Jeff Grant looks back on his best of 2018
Two thousand and eighteen delivered another fine crop of performances across the Midlands on both the amateur and professional stages.
In true reality TV judging style, I have to say it is hard to separate them, so varied were they in their tone, complexity, style and ambition.
Theatre is of course a social experience and at times that experience can be marred by so many things. So the works I have chosen are ones where for the duration of the performance I was transported completely into the world on stage and no amount of coughing, sweet paper rustling or conversation from the chairs in the row behind could shake my concentration.
So from the amateur stage the play that had me hanging on to every word was Norman James Crisp's Dangerous Obsession, produced and performed by the Nonentities at the RoseTheatre in Kidderminster.
In my review back in February I was struck at how this psychological thriller was not as revered or celebrated as plays such as Dial M for Murder or Sleuth. There had been a film version called Darkness Falls in 1999 with a revised plot that prompted the author to remove his name from the production.
Stuart Wishart as John, Andy Bingham as Mark and Amy Cooper as Sally in Dangerous Obsession
The play is a superbly written thriller that weaves a complex tale of shifting power amongst three people, who all reveal the stories of their overlapping relationships as the play progresses. Centre to this was three outstanding performances. Stuart Wishart played the odd yet ruthlessly intelligent John Barrett, a man who holds a wife and husband of Mark and Sally Driscoll hostage in their garden conservatory. The couple was played by Amy Cooper and Andy Bingham and all three performances were first class.
With no ensemble cast to hide amongst the balanced direction of Jan Eglintons came well to the fore in bringing the tension to its very adult conclusion. The whole play stayed with me for several days after and I still maintain Dangerous Obsession is truly an overlooked classic
On the professional stage my choice is perhaps a biased one but is a musical and that was Saturday Night Fever at the Hippodrome back in September. I had read several reviews of the UK tour which were not favourable as they seemed to expect the film version replicated on the stage.
However for me this Bill Kenwright production succeeded in making the transition to stage perfectly by making it what it should be and that is a stage version. My first box to tick with any musical is the audio quality and in this multi-layered production the music and audio production was first class.
Kate Parr as Stephanie and Richard Winsor as Tony in Saturday Night Fever. Pictures: Pamela Raith Photography.
This was headed by musical director Rich Morris and well under the control of sound designer Dan Samson. Again whilst other opinions had complained at the inclusion of look and sound alike Bee Gees who were part of the band, the clever set made sure they never interfered with the stage action and sonically the team delivered a faithful representation of all of the now famous songs.
Choreographer Bill Deamer may have added a more formal approach to the dancing which featured Richard Winsor as Tony Manero and it was not expected to replicate the sweaty atmosphere of the original New York Disco scene. But with the score now passing into eighties folklore it was something of a time machine performance to hear and those original songs played live again and wallow in the nostalgia of the those famous dance moves.
So 12 months of great theatre and it’s been a privilege to see so many great productions and I look forward to 2019. Let’s hope it’s a happy, peaceful and creative one, both on and off the stage.