Best on stage

By Monica Prendergast, January 2015

The “Spotlight Critics Choice Awards.”

In December, local theatre critics shared their picks for best designs, direction, performances and productions from the previous season. The Spotlight Critics Choice Awards have no ceremony or trophies to hand out (we really should try to make a party of it sometime!), but it does give the theatre community a sense of how their work was valued by the reviewers who cover this particular cultural beat. 

Below is the list of nominees and awards as determined mostly by Adrian Chamberlain (Times-Colonist), David Lennam (CBC Radio) and myself (CBC Radio), with some picks also provided by review blog The Marble. I offer brief comments on each category that are, obviously, my opinion alone. Winners are in bold.

 

Set Design 

A Tender Thing, Christina Poddubiuk, Belfry

Ignorance, Old Trout Puppet Theatre Ensemble, Blue Bridge

Unity 1918, Allan Stichbury, Phoenix

Marriage of Figaro, Cameron Porteous, Pacific Opera Victoria (POV)

There were a number of excellently designed shows last season, but the mirrored set created by Poddubiuk really resonated with the themes of the play. 

 

Costume Design

Falstaff, Leslie Frankish, POV

Marriage of Figaro, Cameron Porteous, POV

Cabaret, Di Madill, Langham

Picnic, Pauline Stynes, Phoenix

Again, some fine work in this category but we were won over by the detailed period accuracy of the 1950s’ costumes designed by Pauline Stynes for William Inge’s Picnic. 

 

Direction

Skin of our Teeth, Linda Hardy, Phoenix 

True West, Britt Small, Blue Bridge

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Keith Digby and Cynthia Pronick, Langham

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Clayton Jevne, Theatre Inconnu

Britt Small’s production of Sam Shepard’s True West was the standout of the Blue Bridge season. She pulled excellent work out of the two main actors, Jacob Richmond and Paul Fauteux, as alienated brothers whose relationship goes from bad to worse.

 

Sound Design

Glass Menagerie, Brooke Maxwell, Blue Bridge

Skin of our Teeth, Brian Linds, Phoenix

Ignorance, Trevor Leigh, Old Trout/Blue Bridge

In Ignorance the sound was a key element that supported the onstage action throughout.

 

Light Design

A Tender Thing, Robert Thomson, Belfry

Ignorance, Cimmeron Meyer, Old Trout/Blue Bridge

Equivocation, Alan Brodie, Belfry

Unity 1918, Allan Stichbury, Phoenix

Thomson’s lighting design allowed Poddubiuk’s set to work in the effective ways it did by creating varying spaces on the mostly bare stage and varying moods that reflected the emotional changes of the two characters.

 

Performance, Community Production 

Kyle Kushnir, Cabaret, Langham

Ensemble, Picnic, Phoenix 

Clayton Jevne, Falstaff, Inconnu

Jason Stevens, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Langham

This award was a lock for Kushnir, who nailed the role of the Emcee in Cabaret (as he also did playing the Man in Chair in Drowsy Chaperone). His work and that of seasoned actors Susie Mullen and Alf Small were the highlights of Roger Carr’s sellout production.

 

Performance, Professional Production 

Clare Coulter, A Tender Thing, Belfry

Victor Dolhai, Glass Menagerie, Blue Bridge

Jacob Richmond, True West, Blue Bridge

Ensemble, Terminus, Outside the March/Belfry

This role was a great fit with Richmond’s talents and he was riveting to watch as the mercurial and ultimately dangerous Austin.

 

Musical/Opera Production 

Cruel Tears, Blue Bridge

Cabaret, Langham

Marriage of Figaro, POV

Falstaff, POV

Perhaps it’s not fair to put musical theatre up against opera, as the latter has much bigger casts and budgets to play with than the former. But that said, our nod went to Pacific Opera’s youthful and energetic production of Mozart’s Figaro.

 

Overall Production (Community)

Skin of our Teeth, Phoenix

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Langham

Picnic, Phoenix

Boeing, Boeing, Langham

Directors Keith Digby and Cynthia Pronick scored a home run with their solid production of Tom Stoppard’s smart and funny play.

 

Overall Production (Professional)

A Tender Thing, Belfry

True West, Blue Bridge

Home is a Beautiful Word, Belfry

Terminus, Outside the March/Belfry

This is likely to be the most contentious choice this year, as Terminus was a touring show that had a short run during the Belfry’s Spark Festival. But as much as we want to (and do) support local work, for the majority of us this production was the most thrilling time we spent at the theatre last year. A total rollercoaster ride of monologue storytelling by three actors, the play by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe left me breathless and wanting to sit there and have them perform it all over again. 

 

Best of the Fests

Winners and Losers, Theatre Replacement/ Intrepid

When it Rains, 2B Theatre/Belfry

Another touring show, Winners and Losers was brought in by Intrepid Theatre. Chris Abraham ably directed the two Vancouver actors, James Long and Marcus Youssef, through an entertaining yet ultimately unsettling joust of masculinity. 

 

It is always a fascinating conversation when we reviewers determine shortlists and winners each year. Often we don’t agree and so the challenge, supported by beer from a local pub, is to find nominees and winners we can settle on. But the real fun is when we remember back to a show that really knocked our socks off for whatever reason. The chorus of “Yes, yes. yes!” is a strong indicator of the lasting power of theatre, that it is archived in the minds of audiences long after the show closes.

Monica reviews theatre for CBC Radio’s On the Island and teaches and researches drama/theatre education at UVic.