Review of the Year 2022 – The Twelfth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

It is my pleasure to welcome you again to the glamorous showbiz highlight of the year, the announcement of the annual Chrisparkle Awards for 2022. 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 17th January 2022 to 9th January 2023. Are you all sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin!

 

The first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical)

This includes dance seen at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as elsewhere in the country. We saw seven dance productions, and these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the anarchic inventiveness of Ukraine’s Ballet Freedom at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, in August.

In 2nd place, the Balletboyz on a superb return to form with their Deluxe tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in May.

In 1st place, the Edinburgh Festival Ballet/Peter Schaufuss/Ian McKellen production of Hamlet at the Ashton Hall, St Stephens Church, Edinburgh.

 

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

We only saw one classical concert this year – The Royal Philharmonic’s The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February. So I’m giving it an honorary mention, but without any competition, I can’t really call it the best classical concert this year!

 

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. Here are the top three:

In 3rd place, the always delightful Sheffield pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in December.

In 2nd place, the most lavish of panto experiences imaginable, Jack and the Beanstalk at the London Palladium in December.

In 1st place, the most remarkable gala celebrating the life and work of a remarkable man, Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends at the Sondheim Theatre, London, in May.

 

Best Star Standup of the Year.

Astonishingly, we only saw three big star standup shows this year – and these are they:

In 3rd place, the endlessly brilliant and always thought provoking Dara O’Braian in his So Where Were We tour, at the Milton Keynes Theatre, in November.

In 2nd place, the highly personal but always funny material of Patrick Kielty in his Borderline tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in June.

In 1st place, the irrepressible Omid Djalili in his The Good Times Tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in April.

 

Best of the Rest Stand-up of the Year. at the Screaming Blue Murder/Comedy Crate nights in Northampton.

In the past the Committee has given awards for the best Screaming Blue Murder Comedy Club stand-up, and last year this was combined with the Comedy Crate Stand up shows. There had also been a Best of the Rest award for various other comedy venues, Edinburgh Previews and the like. We’re now going to streamline these separate categories into one – The Best of the Rest! Out of countless comics we saw, a longlist of thirteen provided the following top five:

In 5th place, the always ebullient Aurie Styla (Upfront Comedy Club – May)

In 4th place, the hilarious and quick-witted Kane Brown (Upfront Comedy Club – October)

In 3rd place, the unpredictable and always brilliant Russell Hicks (Comedy Crate – March)

In 2nd place, the brilliantly inventive Mark Simmons (Comedy Crate – March, Comedy Crate Edinburgh Preview – July)

In 1st place, the sheer delight of Gerry K (Screaming Blue Murder – March)

 

Best Musical.

I saw sixteen musicals this year, a combination of new shows and revivals. One big disappointment, a few not entirely to my taste but that’s more my issue, and, as usual, the others were all varying degrees of excellent. Here’s my top five.

In 5th place, an old favourite given a tremendous treatment, the touring production of Hairspray that we saw at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in January 2022.

In 4th place, a show that’s only going to grow in stature through the ages, putting Sheffield on the map, Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in December.

In 3rd place, another old favourite looking as fresh as the day it was born, the touring production of Rocky Horror Show at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in July.

In 2nd place, a stunning production that lifted your heart and was jam-packed with fun, fully deserving its London transfer later this year, Crazy for You at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in July.

In 1st place, a show that rewrites the rule book for creating a meaningful revival, the spectacular and innovative production of Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, at the Playhouse, London, in April.

 

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. We saw eighteen new plays this year, and I awarded five stars to ten of them, so this is a tightly fought battle! Here are my top five (with some incredible productions and plays just bubbling under) :

In 5th place, David Hare’s gripping and intelligent look at the life and work of Robert Moses, Straight Line Crazy, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in March.

In 4th place, a deftly structured and wittily written ghost story that terrifies and delights, Danny Robins’ 2:22 A Ghost Story, at the Criterion Theatre, London, in December.

In 3rd place, a truly original staging of a gripping family of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, The Boy With Two Hearts at the National Theatre Dorfman Theatre in October.

In 2nd place, Anupama Chandrasekhar’s magnificent examination of the assassination of Gandhi, The Father and the Assassin at the National Theatre Olivier Theatre in May.

In 1st place, one of the best new comedies of the century, Steven Moffat’s The Unfriend at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in June.

 

Best Revival of a Play.

I saw fourteen revivals, with an obvious top four; here’s the top five:

In 5th place, the RSC’s bold and innovative new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in July.

In 4th place, the emotional and powerful production – despite the rain effect – of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, at the National Theatre Olivier Theatre in October.

In 3rd place, Tom Basden’s brilliant updating of Dario Fo’s hilarious Accidental Death of an Anarchist, at the Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse, Sheffield, in September.

In 2nd place, Dominic Cooke’s outstanding reimagination of Emlyn Williams’ The Corn is Green, at the National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, in May.

In 1st place, Anna Mackmin’s pitch-perfect revival of one of Alan Ayckbourn’s most telling comedies, Woman in Mind, at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in October.

As always, in the post-Christmas season, it’s time to consider the turkey of the year – and whilst I was unimpressed with both Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads and Local Hero at Chichester, by far the worst thing I saw all year was The Sex Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

 

Now we come on to our four categories specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe. The first is:

Best play – Edinburgh

We saw 52 plays in Edinburgh this year, 18 of them got 5* from me, which led to a shortlist of 11, and here are the top 5:

In 5th place, the brilliant thriller with a terrific twist, Closure, written by Faye Draper and produced by Ink and Curtains (Pleasance Courtyard)

In 4th place, full of contemporary relevance and an insight into modern day poverty, About Money, written by Eliza Gearty and produced by 65% Theatre (Summerhall)

In 3rd place, an extraordinary one-man play that leads you down some terrifyingly unexpected alleys, An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe, written by Benny Ainsworth and produced by Triptych (Zoo Playground)

In 2nd place, the vivid and gripping story of the Hiroshima bombings, The Mistake, written and produced by Michael Mears (The Space on North Bridge)

In 1st place, the play I couldn’t stop talking about for weeks afterwards, the story of a unique relationship, Wilf, written by James Ley and produced by the Traverse Theatre Company (Traverse Theatre)

 

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 five:

In 5th place, Michael Waller for Candy (Underbelly Bristo Square)

In 4th place, Stephen Smith for Dog/Actor (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)

In 3rd place, Michael Parker for An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe (Zoo Playground)

In 2nd place, Michael Dylan for Wilf (Traverse Theatre)

In 1st place, Samuel Barnett for Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Summerhall)

 

Best stand-up comedy show – Edinburgh

Eleven shows this year received 5* from me, but here are my top five:

In 5th place, a new name to me, and a brilliant find, Nina Gilligan with her Late Developer show (Just the Tonic at the Tron)

In 4th place, the always brilliant Mary Bourke with her Brutal Truth show (The Stand Comedy Club)

In 3rd place, one of our regular Edinburgh must-sees, Joe Wells with his I Am Autistic show (Banshee Labyrinth)

In 2nd place, on the best form I’ve ever seen him, Hal Cruttenden with his It’s Best You Hear it From Me show (Pleasance Courtyard)

In 1st place, and why have I never seen him before, Mark Thomas with his Black and White show (The Stand Comedy Club)

 

Best of the rest – Edinburgh

Very stiff competition as always, but here are my top five:

In 5th place, the brilliant improvisation that made up Shamilton, produced by Baby Wants Candy (Assembly George Square Studios)

In 4th place, the anarchic mischief of a nightmare club night, Kevin Dewsbury and Bexie Archer in Your Dad’s Mum (Underbelly Bristo Square)

In 3rd place, two complementary productions, Patrick McPherson’s Colossus and again with his twin brother Hugo in Pear (Underbelly Cowgate)

In 2nd place, one of the best sketch shows I’ve ever seen, the brilliant Tarot: Cautionary Tales (Pleasance Courtyard)

In 1st place, the best swansong ever, Colin Hoult’s The Death of Anna Mann (Pleasance Courtyard)

There were a number of contenders for this year’s Edinburgh turkey; Shakespeare for Breakfast was a big let-down due to the change of cast and writing team, but I think the most woeful was the misguided attempt at a League of Gentlemen-type story, Antiques (Greenside @ Nicolson Square)

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

Time to get personal. Here’s the top five:

In 5th place, Carly Anderson as Polly in Crazy for You at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in July.

In 4th place, Me’sha Bryan as Celie in The Color Purple at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in October.

In 3rd place, Cleopatra Rey as Rita in Get Up Stand Up at the Lyric Theatre, London, in December.

In 2nd place, Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! at the Young Vic, London, in May.

In 1st place, Amy Lennox as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, at the Playhouse, London, in April.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Here’s the top five:

In 5th place, Robert Lonsdale as Harry in Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in December.

In 4th place, Arthur Darvill as Curly in Oklahoma! at the Young Vic, London, in May.

In 3rd place, Fra Fee as Emcee in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, at the Playhouse, London, in April.

In 2nd place, David Albury as Bob Marley in Get Up Stand Up at the Lyric Theatre, London, in December.

In 1st place, Charlie Stemp as Bobby in Crazy for You at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in July.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Eighteen in the rather long shortlist, and here’s the top five:

In 5th place, Frances Barber as Elsa in The Unfriend, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in June.

In 4th place, Samira Wiley as Angel in Blues for an Alabama Sky, National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, in October.

In 3rd place, Monica Dolan as Sister Aloysius in Doubt, at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in January 2022.

In 2nd place, Nicola Walker as Miss Moffat in The Corn is Green, at the National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre, in May.

In 1st place, Jenna Russell as Susan in Woman in Mind, at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in October.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Like last time, this is one of this year’s most hotly contested awards, with seventeen contenders in my shortlist, and here is the top five:

In 5th place, Arthur Hughes as Richard III in Henry VI Rebellion/Wars of the Roses/Richard III, at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in May and July.

In 4th place, Simon Russell Beale as Borkman in John Gabriel Borkman, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in  November.

In 3rd place, Ralph Fiennes as Robert Moses in Straight Line Crazy, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in March.

In 2nd place, Shubham Saraf as Godse in The Father and the Assassin, at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre in May.

In 1st place, Reece Shearsmith as Peter in The Unfriend, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, in June.

 

Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the losers and thanks for your company again throughout the year, gentle reader. Let’s look forward to a 2023 crammed with theatrical brilliance!

Review – Crazy For You, Festival Theatre Chichester, 23rd July 2022

Crazy For YouJust as the ecstatic applause at the end of the first act was dying down, Mrs Chrisparkle turned to me and said This is the kind of show you usually hate – and she’s totally right. I like my musicals to be meaty. To pose problems. To issue challenges. To delve deep into the heart of humanity and winkle out nuggets of truth so that you come out of the show a different person from the one you went in as. Crazy For You does absolutely none of those things. And it is, quite simply, a glorious delight from start to finish.

Bobby and the GirlsDirector and choreographer Susan Stroman, who had worked on the original 1992 production, was already making plans for a revival of this Gershwin extravaganza way back when none of us had ever heard of Covid. Then, with all the theatres shut, and not much hope for the future on the horizon, it naturally retreated to her back-burner. That is, until the fickle hand of fate prompted Chichester Artistic Director Daniel Evans to ask her if she would bring the show back to Sussex. And, with a superbly talented cast and production team to bring it to reality, this early juke-box musical (it feels like it should be from the 1930s but it isn’t) is gracing the stage of the Festival Theatre, and sending its audiences on their merry way home with a spring in their step and pretend tap-shoes on their feet.

Irene, Bobby and LottieAs I indicated at the beginning, the plot is very simple. Theatre-mad Bobby Child is sent by his bank-owning Mamma to Nevada to foreclose the mortgage on an inactive little theatre way out west. But it’s not in Bobby’s nature to ever close a theatre down, especially when it’s owned by the father of the only girl in the town, the feisty Polly, with whom Bobby instantly falls head over heels in love. The rest of the show revolves around his attempts to both woo Polly and also impersonate Bela Zangler, the impresario, in a last-ditch attempt to stage a show so that audiences can return and the theatre can become financially solvent again. But I wouldn’t worry too much about the plot. It’s really not important.

Bobby and the BoysThe show takes Gershwin songs from a number of their Greatest Hits, including I Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Nice Work if You can Get it, Embraceable You, and plenty of other showtoonz. Musical Director Alan Williams leads a fantastic 16-person band – which is a pretty big quantity of musicians – and you can instantly tell how full and rich the sound is. Before any action takes place, during the overture, Ken Billington’s lighting design puts the shimmering front curtain through its paces with a range of warm exciting colours, preparing you for the visual feast to follow. All these visual and audio cues really gee you up in expectation of a great show, so the audience is truly buzzing even before the performance truly gets underway.

Slap That BassAnd it’s a show of sheer enjoyment. Ken Ludwig’s book is full of fun; silly jokes that hit perfectly, rewarding routines, such as the two Zanglers mimicking each other in a mirror, cartoon effects like the tweety-bird sound when a character hits their head, and there’s an early contender for the Best Performance in a Musical by a piece of tumbleweed award, as the aforementioned stage contraption merrily makes its way across the Deadrock landscape. Each piece of comic business, each interactive musical moment, each comic characterisation goes towards making the show a thing of total bliss. And, to be fair, yes, the substance of the show is lightweight and fluffy and doesn’t make you think again about the Human Condition. However, unlike some juke-box musicals, the structure actually works, and the choice of songs does largely make sense, with many of them either forwarding the plot or giving us a further insight into the singer’s character. And there are plenty of reputable musicals that don’t achieve that.

The FodorsAs you would expect from Susan Stroman, the choreography throughout is dynamic, thrilling, inventive, comical, and passionate, and makes big demands on the star performers who rise to the occasion superbly. Chichester had already taken Charlie Stemp to its heart after his rise to fame and fortune in Rachel Kavanaugh’s Half a Sixpence six years ago, so it was no surprise that he received a star round of applause on his typically ebullient first entry on stage. Mr Stemp is a master (if not THE master) of song-and-dance on stage, and responds to Ms Stroman’s demands with all the brilliance you’d expect. But he is more than matched by a fantastic performance by Carly Anderson as Polly, who has a dream of a voice and wonderful comic timing, and together they are pretty much matchless.

PollyThere’s also an impressive physical comedy performance from Tom Edden (you’d expect nothing less from him) as Bela Zangler, Merryl Ansah is a delightfully tricky Irene, with a terrific surprise up her sleeve that comes later in the second act; Gay Soper is wonderful as Bobby’s frosty mother Lottie, and there’s excellent support from Mathew Craig as the grumpy Lank Hawkins, Don Gallagher as Polly’s living-in-the-past father Everett, and from Adrian Grove and Jacquie Dubois as the frightfully British Fodors, unexpectedly arrived to review Lank’s Hotel. The boys and girls of the ensemble are also fantastic, Belawith many hilarious and endearing vignettes, as well as brilliant singing and dancing skills. Sadie-Jean Shirley, Kate Parr, Mark Akinfolarin and Joshua Nkemdilim in particular stand out, but everyone pours their hearts and souls into delivering a magnificent performance.

Like The Unfriend a few weeks ago, Chichester have come up with another tremendous triumph that is totally West End-ready. We went as part of a group of eight and every single one of us adored every minute of it. That’s got to be a good sign!

Production photos by Johan Persson

Five Alive, Let Theatre Thrive!