Chris Neville-Smith’s 2015 awards

It’s that time of year again. In recognition of all the hard work of all the groups I’ve seen over the year, and in no way a shameless attempt to generate more web traffic for this blog, here are my list of awards. With a panel of one seeing lots and lots of plays over the year, a shortlist of plays was put forward and a jury of one spending hours deliberating over the verdict, I finally have a list of winners.

A few changes this year. For a start, I’m going to gradually announce the winners over five days in a completely unnecessary drive to build up tension. More interestingly, this year I’ve picked a runner-up for most categories, because I felt too many good plays would go unrecognised otherwise. Finally, I’ve added a couple of new categories this year: one is “Best collaborative work” to cater for the increasing number of devised theatre pieces I see that aren’t crap; the other, well, you’ll see when I get round to that.

Quick reminder of the other rules: this list is open to anything I first saw in 2015 – and what I see, especially at the festival fringes, largely comes down to luck. Productions I saw in previous years are generally not eligible for consideration, so that long-running successful shows don’t unfairly dominate the awards, although there will be one case here where I’ll bend that rule.

So, no more “didn’t they all do well”, it’s time to pick the winners. Okay, here we go … Continue reading

Chris Neville-Smith’s 2014 awards

Move over Oscar, step aside Tony, who needs some silly ceremony where someone opens an envelope when who could be getting the prestigious honour of reading about your play on a post? Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s that time of year again, when I decide on the best plays I’ve seen all year. And, damn, once again I’m going to have to get choosy, because I’ve seen a lot of good plays that I’d be happy to see in this list, but there’s only twelve categories (eleven if you exclude the booby prize).

A reminder of the rules: this is based on my opinion and my opinion only. No bonus points for five-star reviews elsewhere. The only way that other people’s endorsements might help you is if it persuaded me to see your play in the first place (because, in order for you to be eligible, I will need to have seen your play). Productions I have seen in previous years generally aren’t eligible, so that small companies and new productions stand a fair chance against successful long-running shows.

So, if you can kindly imagine some glamorous Hollywood starlet in an unnecessarily skimpy dress opening an envelope, let us begin.

Best new writing:

Scene from BlinkBlink, by Phil Porter, produced by Nabokov, toured to Live in February. My God, I loved that play. For most of the year, this was the runaway leader. Alan Ayckbourn put a pretty good late challenge with Roundelay, but one play out of the set of five was weak, allowing Blink to win by a significant margin. I must admit Phil Porter was at a bit of an unfair advantage because I caught this play five days after been dumped. The day before Valentine’s Day. By text message. (It barely qualified as something you can be dumped from, but I was nonetheless a tad emotional at the time.) But it’s now ten months on, I’m back to my usual emotionless self, and I still think it’s wonderful.

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Chris Neville-Smith’s 2013 awards

So, another year, another list of awards to dish out. And this is where I have to get choosy. Normally, no matter how hard I try to be objective, the temptation is always there to say “Didn’t they all do well?” Not here. This time, there can only be one winner per category no matter how much I’d like to be nice to everyone.

Now, before anyone on this list gets too excited, a reminder of the rules. This is a set of awards with the largely arbitrary entry criterion that it needs to have been a play that I saw in 2013. It has a judging panel of one, that person being me, with the sole measure being how much I enjoyed it. If it’s any use, by “enjoyable” I mean stuff which I find intelligent and/or original without and still be fun to watch. In general, productions I’ve already seen in previous years are not eligible unless they have substantially changed.

To give you an idea of the competition there are 12 categories (11 good, 1 bad), and 67 eligible plays. Last year, there were a number of clear winners. This time, there’s a lot of tougher decisions. So, without further waffling, here I go: Continue reading

Chris Neville-Smith’s 2012 awards

So, another year gone, and I’ve seen a grand total of 82 plays. So now it’s time to look back over the year and pick the ones that stood out for me. As usual, the completely arbitrary criterion for entry is that it has to be a play I happened to see. So, without further ado, let’s get going.

Best new writing:

Caroline Horton in MessQuite a few good pieces of new writing this year, but there were two things in particular which stuck in my mind. I was seriously tempted by Sparkle and Dark’s The Girl With No Heart. This was largely a team effort, and consequently the credit for the creativity lies with the whole team and not just one person, but this wouldn’t have been half the play it was without Louisa Ashton’s outstanding script. Other strong contenders include Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison and Stuart Lee’s Dev’s Army.

But the award goes to Caroline Horton for Mess, a very moving play about anorexia. It manages to tackle a very sensitive subject in a way that makes people understand why people do this, and yet keeps it humorous. Most striking, however, was the way the author clearly drew on her own experiences of anorexia, and – incredibly – performed the leading role herself. That was an extraordinarily brave thing to do, the praise for this play is thoroughly deserved, and this is someone who could be going to to better things very quickly. Continue reading

Chris Neville-Smith’s 2011 awards

Before I start reviewing any new plays I’ve seen, here’s a look back on last year. I saw in total 83 plays over various big theatres, little theatres and fringe venues across the country, ranging, as always, from big-budget professional to the tiny amateur productions, with productions inevitably ranging from the outstanding to the unimaginably awful. But only a few can stick in my memory, so here is my pick of the best that 2011 offered me:

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