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2011 has been another good year for amateur theatre – and in the main I believe audience figures have risen – all the Societies worry that they won't even break even – but the majority end up doing so, which can only be good.

This has been a good year, with some very interesting and different productions – I don't think I've seen a cringeworthy show this year – and a number have been up in the realms of stunning.  At the outset can I thank everyone for making John and I so welcome – it is always good to catch up with you all.

I think the two stand out productions of this year for me – were "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" from Griffins, and "Les Miserables" from Empire Arts.  Luckily they both fall into different categories, so I can confidently name "One Flew..." as my Play of the Year and "Les Mis" as my Musical of the Year.

Joe Butcher directed an excellent play and the likes of Alan Clarke, Liz Caswell and Errol Albert, with an impeccable cast, made it an evening to remember.  The characterisations were diverse and always excellently executed, the cast gave us humour, sorrow, despair, revulsion and many other emotions allied to the subject matter of “One Flew...”.

Lucy O'Hare with her production team always amaze with their superb musicals for young performers – rehearsed and staged over a two week summer school, the quality of production and performance for Les Mis showed the standard and quality getting better and better every year.  

My Best Young Male Performer Award aged over 13 and under 18 years is split between two young men in "Les Mis" who gave us superlative performances, Ollie Slade as Javert and John Douglas as Thenardier.  Two completely different performances, the downright bawdiness and comedy of Thenardier and the dark menace of Javert, both excellently captured by these two talented young men.

For Best Young Performer under 13 – I go to Stage 1 – who once again gave us a very enjoyable pantomime –where Kyle O'Hara was a very chirpy and upfront Buttons , showing how to handle an audience – lots of promise there.

Best Young Female Performer in a musical must go to Lauren Houghton, who was a lovely Joanna in the Griffins  Sweeney Todd – showing both understanding of the character and a new depth of singing voice.

Stephanie Overington who has appeared in several productions for Dunstable Rep – and is a very assured young performer, gets my vote for Best Young Female Performer in a play, I was particularly impressed with her performance in Doubt, not an easy part, but for a 15 year old to play it with such understanding and maturity was a revelation.

It has been difficult this year to choose an outstanding adult performance in a Musical – but my favourite partnership was that of Mick Hale and Jenna Ryder-Oliver in Sweeney Todd for the Griffins – they both gave good performances that matched each other.

Best Comedy Performance, for sheer over the top exuberance goes to Matt Flitton as Basil Fawlty in TADS production of Fawlty Towers,   He got the complete essence of the character, without being too OTT!

There were several contenders for Best Female Performance in a Play – my winner is Liz Caswell in both “Cause Celebre” (Dunstable Rep) and "One Flew ...." giving outstanding performances in both roles – whilst Angela Goss gave us a beautiful in-depth characterisations in both “Doubt” and “Plaza Suite” for Dunstable Rep.

For Best Male Performance in a Play, Alan Clarke in "One Flew ...." again showed his undoubted understanding of a complex character and stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  However, James Sygrove as Mickey in Blood Brothers for TADS, also gave a great performance – both these guys touched me with their wonderful performances.

My Director’s Award this year goes to Joe Butcher for "One Flew...", but also a mention for Ian Gutteridge in his first Directorial role for Phoenix Players with “Honk!”

There were good sets from various designers, but Gary Nash always comes up trumps for Griffins, his sets for Sweeney Todd and their recent pantomime Snow White were excellently thought out and executed – which earns him Set Designer of the Year Award.  There were several sets that also vied for the prize, including Phoenix for “Honk!”, TADS for “Blood Brothers” and also Dunstable Rep for “Turn of the Screw” and “Sting in the Tale”.

I am introducing a new award this year for Young Musical Director – Joe Robinson wins this one hands down – as his innovative arrangements for St Andrew's production “Love & Marriage”, and for Griffins pantomime were good to hear from a young man with such undoubted musical talent.  “Love & Marriage” and Joe also win the Award for Best Band, although Dan Smith’s ensemble for Sweeney Todd comes a close second.

Stage 1 once again come up trumps for the Best Costume Award – their costumes always look so fresh and crisp, and are worn properly by the cast – with good hairdo's and accessories.

Another new award for this year is for Best Home Grown Script – this goes to John O'Leary and Kate Johnson for the Griffins Adult Pantomime – Alison Wonderbra.  The script was rude, funny but never offensive, and very clever.  I loved it, it lifted the panto from what might have been a poor copy of an idea, to a good show in its own right.

Dave Houghton once again has Best Technical Award for some excellent lighting plots – and is now involving his son Ben in running the board – a good family connection.

One small criticism, is that sound balance in several productions has not been good – I know it is difficult to get right with so little technical time allowed, but when performers work so hard on their part, it is always a shame that all too often the band overpowers the singers.

So once again – an excellent year for amateur theatre, my thanks to Malcolm Farrer, Roy Hall and David Sachon for covering when I was unable to review – and here’s hoping that 2012 will be an outstanding year for all the Societies and their audiences – and may I wish you all a healthy, happy and successful 2012.

Nova Horley

Review of the year 2011

Luton News

By Nova Horley


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