BHAC DRAMA AWARDS 2021

Held at Brighton Girls, Montpelier Road, Brighton on Tuesday, 14th December 2021

 

Master of Ceremonies, Trevor Jones
BHAC Chair, Jane Osler
2021 BHAC Drama Awards Night

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjudicator Jane Collins

See her full speech, with comments on each production, at the end of the photos below.

 

(Entries listed in order of play date)

 

SOUTHWICK PLAYERS

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, adaptation by Patrick Marber

WICK THEATRE COMPANY

Clue: On Stage based on the screenplay by Jonathon Lynn. Written by Sandy Rustin

ROTTINGDEAN DRAMA SOCIETY

Laying the Ghost by Simon Williams

HENFIELD THEATRE COMPANY

The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol in a version by David Harrower

BURGESS HILL THEATRE CLUB

The Ladykillers by Graham Lineham

BRIGHTON & HOVE OPERATIC SOCIETY

Bouncers by John Godber

DITCHLING PLAYERS

Private Lives by Noel Coward

 

Best Set Design

Nominations:

A team of eight members of the company for Clue, Wick Theatre Company

Henfield Theatre Workshop for The Government Inspector, Henfield Theatre Company

Sophie Davies & Pippa Jones for The Lady Killer, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

WINNER

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Henfield Theatre Company for The Government Inspector.

 

 

 

Best Costume Design

Nominations:

Heather Butler & Dean Hescott-Burke for Laying the Ghost, Rottingdean Drama Society

Milla Hills & Company for Hedda Gabler, Southwick Players

Diane Burnham & Catherine Robinson for Private Lives, Ditchling Players

WINNER

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Diane Burnham & Catherine Robinson for Private Lives, Ditchling Players

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Best Stage Crew

Nominations:

The Lady Killers, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

Private Lives, Ditchling Players

Clue, Wick Theatre Company

WINNER

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Peter Joyce & the cast for Clue, Wick Theatre Company

.

 

 

Best Sound Design

Nominations:

Andy Stoner & Dave Gordon for Bouncers, Brighton & Hove Operatic Society

Chris Childs & Keith Moss for The Lady Killers, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

Nigel Bubloz for Hedda Gabler, Southwick Players

WINNER

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Nigel Bubloz for Hedda Gabler, Southwick Players

.

 

 

 

Best Lighting Design

Nominations:

Mike Medway & Andy Stoner for Bouncers, Brighton & Hove Operatic Society

Martin Oakley for Clue, Wick Theatre Company

Mike Cawte & Charlie Cahill for The Government Inspector, Henfield Theatre Company

WINNER

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Mike Medway & Andy Stoner for Bouncers, Brighton & Hove Operatic Society

.

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Best Publicity

Nominations:

Sarah Papouis for Hedda Gabler, Southwick Players

Suse Crosby, Rosemary Bouchy & Peter Joyce for Clue, Wick Theatre Company

Nicki Plank for The Lady Killers, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

WINNER

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Sarah Papouis for Hedda Gabler, Southwick Players

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The Mike Padley Award for Best Supporting Actress

Nominations:

Jaqueline Harper for Miss Scarlet in Clue

Anita Gilson for Freda Deacon in Laying the Ghost

Debbie Dillon for Sybil in Private Lives

WINNER

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Anita Gilson, Rottingdean Drama Society

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The Mike Padley Award for Best Supporting Actor

Nominations:

Phil Nair Brown for Tesman in Hedda Gabler

Ian Henham for Osip in The Government Inspector

Andrew Davies for Harry Robinson in The Lady Killers

WINNER

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Phil Nair-Brown, Southwick Players

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The Vaughan Rees Award for Best Actor

Nominations:

Guy Steddon for Wadsworth in Clue

Josh Parrette for Professor Marcus in The Lady Killers

John Idle for Elyot in Private Lives

WINNER

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Guy Steddon, Wick Theatre Company

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The Vaughan Rees Award for Best Actress

Nominations:

Karinn Grierson for Amanda in Private Lives

Leslie Arnold for Margot Buchanan in Laying the Ghost

Victoria Storm for Hedda in Hedda Gabler

WINNER

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Karinn Grierson, Ditchling Players

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Best Technical Achievement

For the integration of Sound & Lighting and the use of stage space:

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Bouncers

Brighton & Hove Operatic Society

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The Gabbus Denny Award for Best Director

Nominations:

Trevor Hodgson for The Government Inspector

Andy Stoner for Bouncers

Pippa Jones & Sophie Davies for The Lady Killers

WINNER

 

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Pippa Jones & Sophie Davies, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

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The Adjudicator’s Award

For having the ambition to tackle a big classic text and carrying it off with such confidence and exuberance

WINNER

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Trevor Hodgson and the whole cast and production team of The
Government Inspector, Henfield Theatre Company

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The Arthur Churchill Award for Excellence

For extraordinary ensemble playing, great energy and consummate skill

WINNER

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Tony Bright, Louis Craig, Paul Fish, Daniel Jones

The cast of Bouncers, Brighton & Hove Operatic Society

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The Bea Waters Challenge Cup for Best Overall Production

WINNER

 

 

The Lady Killers, Burgess Hill Theatre Club

 

 

 

 

Copies of any/all the above photos, in all sizes,  may be obtained from our event’s photographer at his studio address.  He’ll be delighted to hear from you.

Nick Ford Photography
19 Oxford Street 
Brighton
East Sussex
BN1 4LA

www.nickfordphotography.co.uk

07834 912247

Adjudicator Jane Collins

Full speech

What a privilege it has been to see so much theatre happening again in village halls and community centres as well as custom-built theatre spaces, like the Barn in Southwick, over the last few months. Something of a minor miracle given all the setbacks you have had to endure.  A great leap of faith on behalf of you all; the producers, technical teams, directors and performers who’ve battled against all the odds and – without wishing to sound like Boris Johnson – channelled a sort of World War Two spirt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

On the nights I attended your productions the enthusiasm and pleasure of audiences at being able to gather together again and watch a live performance was palpable – and of course this reinforces one’s belief in the value of theatre as a space for sharing experiences, for engaging with the fictional lives of others, for reinforcing our bonds with each other, for breaking isolation – all the things that make us feel human.  It is also of course a testament to your role in serving your communities and if there ever was a need for local theatre companies serving local communities it’s now. Professional theatre in London has been decimated by the pandemic – and in spite of the very positive vibes being sent out by publicists, producers and directors, has still not really recovered. Thousands of actors have just given up and are doing other jobs and many small-scale a middle-scale theatre companies have gone to the wall. This is a terrible loss but on the other hand,  without wishing to sound opportunistic, could offer advantages to you. Clearly the appetite for live theatre has not gone away – as more people are working from home and without having to travel can see productions by the big  London companies like the NT and the RSC ‘live’ on screen in their living rooms – perhaps this is the moment for the revival of the local. In academia there is a history of labelling things ‘turns’ to mark a significant change in thinking about a subject;  we’ve had  ‘the linguistic turn’, ‘the spatial turn’,’ ‘the social turn. ‘ Perhaps this could be the start of the ‘local turn’ maybe it’s your turn now.

On to the productions – and a very high standard this year right across the board with some truly outstanding work.

The first production I saw was the Southwick players’ Hedda Gabler directed  and designed by Gary Cook. Gary says in the programme that this production had been in the making for some time and when it was finally realised in September this year it couldn’t have been timelier. Hedda Gabler is one of the great canonical texts by the Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen. It was universally condemned when it was first staged in 1890 dealing as it does with a woman trapped by the stifling male dominated world of late 19th century bourgeois society, her disintegration and eventual suicide. Along with A Doll’s House, also by Ibsen, it is seen as one of the great feminist plays. Gary chose an updated version by the playwright Patrick Marber first staged at the National in 2016. It’s an interesting version which while staying true to the original loosens up the text and shifts the focus away from 19th-century provincial Norway to a more ‘untethered sense of place and time’ ( to paraphrase the Southwick programme ) resulting in a universal manifestation of entrapment and the existential crisis of a woman who knows what she doesn’t want but doesn’t have the courage to break out and live the life she thinks she does. As reality closes in on her she commits suicide. There are hints of the 60’s and 70’s in the Southwick production design and time is eloquently anchored by the music. But the sense of entrapment and the inability to influence outside events was inevitably  resonant  with our own feelings of impotence and frustration during lockdown.  How many marriages were placed under intolerable strain by literally having nowhere to go to get away from each other. Hedda is a massive role and Victoria Storm, embraced all her enigmatic and mercurial qualities with an electric neurotic energy. She was supported by excellent performances from other members of the company. A truly insidious Judge Brack who threatens to blackmail her for sexual favours played by David Balfe. Harry Freeman as the young romantic Eylert Lovborg- who Hedda idolises as a god but who turns out to have feet of clay; the confused and naïve Mrs Elvstead who also worships Lovborg, and who Hedda despises for ultimately having more courage than she does herself, played with conviction Livvie  Gilpin. As well as the long-suffering Aunt Julia played by Justine Smith- who can do no good in Hedda’s eyes, and a lovely cameo Berte the maid by Nettie Sheridan. I was particularly struck by Phil Nair Brown – who played Tesman – Hedda’s new husband who is an academic. I’ve directed this play , and it’s very difficult to get actors to play Tesman without turning him into some kind of wimp because of the way Hedda talks to him and because he appears to dance round her somewhat. What I loved about Phil’s performance – no idea what he does as a living – but there was a strong element of emotional distraction about his Tesman – a selfish preoccupation with his academic research that I recognise from working in the University sector and I can quite believe  would drive Hedda mad.

The next production I saw was Clue by the Wick theatre company also at the Barn Theatre. This is a stage adaptation of the film of the board game we are  all familiar with as Cluedo.  It was directed with great flair by Julian Batstone. To try give an in-depth analysis of this production would be a complete mistake – because the whole point is it doesn’t have any depth. To work, the playing has to be bigger than naturalism, almost cartoon-like in its celebration of stereotypes and once they got going the whole cast working together achieved this brilliantly. It’s set in America in the 50s and the set – designed by Dave Comber and his team,  was a beautifully constructed three-dimensional version of the board game. There are moments when the play verges on farce, one of the most difficult genres  to pull off – and as the stakes got higher the pace quickened and we were treated to some wonderfully eccentric ensemble playing. Farce is all about doors – hiding behind them,  listening at them, bursting through them, getting murdered inside them. And there were doors aplenty in this production. The action moves swiftly from room to room, and it was a real joy to watch furniture and walls being moved by the actors and the stage crew in full view rather than resorting to blackouts; we just love to see rooms dismantled and rebuilt in front of us. The whole mis-en-scene is held together by Wadsworth, the Butler, played  with magnificent gusto by Guy Steddon. Guy drove the play with fantastic energy and of course like all good farce, as if his life depended on it – which to a certain extent it did. There were wonderful over the top performances by the rest of the suspects – a luscious Miss Scarlet by Jacqueline Harper, Col Mustard by Matt Elliott,  Mrs White by Suse Crosby, Mr Green, Luke Mepham,  Mrs Peacock, Tanya Lyons and Dan Dyer as  Prof Plum. They were supported by a French maid straight out of ‘ello ello’ played by Emily Dennett, and Giles Newlyn -Bowmer, Paul Holden and Andrea Jones who played multiple roles  including from Andrea a superb Singing Telegram.   An excellent evening.

 

Moving to Rottingdean Drama Society and their production of Laying the Ghost by Simon Williams directed by Joe Newman. Living in a retirement home for actors on the south coast, on her 70th birthday the actress Margot Buchanan receives a series of  visitors. An ingénue actress who wants tips on how to play Juliet; her ex-husband’s current wife and finally her ex-husband  Leo, who is an ageing movie star and as it turns out a serial adulterer. He is on the run from the press as he is currently having an affair with the ingénue actress – looking to play Juliet. The strain of the three women confronting him in the nursing home cause him to have a heart attack and at the end of the first act he dies. But fortunately, another resident in the home Freda Deacon can see and communicate with ghosts. In the second act Leo is visible to us and can talk to Freda as a ghost but not visible to any of the other characters.  It’s the same dramatic  device they use in the very funny TV series Ghosts.

It’s a strange play and as I said at the time, I think it’s as much about acting – and the way actors play with their emotions as it’s about ghosts. Margot and Leo fell passionately in love with each other when they were young actors playing Romeo and Juliet and went on to get married in real life.  This happens a lot in theatre, and it is not surprising  given the way actors manipulate their own emotions to identify with the emotional lives of the characters they’re playing – this kind of emotional identification can get confused with their own feelings.  I did a production of Wuthering Heights at the Crucible in Sheffield where the actors playing Cathy and Heathcliff went on to get married – it was a disaster and lasted about six months. Leo and Margot are finally reunited at the end of the play when Margot apparently dies in a fire in a shed in the garden of the home – and once again because of Freda’s gift we see them. They finally declare their love for each other –  but do we ever know what their real feelings are – they are still actors after all even when they are dead. The cast took on the challenge really well with a powerful performance by Lesley Arnold as Margaret Buchanan, a wonderfully batty Freda Deacon played by Anita Gilson, Marian Myers and Daisy Piatt as Lady Judy Buchanan and Sadie Croft, Leo’s wife and his new lover respectively, displaying varying degrees of frustration and outrage; and Leo himself played by Stephen Grant with a suave sophistication that convinced you he was indeed a movie star, a charming man and a total bastard. The principals were well supported by other members of the company including Sam Bullen as a kissogram and Neil Border who had the dubious honour of playing a corpse.

 

Henfield Theatre company staged an updated version of  the famous 19th-century Russian satirical comedy the Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol directed by Trevor Hodgson with a set design and build by the Henfield Theatre Company workshop. This play, which is about mistaken identity and systemic government corruption played out in a small provincial town, rests on the premise that you can bribe your way out of anything and bribe your way into anything – a sort of ‘cash for honours’ comic masterpiece!  This is a big play with a big cast and multiple changes of location. I really admire the way the Henfield team managed to transform their village hall into a wonderfully dramatic space. As with Brighton Beach the audience was on three sides, bringing the action incredibly close – which is terrifying for the actors -nowhere to hide, but great for the audience. Through the simple design and well-chosen costumes, they managed to suggest the small town pretensions and bourgeoisie sartorial elegance of Russian provincial life. This is a witty, cruel and very funny play and the large cast pulled it off really well. With such a  big company it is impossible to name everyone, but I’d just like to mention Raphael Key as Khelestakov, the penniless compulsive gambler who the town mistakes for the government inspector – a really impressive and energetic performance. His servant Osip played by Ian Henham, with wry humour and something of the long-suffering Baldrick from Blackadder about him and Graham Muncer, as the Mayor, who I did think was in danger of actually collapsing at one moment, under the strain of sustaining the tissue of lies he had woven in defence of himself and the town. There were also so many cameos – a sort of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky Tony Westwood and Malcolm Harrington respectively. And the postmistress, who is really at the centre of all the deceptions and was played quite wonderfully, with economy and precision by Liz Gibson. With this type of staging  the audience’s eye often moves around the space and is not always on the person who is speaking, and it was brilliant to see the intense focus and engagement of the whole cast in the problems their corrupt little town was facing.  I said at the time if you did a play of this scale at the National Theatre you  would have three or four days of dress rehearsals and probably a week of previews before you would allow the press or a full paying audience anywhere near it. I think Henfield played three nights and a matinee, and I saw it on the second night. Quite amazing what you achieved.

 

Burgess Hill Theatre Club chose The Ladykillers by Graham Lineham, the 2011 stage adaptation of the 1955 Ealing comedy starring Sir Alec Guinness. Why, I thought when Brighton and Hove Arts Council sent me the schedule – would anyone want to stage that old chestnut?  And anyway, it couldn’t possibly be as good as the film. How wrong I was. It’s not as dark as the film but as a result it’s a good deal funnier, sitting somewhere between Father Ted, Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers – it is the perfect British comedy. John Cleese was on the radio recently talking about the success of Fawlty Towers and stressing the importance of character and how getting the individual detail of character right drives the plot. Well, in this production you all arrived with wonderfully individuated characters and as a result when the plot got going – and I won’t even begin to explain it here except to say it involves a mail robbery that goes wrong, multiple botched attempts to kill an old lady, a bunch of unscrupulous robbers meeting a grisly end by falling from an upstairs window onto a railway line complete with steam and whistles- and a sick parrot – and when it got going it was one of the funniest nights I’ve had in the theatre. Pippa Jones and Sophie Davies were co- directors and designers and  managed to transform – rather like Henfield – a small community hall – into a dynamic and exciting theatrical space. I loved this design. It is wonderful to see the architecture of the building incorporated into the drama  by the simplest means – so the door we come in by as audience with the simple addition of a lace curtain becomes Mrs Wilberforce’s front door. They very cleverly managed to suggest an upstairs and downstairs while actually working on the same level by having the actors go down a flight of stairs from the living room, across the bottom of the stage and up another flight  to the adjacent bedroom. Such a simple and effective device. I also like the way you created a kind of club atmosphere for the audience sitting around tables. Again, I won’t mention everybody because this was an ensemble piece, but an ensemble made up of really carefully drawn characters who were individually very funny. Mrs Wilberforce the landlady and potential victim of this bunch of villains was played beautifully straight in a slightly otherworldly way by Lara Weller- she wins out in the end you’ll be pleased to know.  Josh Parette stepping into the shoes of Sir Alec Guinness drove the plot and the robbery plan through brilliantly. The rest of the gang is made up of; Major Courtney, played by Lawrence Leng; One-Round by Geoff Hopkins; Louis Harvey by Andy Squires and Harry Robinson played by Andrew Davies. Oh, and I must mention the parrot who was a triumph! It was a great evening.

 

Bouncers by John Godber next – the Brighton Hove Operatic Society–  directed and designed by Andy Stoner. When I did some research into Bouncers, I discovered it was one of the most performed plays of the 20th century and watching this production I can quite understand why. It’s a great play, written in the 1980s it concerns four Bouncers who police a nightclub in a northern town – or in this case,  a southern one. The action depicts the preparations for a Saturday night out of a group of women and men- with the four actors who play the Bouncers taking on all the roles. Yes, it was written in the 80s and inspired by the northern club scene, but it’s still all happening in West Street, in Brighton every weekend. On one level it’s about male ego and a kind of toxic masculinity, on another level it’s about failed hopes and expectations for a great night out, reflected in the sad cold taxi queue at three in the morning, when nobody has met the guy or girl of their dreams – or even got laid. The play demands a precisely choreographed physicality – which the company here achieved brilliantly. This was heightened by the sharp sculptural lighting design by Andy Stoner and Mike Medway and a blasting sound design by Stoner and Dave Gordon. But the show is carried by the  four-man cast- Lucky Eric played by Tony Bright, Ralph played by Louis Craig, Judd by Paul Fish and Les by Daniel Jones. This was a real tour de force, a demonstration of extraordinary individual skill and generous ensemble work. Godber makes it clear he doesn’t want the production to dwell on psychology – this is not Chekhov, he warns directors and yet in this production, without ever dropping the energy, Tony Bright in a series of beautifully measured monologues gives us a glimpse of the inner life of Lucky Eric – his frustration and moral confusion in the face of this brutal and callous night clubbing world. At the end of the performance I saw, the audience gave the company a standing ovation. I can only say I  was not surprised; it was completely deserved.

Finally, to Private Lives by Noel Coward staged by The Ditchling Players  directed by Tracey Glover. I have to say it was lovely to be transported to the South of France on a very cold November evening in darkest Ditchling. Those of you who don’t know the play – is there anyone who doesn’t know the play? It concerns Elyot and Amanda five years divorced, both on their honeymoon with new younger spouses, who find themselves on adjacent balconies staying in the same hotel. They quickly rekindle their passion for each other, dump their new spouses and head for Paris. It’s a four hander with some of the most famous lines in the English language all needing to be delivered in that quintessential upper-class English clipped speech. This was an elegant production with a very accomplished cast played on a nicely realised and furnished set.  The play demands a monumental scene change between Act One and Act Two as we move from the hotel to the Paris apartment. As I said to the stage crew, I wish you’d had more time to choreograph this because watching that apartment being composed in front of our eyes was delightful, and didn’t in any way  take away from our belief in it as a real space once the play restarted. It is a four hander, but Amanda and Elyot do dominate the action – Karin Grierson beautifully sustained what is a massive role as Amanda- and it was great to see an actress completely on top of the material  who looked like she was really enjoying herself on stage. Johnny Idle as Elyot was a great match for her and I have to say handled, what I found in a post  ‘me too’ era some very difficult stage business, beautifully. We forget that it was kind of okay to see a man attacking a woman on stage in the 1920’s, “she jolly well deserved to be put in her place”. I think these aspects of the play have dated it somewhat. But the skilful and accomplished playing of the two main protagonists in this production lifted the violence out of any sort of disturbing realist mode. Amanda and Elyot were well supported by Debbie Dylan as Sybil and John Dahl as Victor, the hapless newlyweds – not to each other but to Elyot and Amanda, and their reappearance in the Paris apartment pushes the action towards its hilarious ending. Like Clue this play also features a French maid, here called  ‘Louise’  who is very feisty and was played by Carol Merrett – “qui parle très bien français”.

Thank you all for your splendid work, it’s been a real pleasure and I wish I could give you all an award, but I guess then it wouldn’t be a competition.