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2012 has again been a good year for productions in the Luton area.  I’ve seen some very good productions and have been really uplifted by how much Societies are putting in to their productions and actors into their performances – it is noticeable that in most areas everyone has upped their game – so very well done to everyone, as we, their audiences, really appreciate the effort and attention to detail goes into each production.

Once again Empire Arts shone, Lucy O’Hare and her magnificent team made sure that West Side Story was a memorable show, and they get my vote for Musical of the Year for the second year running as it excelled on all levels.  I think most of us realise how much goes into getting superlative performances and technical excellence, and that Empire Arts maintain their high standard year after year is a testament to the brilliance of everyone involved.  I always leave Empire shows feeling on such a high that youngsters can give us such wonderful performances.  Two other musicals were also worthy of consideration in this category – Footloose from Griffins, which was gritty and full of vivacity, and Drowsy Chaperone from St Andrews, which was charming and elegant.

My Play of the Year goes to TADS, for their production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream – from entering the theatre where even the walls had been incorporated into the scenery, to the wonderful understanding behind the play, and nice technicals, plus good performances and excellent direction from Sue Sachon - I loved it and so did the audiences, many of them commenting that it was the first time they had realised what the play was all about.  The other productions following close behind were Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, And then there Were None, and Hamlet, all from the Rep, who long have an excellent reputation and certainly lived up to it again this year.

My Best Young Male Performer in a Musical Award goes to Ollie Slade for his amazingly mature performance in West Side Story, he gave a beautifully sensitive portrayal of Tony, expressive and lyrical singing, I was carried into his world.  I can’t praise him enough for a strong yet vulnerable portrayal.

Best Young Female Performer Award in a Musical goes to Bianca Baikie as Maria in West Side Story, she was vulnerable and wistful, becoming strong at the end, and again showed a real understanding of the words both sung and spoken.  

Other youth performances that really impressed me were Harry Rodgers in both Midsummer’s Night Dream and On With the Show for TADS, this young man always gives good performances with attention to detail, and isn’t afraid to be funny! – and Ciara McDermott as Widow Twankey in Stage 1’s Aladdin.  I also loved Tiana Rogers as Aba Banana in Griffins Aladdin – she certainly made an impression on me – she has such a wonderfully lively face and good attention to detail.  I must also pick out a good youth comedy pairing, and that was Kieran Newport and Ciaran Barragry as PC’s Ping and Pong, also in Stage 1’s Aladdin.  These five young performers are definitely ones to watch.

My Best Comedy Performance this year was Lorna Trapp as Sergeant Roley in Cinderella II for Griffins, she had me in stitches, and this contrasted completely with her performance as Vi in Footloose.  A close second was Josh Thompson in Footloose, he really made an impression with his highly charged performance.

There are several contenders for MD of the Year, but coming out on top on all counts is Graham Thomson for West Side Story. The band had a beautifully full and rounded sound, a pleasure to listen to - and was an accompaniment at all times and never drowned out the people on stage – which was a testament to Graham’s control and understanding of the complete work, plus excellent musical feeling, tone and expression from the cast.  However, I thought Beth Thomas (Drowsy Chaperone for St Andrews), James Driver (Cinderella II for Griffins) and Paul Ramsey (Footloose for Griffins) all created super sounds from their casts and bands.  With regard to this category I would just like to say, that if I were able to review DAOS for the Luton News, then the hands down winner would have been Les Arnold and his superb orchestra, for the DAOS production of Sound of Music – the sound was sumptuous and exciting, with great new arrangements, that meant it was almost as if we were hearing the music for the first time.

A young man who has made a real impression on me this year and gets my Best Young Actor in a Play Award, is Cameron Hay – he shone as Demetrius in Midsummer’s Night Dream, as Wyndham Brandon in Rope, both for TADS, and also as Riff in West Side Story for Empire Arts.  A worthy winner, but closely followed by Jaymes Sygrove for his performance as Charles Granillo in Rope for TADS, Jaymes has long been one of my favourite local young actors.

Best Actor in the adult category goes to Justin Doherty for Tom Ripley in the Talented Mr Ripley, for showing us the nuances of this paranoid character.  Justin managed to create a rather nondescript-looking character, who came to life occasionally, particularly when assault or murder was on his mind, beautifully observed portrayal.  I also include Steve Peters in this category for his stand out performance in Drowsy Chaperone for St Andrews, as Man in a Chair.  As the narrator/story teller it was his job to both set and link the scenes, he was so marvellously expressive, whilst managing to remain this rather odd, nerdy character.  Well constructed characterisation, which made even the most strange references interesting!

Best Pairing in a drama goes to Liz Caswell and Dave Corbett as Maggie and Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the Rep – great performances from them both creating a fiery relationship.

Best Actress goes to Eileen Kirby as Chris in Calendar Girls for Griffins, but I was also very impressed by Deb Cheshire as Annie in the same production.  Both ladies gave us incredibly moving and diverse performances.  Annalise Carter-Brown was another close contender she gave us an excellent portrayal of Ruth in Blithe Spirit for the Rep.

Best Actress in a Musical goes to Jo Yirrell for Drowsy Chaperone. Jo looked elegant and lovely, whilst delivering some very strange lines with great meaning. I also liked Kirsty Day as Rusty in Footloose, she had the voice, the energy, the stage presence and speed of speech to do the character justice.

I am very happy to be able to give a mention to two choreographers who really made an impression this year, Jo Harris for Drowsy Chaperone and Kate Johnson for Footloose, these ladies share my Best Choreographer Award, they both created super dance routines that were quirky and suited the music for both shows.

My Director of the Year is Frances Hall for Drowsy Chaperone, a very strange vehicle, but Frances is an insightful Director – and saw beyond what is a rather tenuous tale, getting her cast to really buy into it.  Annalise Carter-Brown also did a super job on Hamlet for the Rep, adapting it to make it more approachable, and structuring her cast and sets to get the optimum interest.

I liked the set for Calendar Girls from Gary Nash of Griffins, but my winner this year of the Best Set Award goes to TADS for Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It was electric, and right from the start delivered an excellent background to what was a classy production.

I always come back to Stage 1 for the Best Costume Award – and this year is no exception.  Very colourful, pristine costumes, with excellent hair and make up, well done once again.  However, I also liked the costumes for the Rep’s Hamlet, unexpected but again colourful and good looking, with good wigs.

Technically I loved the Ghost in Hamlet – it created such a wonderful feel, and there have again been some good lighting plots from Dave Houghton.

So there we go dear reader, in a difficult year financially for everyone, I am happy to tell you that amateur theatre in the Luton News area is alive and kicking and going from strength to strength – I am looking forward to next year, which I hope will be as exciting and uplifting as this year.

Don’t forget to visit my website www.n-ovation.co.uk for more details of amateur theatre and show reviews.

Nova Horley

Review of the year 2012

Luton News

By Nova Horley


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