The BTA awards are very much a personal thing not only as each reviewer has their own opinion but also because no one can see every show at every theatre - last year we carried more than 350 reviews – so a show is usually seen at each venue by just one reviewer.

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Jamie Glover as Peter, Raymond Coulthard as Carl and Nigel Harman as Vincent. Picture: Robert Day

 Roger Clarke's BTA Awards - 2017

Theatregoes from even the turn of the century would be amazed at the technological advances we now take for granted. Computer controlled LED lighting gives effects undreamed of a handful of years ago, while sound equipment means you can hear the proverbial pin drop with crystal clear clarity.

Digital magic can make a good production special, and, to be honest, even a bad production might at least look a bit more interesting and just that bit less tiresome to sit through.

So obviously, my best production of the year relied on none of that electronic wizardry, just five actors, and a brilliant script.

What’s in a name?, a joint production with Birmingham Rep, was adapted from the award winning French comedy Le Prénom by director Jeremy Sams and, as I said in the review, is a comedy that does not rely on farce, slapstick, bizarre characters or contrived situations and jokes for laughs.

Almost a year ago I was confient we would not see a better comedy in 2017 . . . and we didn’t. How it never got beyond Birmingham Rep, and never reached the West End is one of life’s great mysteries.

Not surprisingly it also takes the best comedy award, which was a close run thing with the magnificent one woman marathon by Jodie Prenger as Shirley Valentine at The New Alexandra Theatre.

Also in the running for best production was one which uses all the technical wizardry available with The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which returned to Birmingham Hippodrome. It is not just a great script but an audio visual assault on the senses.

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Natasha J Barnes as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl

The best musical had a number of contenders from Billy Elliot and the tale of ballet in the miners’ strike, the spectacular Miss Saigon, camp fun at La Cage Aux Folles and the dark, gothic Sunset Boulevard, all superb at Birmingham Hippodrome, and then not just one but two Funny Girls, one at the Hippodrome with Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice and the same production at Wolverhampton Grand with Natasha J Barnes in the lead role – and, sorry Sheridan, you were good but Natasha was brilliant. A name to look out for in musical theatre.

There was the interesting Son of a Preacher Man, set around the music of Dusty Springfield at The New Alexandra Theatre and The Addams Family came out of the crypt to a chorus of laughs at both the Hippodrome and the Grand.

Birmingham Rep weighed in with another joint production, with Coventry Belgrade, to bring a glorious Nativity – The Musical to the stage which was my musical choice, sharing the award with Funny Girl at Wolverhampton Grand.

While What’s in a name? took the best production honours there were other contenders for best drama including The Curious Incident along with the likes of Duet for One at Birmingham Rep and The Verdict from Middle Ground at Wolverhampton Grand, and the Grand’s own production of Brassed Off. All worthy productions but, even on a second tour, Curious Incident deserves the runners up award for mixing quality drama with imaginative direction and innovative design.

When it came to best childrens’ productions there were plenty to go at, including a splendid The 101 Dalmations at Birmingham Rep, but I find it best to leave it to children to decide and grandson one, who is six loved Fantastic Mr Fox at Coventry Belgrade, while his younger brother, two and a half loved another Coventry production, Dinosaur World, or Grrrr as it was known whenever a dinosaur appeared. So fox and fossils can share the award.

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Robbie Newton as Stan and Emily Armstrong as a cowering Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire

On the amateur stage productions continue to impress but head and shoulders above anything else for best production was A Streetcar Named Desire at Sutton Arts theatre which would not have been out of place on any professional stage.

Not only was it the best production of the year but had easily the best performance of 2017 – and beyond – with Emily Armstrong quite superb as Blanche Dubois leading an excellent cast.

Sutton also take the award for Best Musical with Hello Dolly over Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company’s Made in Dagenham.

As for a runner-up for best production? Hall Green had an excellent Sleuth, a clever M for Murder and an interesting studio production with Call Me Dusty, the Dusty Springfield story. Swan Theatre Amateur Company had fun with The Ladykillers and brought Duet for One to dramatic life while Highbury Theatre Centre matched superb acting with an equally superb set and costumes in J B Priestley’s first play, Dangerous Corner and brought a little bit of Hollywood – a Hollywood with somewhat faded gltz and glamour - to the stage with with Neil Simon’s I ought to be in pictures.

We had Ladies in Lavender from both Grange and Hall Green and a lovely Goodnight, Mr Tom from Sutton. Any of the above would have been worthy winners but my favourite had to be Tom Stoppard’s translation and adaptation of Gérald Sibleyras 2003 play Le Vent des Peupliers, which became Heroes in English and was an absolute delight at Grange Players, funny, sad, witty and wonderful theatre.

In youth theatre Stage2 gave us the haunting Requiem for Ground Zero, set around 9/11 and, back to school with the very funny A Wayne in a Manger and Teechers – three very different productions with Teechers just taking the honours – because we all remember our schooldays, and who doesn’t like laugh at the expense of teachers.

Roger Clarke  

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