As it turned out, the three finest productions I saw in 2019 were tourers which had already been covered for reviewsgate.com before they came to my patch in Nottingham: Prism, Rough Crossing and Educating Rita. Of the ones I reviewed for this website, the top three were Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water at Nottingham Playhouse, and two pantomimes – Cinderella at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, and, coincidentally, a second Cinderella at the Palace Theatre Mansfield.
As is routine in all family get-together plays like The Memory of Water, chaos ensued, and skeletons – here it was an avalanche of them – tumbled out of cupboards.
But underlying it all, this was a complex exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, the subjective and fragmentary nature of memory, and much else. Acting was strong and confident, with contrasting characters, albeit with overlapping familial characteristics, sharply delineated. Katy Stevens, as deceased mother Vi, was outstanding.
Song and dance at the Theatre Royal’s Cinderella were superb. Hannah Grace Lawson’s Cinderella was well acted and beautifully sung; so was Gareth Gates’s Prince Charming. A well-aimed topical gag came with a quip about an exhausted Prince Charming, “For a prince, he doesn’t sweat much, does he!”.
There was a refreshing absence of computer generated or 3-D effects, but it was a heart-stopping moment when Cinderella and her coach and horses driven by Buttons soared up into the starlit sky.
The Palace Theatre Mansfield’s version might be their best panto for at least three years, which is saying a lot. There was no anarchic messy scene, nor any sweet throwing, but everything else and more was in place.
Again, what struck one most was the quality of song and dance. Unusually for Cinders herself, Olivia Birchenough had a strident and assertive voice with terrific attack. Her solos with Prince Charming (Chris Warner Drake), notably the one based on that Queen number, Somebody to Love, were terrific. Also unusual in a panto, brilliant live music was never allowed to swamp the lyrics.
Dandini got the best gag of the show. When an Ugly Sister claimed to have seen him masquerading as Prince Charming, he replied, “Oh that can’t have been me. I was at Pizza Express in Woking.”
As a critic for a regional daily I was also privileged to see some outstanding work at probably the best amateur theatre in the East Midlands. Despite – perhaps because of – its limited technological resources, the non-professional sector frequently comes up with brilliant directorial insights. And since it isn’t primarily driven by box office considerations, it can offer a staggering variety of plays. Best this year were an eighties Ayckbourn, Season’s Greetings, Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women and Nina Raine’s Consent.
(photograph: Nottingham Post/Ian Hodgkinson)