Best New Play
There were three contenders here, two at Alphabetti—Floorboards by Steve Byron, produced by ODDMANOUT, The Worriers and Alphabetti, and Down to Zero by Lizi Patch, produced by Coracle and Alphabetti—and one at the Customs House, Isolation by Elijah Young, produced by the Customs House Takeover Festival.
After much thought I settled on Floorboards. It was not, I have to say, an easy decision!
Best Visiting Production
This is the only award for something not produced in the region. Again there were three contenders: The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil from the National Theatre of Scotland at Live Theatre, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig from Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre at Northern Stage and A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Watermill Ensemble, also at Northern Stage.
Again it was a close-run thing but the accolade has to go to that most iconic and influential piece of political theatre from John McGrath The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. And it was an added bonus that this production was directed by Joe Douglas before he became Artistic Director of Live Theatre.
This is always a difficult one. Should it be interpreted as a revival of a recent production, such as, for example, Live Theatre’s Clear White Light from last year, or perhaps a production of a piece of classic theatre? In the end I decided on the latter and chose Elysium Theatre Company’s fine production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie which I saw at Durham’s Gala Theatre.
Best Solo Show
There really was no choice here: if I go to a show unwillingly, expecting to hate it, and come away loving it, then it has to be something extra-special and Kema Sikazwe’s Shine at Live Theatre was very definitely that!
Best Children’s Show
There were two in contention here, Ruth Mary Johnson’s Chicken Licken—a Tale Jam (and Johnson is, in my estimation, one of the best exponents of theatre for children in the NE) which I saw at Arts Centre Washington, and Wolf!, Kitchen Zoo’s Christmas show for the under-5s at Northern Stage. Sadly I have been unable to see anything from Theatre Hullabaloo this year.
Another very hard decision but in the end Baabara the puppet sheep (and the Elvis wolf!) swung it for me and the award goes to Wolf!.
Best Dance Piece
My health problems made me miss balletLORENT’s The Lost Happy Endings which looked to be a fine piece of work (I hope to catch it in 2020 on tour). State of Grace’s Doves which had a trial run at Newcastle’s Dance City came close to being my pick of the year’s work but, on mature reflection, it seems that it will benefit from further development, so in the end I chose Twilight Dances from Fertile Ground, danced to Schubert’s string quartet in D minor, Death and the Maiden, performed live with the musicians being part of the choreography. A fine piece of work from the company’s new artistic directors, Renaud Wiser and Malgorzata Dzierzon.
The Best Experiment
Every year, I find myself looking for a new name to suit a production which is just so different and deserves recognition for its pushing at the boundaries of what we think of as theatre. In future I shall call it the Best Experiment, so here it is (and why didn’t I think of that before?)
In another year, And She at Northern Stage from Bonnie and the Bonnettes, a piece of brash, loud and colourful gig theatre with a serious side to it, may well have been chosen but it was up against a piece by a poet and playwright which covers so many seemingly unrelated topics and immerses you in the writer’s world and experience, joey by sean burn, produced by gobscure and Greyscale, also at Northern Stage, which really does deserve the accolade.