Welcome once more to the artistic event of the year, that is the announcement of the annual Chrisparkle Awards for 2019. The whole team has diligently assessed each and every eligible performance (i.e. I’ve sorted through my spreadsheet) to create longlists then shortlists and then finally the ultimate prize for some worthy exponents of their arts. Eligibility for the awards means a) they were performed in the UK and b) I have to have seen the shows and blogged about them in the period 8th January 2019 to 13th January 2020.
Are you all sitting comfortably?
The first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical)
In 2018 the Committee decided to combine all the dance productions seen in the year, both at the Edinburgh Fringe and in other theatres, and again we have decided to continue this practice. That gives us eight shows to consider, and, as always, it’s been remarkably difficult to come to a conclusion.
In 3rd place, the beautiful and elegant Snow Maiden, as performed by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in January 2019.
In 2nd place, the strength and artistry of the Balletboyz in Them/Us at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in March.
In 1st place, on their Farewell Tour, a superb programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in October.
Classical Music Concert of the Year.
In very poor form on our part, we only managed to see three classical concerts in 2019, so it seems only fair just to announce the winner. And that is:
The enjoyable, crowd-pleasing but occasionally challenging programme in The Beauty of Tchaikovsky, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in September.
Best Entertainment Show of the Year.
This means anything that doesn’t fall into any other categories – for example pantos, circuses, revues and anything else hard to classify. Seven contenders this year, and here are the top three:
In 3rd place, the fascinating multimedia lecture by Mark Lewisohn to commemorate fifty years since the release of the Abbey Road album, The Beatles: Hornsey Road, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in September.
In 2nd place, not really a pantomime but a Las Vegas-style variety act with more filth than you poke a stick at, Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the London Palladium in December.
In 1st place, a true pantomime that brought out all the stops and had one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever seen, the magic that was Cinderella at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2020.
Best Star Standup of the Year.
Ten big-name stand-up comics qualify for this year, but it’s slightly easier than last year as a few of them under-delivered in their shows. Nevertheless, I still need a top five:
In 5th place, the understated, intelligent and emotional material of Rob Auton in his Talk Show, Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in May.
In 4th place, the reflective and honest humour of Chris McCausland in his Speaking Blinder tour, together with excellent support from Jon Long, Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.
In 3rd place, the brilliantly funny local lad Andrew Bird in the last night of his Ha Ha Time show, Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in April.
In 2nd place, and a previous winner of the Best Star stand-up award, the manic and energetic hilarity of Russell Kane in his The Fast and The Curious tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in October.
In 1st place, someone who made me laugh so much that my chest physically hurt for hours afterwards, Rob Beckett in his Wallop show at the Royal and Derngate in October.
Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.
It’s been another great year of Screaming Blue Murder nights; from a long shortlist of twelve comics here are the top five:
In 5th place, soaring the heights of surreal hilarity, Harriet Dyer (4th October)
In 4th place, with an amazing gift for incorporating all the facts about audience members in his act, David Ward (27th September)
In 3rd place, the wonderfully faux-strict Mary Bourke (31st May)
In 2nd place, new to me, the fabulous wordplay of Mark Simmons (31st May)
In 1st place, on the best form I’ve seen him in ages, the incomparable Russell Hicks (22nd November)
Two years ago, the Committee introduced a new category – the Best of the Rest Stand-up Award, to take into account comedy acts seen at other locations, such as the Leicester Comedy Festival, Bluelight Comedy, Upfront Comedy Shows and Edinburgh Try-outs in various locations. However, this year we only saw a handful of additional comedy acts, at the Leicester Comedy Festival, so I’m just going to nominate a runner-up and a winner.
In 2nd place, Roisin O’Mahony and Chiara Goldsmith with their marvellously anarchic Edinburgh show from last year, Back to Back, at the Apres Lounge in February.
In 1st place, the comedy genius of being an agnostic teaching Religious Studies, the brilliant Kevin Precious in his Unholier than Thou, Upstairs at Kayal, in February.
I saw thirteen musicals this year – a couple of which I went back to watch again, they were so good – so it was a tough choice to come up with a top five. But I did it!
In 5th place, and only watched it last week, the delightful revival of Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in January 2020.
In 4th place, another recent memory, the smart and slick revival of Guys and Dolls at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2020.
In 3rd place, the surprisingly hard-hitting but absolutely superb revival of Oklahoma! at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in July.
In 2nd place, it divided the critics, but I absolutely loved it so that I had to go again – and definitely the finest performance from a theatre orchestra in years – the revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum in May.
In 1st place, the other production that I had to see twice, and could easily have gone back yet again, the stunningly inventive and rewarding revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London in February.
Best New Play.
Just to clarify, this is my definition of a new play, which is something that’s new to me and to most of its audience – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. As I’ve looked back over the year’s drama, it became clear that this was an extraordinarily good year for most of the plays we’ve seen, and whittling the 19 possibles this year to a top five has been very difficult indeed. But here goes:
In 5th place, Alexis Michalik’s hilarious examination of how Cyrano de Bergerac was created, Edmond de Bergerac, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in April.
In 4th place, Katori Hall’s riveting modern classic, Our Lady of Kibeho, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in January 2019.
In 3rd place, Anthony McCarten’s finely written and beautifully acted The Pope, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.
In 2nd place, Laura Wade’s anarchic and compellingly hilarious The Watsons, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in October.
In 1st place, the wide-ranging, character-driven and utterly fantastic The Lehman Brothers, at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, in May.
Best Revival of a Play.
I saw twenty-two revivals, with a shortlist of eight, and here’s the top five:
In 5th place, the hilarious yet savagely telling production of The Provoked Wife by the RSC in Stratford in May.
In 4th place, the superbly staged and performed double bill of Party Night and Celebration, also known as Pinter Six, as part of the Pinter at the Pinter Season, at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in January 2019.
In 3rd place, Headlong’s witty and revealing production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in May.
In 2nd place, the gripping, sad, and mesmeric production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, at the Young Vic, London, in July.
In 1st place, the simply magnificent promenade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, London, in July.
As always, in the post-Christmas season, it’s time to consider the turkey of the year – and my biggest disappointment was the lame and rather unoriginal production of Caroline’s Kitchen at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.
Now we come on to our four categories specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe. The first is:
Best play – Edinburgh
We saw 22 plays in Edinburgh this year, and here are the top 5:
In 5th place, the cleverly written and smartly performed The Good Scout, produced by Boys of the Empire Productions (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall)
In 4th place, the hilarious and beautifully realised Noir Hamlet, produced by Yasplz (The Space @ Niddry Street)
In 3rd place, David Carl’s amazing political satire, Trump Lear (Pleasance Courtyard)
In 2nd place, Marcus Brigstocke’s incredibly satisfying exploration of addiction, The Red (Pleasance Dome)
In 1st place, by turns hilarious and horrifying, the backwards exploration of a disastrous relationship, I Lost My Virginity to Chopin’s Nocturne in B-Flat Minor (Pleasance Courtyard)
Best Individual Performance in a Play – Edinburgh
As always, a really hard one to decide as so many Edinburgh plays are true ensemble efforts. Nevertheless, here are the top three:
In 3rd place, Craig MacArthur for Marrow (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall)
In 2nd place, Javaad Alipoor for The Believers are but Brothers (Assembly George Square Studios)
In 1st place, David Carl for Trump Lear (Pleasance Courtyard)
Best stand-up comedy show – Edinburgh
Ten shows this year gives this top three:
In 3rd place, as last year, the best late-night comedy concatenation you’ll get in Edinburgh, Spank! (Underbelly Cowgate)
In 2nd place, last year’s winner returning with another ecstatically stupid and delightful show, Olaf Falafel – Knitting with Maracas (Laughing Horse @ The Pear Tree)
In 1st place, had heard so much about him, and every word is true – Ahir Shah: Dots (Monkey Barrell Comedy)
Best of the rest – Edinburgh
Very stiff competition this year means that a few great shows don’t make it to the top five:
In 5th place, the sharp, funny and sexy circus cabaret, Atomic Saloon Show (Assembly George Square Gardens)
In 4th place, back for another madcap, anarchic and simply hysterical show, Garry Starr Conquers Troy (Underbelly Cowgate)
In 3rd place, as last year, an absolute pun-fest version of Romeo and Juliet with Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Venues, C Viva)
In 2nd place, also as last year but without his Camels companion, the emotional but hilarious rollercoaster that is The Man, by Patrick McPherson (Underbelly Bristo Square)
In 1st place, one of those unexpected Edinburgh delights that filled you with unadulterated joy from start to finish – The Lost Musical Works of Willy Shakes (Assembly Rooms)
This year’s Edinburgh turkey, which somehow was a sell-out, was the cack-handed, under-rehearsed rubbish that was Come Dine with Mr Shakespeare (The Space on North Bridge)
Best Local Production
This would normally include the productions by the University of Northampton students, the Royal and Derngate Actors’ Company, the Youth Companies, local theatre groups and the National Theatre Connections. Apart from one show, again I only saw productions by the University students, so expect them to figure highly in the Awards!
In 5th place, from the Flash Festival, Not Aloud Ensemble’s important and beautifully performed Leviticus.
In 4th place, from the Fringe Festival, Rosemarie Sheach’s heartwarming and upbeat Can’t Quite Hit It.
In 3rd place, also from the Flash Festival, Workbench Theatre Company’s witty and character-driven production of Rise.
In 2nd place, again from the Flash Festival, Grapevine Theatre Company’s moving and memorable production of The Cost of Freedom.
In 1st place, from the Flash Festival, and because it is so hard to perform comedy well and this was well-thought out and brilliantly executed, Framed Ensemble’s hilarious production of Oh Arthur.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.
Time to get personal. Ten in the shortlist, having eliminated some extraordinarily good performances but here’s the top five:
In 5th place, Alex Young as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2020.
In 4th place, Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre, London in November.
In 3rd place, Tracie Bennett as Mame Dennis in Mame at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in January 2020.
In 2nd place, Patti LuPone as Joanne in Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London in February.
In 1st place, Rosalie Craig as Bobbie in Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London in February.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.
Nine performances in the shortlist, producing this top five:
In 5th place, Alex Cardall as Dougal in The Season at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in November.
In 4th place, a star is born, young Toby Mocrei as Dennis in The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Theare, Stratford-upon-Avon, in November.
In 3rd place, Hyoie O’Grady as Curly in Oklahoma! at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in July.
In 2nd place, Richard Fleeshman as Andy in Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London in February.
In 1st place, Jonathan Bailey as Jamie in Company at the Gielgud Theatre, London in February.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.
Eleven in the shortlist, and here’s the top five:
In 5th place, Caroline Quentin as Lady Fancyfull in The Provoked Wife, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in May.
In 4th place, Sharon D Clarke as Linda in Death of a Salesman, at the Young Vic, London in July.
In 3rd place, Joanne Froggatt as Frances in Alys Always, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in March.
In 2nd place, Penelope Wilton as Valentina in The Bay at Nice, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in April.
In 1st place, Dame Maggie Smith as Brunhilde in A German Life, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in May.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.
This year’s most hotly contested award, with an amazing seventeen contenders in my shortlist, and many superb performances bubbling under, but here is the top five:
In 5th place, Simon Russell Beale as Henry (and many other characters) in The Lehman Trilogy at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, in May.
In 4th place, Hammed Animashaun as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in July.
In 3rd place, Anton Lesser as Pope Benedict in The Pope, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.
In 2nd place, Wendell Pierce as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic, London, in July.
In 1st place, Tom Mothersdale as Richard III in Richard III, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in May.
Theatre of the Year.
For the fifth year running there’s no change in the Number one theatre but once again we have a new Number two! Continuing to present an extraordinary range of drama and entertainment, this year’s Theatre of the Year is the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, with London’s Bridge Theatre as runner-up.
I saw 183 productions in 2019, up on 2018’s numbers but still not as many as 2017. Thank you gentle reader for continuing to read my theatre reviews and for all your support. Already looking forward to another wonderful year of theatre in 2020!
And coming up very soon – the Chrisparkle Decade Awards! The best of the shows and performances from 2010 – 2019. The ultimate accolade!