The Best...

My “Best of” choices are intensely personal and the categories may change from year to year. If, for example, there’s not a director who, for some reason, stands out from the rest, then there won’t be a Best Director. I should also point out that we normally don’t include visiting shows, just home-grown. So, let’s go—

My best play is, without a shadow of a doubt, the Live Theatre/National Theatre of Scotland production of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Although it was primarily a NTS production, the fact that it was written by Lee Hall makes it a proper contender for this category.

The best production, however, needs to have been produced in the region and yet again the accolade goes to Live for What Falls Apart, although I do have to say that Northern Stage’s Cyrano de Bergerac came very close behind—there’s barely the thickness of a piece of paper between them.

The best family show this year goes, yet again, to Northern Stage with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which was even better than last year’s winner, Get Santa!—and that is saying a lot!

And while we’re talking about those two shows, let me say my best actress accolade goes to Tessa Parr who played the lead in both. Admittedly the latter wasn’t in 2015 but is was just four days short of it so I’m making an exception and making the award for both. Parr, in fact, is making quite a name for herself playing teenage (or younger) girls, having appeared in Alison Carr’s The Soaking of Vera Shrimp at Live in 2014 with great success.

So we’d better fit in the best actor here. It’s Nigel Barrett for Cyrano de Bergerac at Northern Stage, partly because of the way in which he handled a difficult part but also because of (and this is a weakness of mine) his superb verse speaking.

For me, the best show for children was the co-production between New Writing North, Sage Gateshead and Durham Book Festival, Man on the Moon, which was great fun for both kids and grown-ups. Mind you, balletLORENT’s full length dance piece Snow White was terrific and so, as it is on a totally different scale, the two can sit quite happily alongside each other for very different reasons. But both really did hit the spot as far as their audience was concerned.

Last year I introduced, for the first time, recognition for the best devised piece and didn’t expect to award it again for quite some time. However things don’t always go as you’d expect and this year there was another production which fits the bill perfectly, Camisado Club’s You, Me and Everything Else.

For me there were two outstanding small-scale touring productions during the year and I really can’t decide between them, so I’ll split the award between Greyscale’s Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone (Greyscale is now based in Newcastle) and Zendeh’s one-woman show Cinema.

Just occasionally there is one major “number one” touring show which is just so exceptional that it cries out to be recognised in any “best of” list. Such a one was the National’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which came to Sunderland Empire in August and not only wowed audiences but kick-started education and outreach work which is still going on.

I fully intended to name one promising newcomer, a person or company which looks set to make a big contribution to theatre in the region in the coming years, but three candidates emerged during the course of the year and I really can’t separate them. They are Alphabetti (which I mentioned in the second part of this review), FERTILE GROUND which is the region’s first professional graduate dance company, and young playwright Nina Berry who contributed, among others, Words with Love to Live Theatre’s Rendezvous and Paper Walls to Alphabetti’s The Rooms.

Finally an accolade for attempting the seemingly ridiculous and impossible—and succeeding. MIRACLE! An Opera of Two Halves is an original opera about football, performed by professional soloists and amateur chorus (including a large contingent of young people) in a church in Sunderland and produced by Music in the Minster. With a libretto by David Almond and music by Marcos Fernandez it wowed the packed audiences over three nights. A brave thing to do and it paid off handsomely!