Alison Brinkworth's review of the year

While the old favourites are still going strong, the past year's theatre has reinforced, in my mind, the healthy state of creativity for new exciting work.

Over the year, there's been new productions performed in the Midlands from Kunene and the King to Six The Musical, Admissions, Prism, The Boy In The Dress, Napoli Brooklyn and many more - so plenty of new ideas to enthrall.

This is especially true as I cover many reviews at Malvern Theatres - a small, historic theatre in the Midlands that is attracting big shows, often before they go to the West End. Much of that is due to the efforts of programming lead Nic Lloyd and there's more to come in 2020 with Blithe Spirit starring Jennifer Saunders ahead of its stint in London.

It means many of my highlights for 2019 have been at this charming venue in the shadow of the beautiful Malvern hills. But there has been other new work that has turned my head too including at The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and smaller touring productions to the intimate Patrick Studio in Birmingham Hippodrome. So, here's the round-up of my awards for 2019.

Best Play - King John at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

 This latest RSC production breathed new life into Shakespeare's lesser performed play with a woman playing the lead role of King John.


King John

With 1960's influences, quirky dance sequences and even a food fight, this exciting production was the RSC directorial debut by Eleanor Rhode and had impressive performances by Rosie Sheehy as bad King John and Katherine Pearce as an equally dastardly Cardinal.Best Musical - Six The Musical at Malvern Theatres 

Refreshing and hilarious, Six The Musical is finally on its first UK tour. I caught it at Malvern Theatres and was left dazzled by its creativity and comedy in reflecting the plight of the six wives of Henry VIII through the form of a modern girl band concert. It continues to Birmingham Hippodrome and Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre in 2020 and is a must-see.

Best Small Production - Unfortunate at The Patrick Studio

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch turned The Little Mermaid tale on its head for this hilarious, vivacious musical parody of the Disney movie. This Fat Rascal Theatre production starred the impressive Robyn Grant as a beguiling lead, who also wrote the book and lyrics.

Best Comedy - Admissions at Malvern Theatres

Joshua Harmon’s latest sharp, uncomfortable comedy set in America, starring Alex Kingston, is a thought-provoking, acerbic examination of the college admissions process, diversity and white middle classes. It's a provocative memorable comedy that is witty and frank.

Best Actress - Samantha Womack in The Girl On The Train at Alexandra Theatre and Malvern Theatres

Womack shone in this stage adaptation of the best-selling book.


Samantha Womack with Adam Jackson Smith in The Girl on the Train

She lifted the production by managing to give a realistic portrayal of a drunk while also endearing the audience to her character Rachel, which is no easy feat. It emphasised Womack's range beyond the TV sitcoms she has become famous for.

Best Actor - Robert Lindsay in Prism at Birmingham Rep and Malvern Theatres

Lindsay was superb as a dementia patient in this fine, well-scripted play. Lindsay was also involved in helping bring this multi-dimensional play to stage, which shows how families are affected by dementia and also delves into the mind of the sufferer.

Best Character Acting - Sarah Parks in Murder, Margaret and Me at Malvern Theatres

Recreating the eccentric mannerisms of actress Margaret Rutherford perfectly was Sarah Parks in this fascinating drama about the difficult relationship between Agatha Christie and Rutherford, when she played Miss Marple. It was brought to stage in a collaboration between Malvern Theatres, Churchill Theatre Bromley and Tilted Wig Productions.

Best Costumes - The King and I at The Alexandra Theatre

This big Christmas musical at The Alexandra Theatre whisked the audience away to the Far East with exquisite costumes that won a Tony Award for Catherine Zuber. The lavish show included a stunning Victorian ballgown for the romantic Shall We Dance? number.

Best Scenery - My Cousin Rachel at Malvern Theatres

Bringing the sweeping scenery and crashing waves of Cornwall to life was this Theatre Royal Bath production of the Daphne Du Maurier story. It included a revolving stage with a changing coastal backdrop, crackling fireplace and a dramatic curved staircase. 


Robert Lindsay with his Technicolor camera in Prism

Prism's innovative and interactive stage setting came a close second, which transported the audience into the mind of a dementia patient.

Best Opera -  Carmen at Birmingham Hippodrome

Transporting the drama to the flavelas of South America was a stroke of genius in this riveting Welsh National Opera production. Modernised to make this tragic story as revelant as ever it included a fine performance from Virginie Verrez as a Carmen who is a fiesty gun-wielding guerrilla for this century.

Best Dance - Pepperland at Birmingham Hippodrome

Mark Morris and his celebrated New York based Dance Group marked the golden jubilee of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with this energetic and carefully choreographed work in 2017 for the City of Liverpool.

Dance Consortium supported it to go on a UK tour in 2019 When it's exhilarating dance influenced by the iconic album could be further appreciated. 

Best Dancer - Dada Masilo in Giselle at Birmingham Hippodrome

The South African choreographer brought her vibrant modern reinterpretation of Giselle with tribal dancing themes to the UK in 2019. Staring in the main role as Giselle, talented Masilo was simply mesmerising on stage.

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