man (Northern Stage February) goes to Philip Correia and Anna Girvan for a unique take on the social constraints of prejudice, ever present and the fight to be seen (or unseen), this production had us still talking about it right through the year. The innovative use of space, the genuine brilliance in story telling and the expert example of less is more direction, Northern Stage again produced a masterpiece of theatre.
Best musical direction
Having seen the Addams Family (Newcastle Theatre Royal February) twice, once from the circle and then again from right behind MD Bob Broad, it was clear to see that Bob’s energy, drive and sense of fun infected the whole performance – we had waited a while for this show and thanks to Bob it was very much worth the wait. After all, everyone deserves as little Addams in their life.
Another joint award, this time for the team behind Fatal Attraction (Newcastle Theatre Royal January) – based on the 1992 movie, this stage production was made all the more intense by set designer Morgan Large, lighting Jack Knowles and sound Carolyn Downing, a trifecta of creation.
Best Press night experience
As reviewers, we never forget how privileged we are to be invited to see shows; having a seat, a programme and a drink is gift enough, however sometimes the evening takes on a more grand feel, a gala night. For the opening of We Will Rock You (The Globe Stockton June) we were treated to champagne cocktails, snacks and treats, a team of glamourous hosts and a sense of real red carpet occasion.
Best show programme
The days of show programmes being simply the cast list, a few words from the promoter and a load of adverts for the local eating establishments are long gone. Now they are lavish extensions of the evening experience, tailored and catering for the expected patrons and celebrating the show and the occasion. One producer of such excellence is John Good Ltd who never fail to provide engaging, informative and fun programmes. Our favourite from this year is for The Play That Goes Wrong (Newcastle Theatre Royal June) which was packed with the same sense of humour, off the wall madness that the Mischief Theatre company fill their shows with.
Best Front of House
The award to the most engaging and welcoming Front of House team goes to..... really, do you think we could put one team above the others? We are always so well looked after so this again must be shared with all the staff, ushers, door people, box office, bar keeps and cleaners who make each visit feel very special. Big mention to Kate at Sunderland Empire and Gill at Newcastle Theatre Royal who particularly go out of their way to ensure we have all the necessary details, production shots, social media tags and extra insight which helps us make our reviews as engaging as possible.
Outstanding performance award
The final award is in recognition of someone who has delivered some simply perfect performances over the past few years and this year he again hit the highest of heights. Playing both Tick in Priscilla and then Donkey in Shrek (both DOS productions at Darlington Hippodrome), Ben Connor is a seriously funny guy, a master of his craft and, for someone still so young, a star now and of the future.
So there you have it, another wonderful year in North East Theatre, a massive thank you to all the Front of House Teams who welcome us so warmly, to the marketing and promotion teams who keep us informed (and invited), to the multitudes of technical behind the scenes wizards and to my fellow reviewers who make every evening feel like a little family reunion.