This year I am restricting my choice of the "Best" to shows actually produced in the north east. There have been some superb visiting productions, both large- and small-scale, but it's the locally produced work which is the best indicator of the health of the region's theatre. And I must also add the caveat that these are not necessarily the best of all the region's shows but the best of those which I have seen. With the best will in the world—and with far more energy than I have—I simply couldn't see everything.
So, here goes...
Two very different pieces of work stood out for me in considering which was the Best New Play of 2014: Sean Burns's Collector of Tears, produced by gobscure at the Customs House and touring, and Ron Hutchinson's Flying into Daylight at Live Theatre. In both, music, played onstage, is an integral part, and both examine, from very different viewpoints, what it is to be human. Both were superbly performed and directed but, as I said in my review, Collector of Tears is that very rare bird, "a flawless fusion of writing, performance, design and lighting", so it gets my accolade for best north east new play of 2014.
Last year's Best New Play, Paddy Campbell's Wet House at Live Theatre, should also be this year's Best Revival—it is a brilliant piece of work—but on the somewhat specious grounds that, being performed almost exactly a year later than the first production and including exactly the same cast (except for one), it could be considered as having been on holiday for a while rather than a revival. But let us, once more, recognise its brilliance.
There were two revivals at the Customs House which vied for the crown: Cranked Anvil's production of Tom Kelly's I Left My Heart in Roker Park and the Guild of Lillians' touring co-production with the South Shields venue of Anne Coburn's Get Up and Tie Your Fingers. Two very different pieces, a one-man show about the importance of football in one person's life and a historical family story with music. A difficult decision but Get Up won out in the end.
Best Devised Show is not a regular category but Open Clasp's Key Change (touring: I saw it at Live Theatre) hit exactly the right balance between the devised elements (by the women of HMP Young Offenders Institution, Low Newton) and the writing of Catrina McHugh, and fully deserves recognition.
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my reviews that my choice for Best Show for Young Children is Susan Mulholland's The Christmas Grump at Northern Stage. This team—Mulholland, director Mark Calvert, designer Andrew Stephenson and composer Katie Doherty—has been creating spell-binding shows for young children for more years than, I suspect, they care to remember.
Northern Stage's version of Anthony Neilson's Get Santa! gets the Best Family Show award but Théâtre Sans Frontières' touring production of David Almond's Heaven Eyes did give it a good run for its money.
Best Actor goes to Jos Vantyler for his versatile performance in Flying into Daylight.
Best Actress goes to Madeleine MacMahon for Collector of Tears.
My Best Director award goes to Jackie Fielding for two very different productions, the already much lauded Collector of Tears and Peter Mortimer's Death at Dawn at the Linksill Centre in North Shields.
Finally a special award this year for Alison Ashton for her designs for Collector of Tears, Heaven Eyes, The Snow Bear and Get Up and Tie Your Fingers—four very different touring productions.