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Roger Clarke's view

ALL right, we might not have a star studded awards ceremony, or any ceremony at all for that matter, but Behind The Arras reviewers have watched approaching 400 productions in 2015 and have picked out their personal highlights with their own awards of the productions they have seen this year.

With 15 reviewers, all seeing different productions, voting to produce a definitive winner is impossible so the awards are personal and starting with our affiliates there was one stand out production which towered above the rest – West Side Story at Sutton Arts Theatre which was both the best musical and best production I saw.

This was a huge and costly undertaking with enormous restrictions and demands imposed by the conditions of the licence, all done to maintain the integrity of the original show. It also needs a big cast, minimum numbers again stated in the licence, along with a need for dancers who could dance and singers who couldWest Side STory sing.

And all this on a stage with no flies and no wings to speak of and no room for the sizable orchestra demanded by the licence who had to be seated in the adjoining tearoom.

West Side Story at Sutton Arts Theatre, best musical and production of the year

It was a disaster waiting to happen but director and driving force Dexter Whitehead pulled it off with a production which boosted not only the reputation of Sutton Arts but amateur theatre in the wider region.

As for best drama there were a number of contenders, Highbury and Swan Theatre Amateurs both produced God of Carnage, with Highbury having the edge, while Dudley Little Theatre did a sterling job with All My Sons. Hall Green had another wartime drama with the intriguing Broken Glass as well as the surreal Habeas Corpus while Swan amateurs again, produced a masterful Abigail’s Party which would not have looked out of place on the professional stage. 

Moorpool had a contender with the clever spy mystery Pack of Lies, based on a true story, but Highbury took the honours with another stand out production with Peter Shaffer’s probe into the inner workings of the mind in the disturbing Equus.

Comedy opened up another award with Grange Players and Highbury both having excellent productions of The Importance of Being Earnest, Moorpool offered a wonderful Groping for Words while the Nonentities gave us an entertaining version of the evergreen Noises Off and Grange Players came up with a very funny musical murder mystery with Something’s Afoot.

Hall Green had two contenders with the very funny political comedy Pardon Me Prime Minister and the stage version of the wonderful 1955 Ealing Comedy, The Ladykillers. Both were exceptional productions with splendid sets that could have graced any stage with The Ladykillers just pipping the PM for top honours.

Musicals saw an entertaining The Pirates of Penzance from Tinkeladykillersrs Farm but the honours there went to New York and the Sharks and Jets.

As for the best mystery Moorpool had a strong contender with the clever spy mystery Pack of Lies, again, based on a true story, while the Nonentities solved a Murder on the Nile but when it came to frighteners Veronica’s Room was a four handed mystery with a chilling fear factor to take the whodunit honours.

Since Behind the Arras started in 2009 there has been a steady rise in all round amateur standards with the rest approaching the levels of the best and the same can be said for the professional stage with the prize for biggest improvement going to The New Alexandra Theatre and ATG. When ATG took over in 2009 the theatre was in the doldrums, run down, shabby and with a dull mix of tribute acts and clairvoyants and productions that were relegated to tours of backwaters, never to be seen again.

The Ladykillers at Hall Green took the comedy honours among the affiliates

I reviewed one show in the early days with the sparse audience scattered about the front three rows and the start was delayed while a maintenance man repaired a section of seats which had collapsed.

How different now with seven figures spent so far with new comfortable seats, a swish new look piano bar and, most important, a first class programme of touring shows and pre-West End runs.

The Alex had two contenders for the best musical, including, incidentally, a genuine musical rather than the modern trend of creating stage versions of successful films.

Coventry Belgrade had A Swinging Affair about jazz in Nazi Germany while both the Hippodrome and Grand had the fun Shrek based on the popular film. The Hippodrome also had Top Hat with the wonderful dancing of Alan Birkitt and Charlotte Gooch, while the Grand had the state of the art effects of the memorable stage version of The Bodyguard.

Other highlights included the return of Annie in a big budget tour at the Hippodrome and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Alex.

The stand out show though was the magnificent Guys and Dolls which went straight from the Alex to a West End run at the Savoy Theatre.

There was also a good helping of serious drama with the likes of King Charles III and The King’s Speech at Birmingham Rep which also had a fine The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. The Alex had The Shawshank Redemption and The History Boys while Malvern had the letters between father and son in Dear Lupin.

The Grand moved us with The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas and then wowed us with the magnificent The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which harnessed multimedia to stagecraft to take theatre to new levels.

Comedy sacurious incidentw the usual suspects One Man, Two Gov'nors and Spamalot at the Grand, both gloriously funny, with the Rep hosting newcomers Peter Pan Goes Wrong and, the winner, for its originality alone, Jeeves and Wooster.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Wolverhampton Grand took the award for best production of 2015

Best Opera was a choice from Welsh National Opera which came down to a masterful Sweeney Todd, while best ballet was largely the field from Birmingham Royal Ballet with Northern Ballet’s impressive Madame Butterfly sneaking in at the Grand. We had the ever popular The Nutcracker and the world premiere of David Bintley’s The King Dances but shining brightest was a lovely Swan Lake.

Dance was perhaps the widest range from Rosie Kay’s serious 5 soldiers at the Rep to the less serious Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Hippodrome which also staged Matthew Bourne’s fascinating Edward Scissorhands while the Alex had Vincent and Flavia’s farewell tour, Dance ‘Til Dawn which gave us a sort of split vote with Edward Scissorhands taking the contemporary guys and dollsdance crown and Vincent and Flavia a special ballroom award.

Children’s theatre is a difficult one. The RSC has a spectacular Wendy and Peter Pan which is by far the best children’s production of the year with Gangsta Granny at the Alex a good second.

Children's productions though are aimed at different age groups and for younger ones Octonauts at the Grand, Mister Maker Live at the Alex and We’re going on a bear hunt at the Town Hall were less challenging with the excellent The 3 Little Pigs winning the gold star.

Guys and Dolls at The New Alexandra Theatre took the award for best musical

Panto saw three excellent productions with Jack and the Beanstalk at Lichfield Garrick, Peter Pan at the Grand and Aladdin at the Hippodrome. Jack provided a show suitable for younger children and grannies but for a real spectacular and the best panto for many a year it had to be Aladdin.


Best Show: West Side Story, Sutton Arts

Best Musical: West Side Story, Sutton Arts

Best Drama: Equus, Highbury Theatre Centre

Best Comedy: The Ladykillers, Hall Green Little Theatre

Best Thriller: Veronica’s Room, Highbury Theatre Centre.


Best Show: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Grand, Wolverhampton.

Best Musical: Guys and Dolls, The New Alexandra Theatre

Best Opera: Sweeney Todd, Welsh National Opera, Hippodrome

Best Ballet: Swan Lake, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hippodrome.

Best Dance: Edward Scissorhands, Hippodrome

Best Dance (Ballroom): Dance ‘till Dawn, lying, The New Alexandra Theatre.

Best Children’s (older): Wendy and Peter Pan, RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon

Best Children’s (younger): The 3 Little Pigs, Birmingham Town Hall

Best Panto: Aladdin, Hippodrome  

Gary Longden's Awards 

Alison Brinkworth's Awards  

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