Well I really wasn’t sure what to call this latest instalment of the Reggies; I considered Roman numerals: The Reggies III in true Hollywood style, or maybe Reggification – the saga continues. But then I settled on The Deluxe Edition; simply because it’s now expanded to a sumptuous eight categories. It doesn’t seem possible that twelve months have passed since the Reggies were last awarded. As we hurtle towards 2020 I can happily report that London theatre has enjoyed another bumper year. But exactly who has done enough to earn a much coveted Reggie? Who will just have to make do with a runners-up spot? This task gets more difficult as the quality of shows moves inexorably into overdrive.
Best Venue is always a loaded question especially as theatre has now morphed into four distinct tiers: West End, Off West End, Provincial and Fringe theatre. As before, I’ve excluded West End theatres from this category in the interests of a fair fight. So in third place, winning its third consecutive nomination, is the Old Red Lion in Islington. A lovely pub with a great atmosphere and rich history, its theatre has maintained consistency of output throughout the year. A brand new entry at number two is the Hope Theatre in Islington. With live bands playing in the basement and a brilliant theatre upstairs, the Hope & Anchor (as it’s popularly known) is now the complete entertainment venue. But the winner, another new entry, is Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel. So cleverly concealed is Wilton’s that even Google Maps struggles to find it. Once inside, the Music Hall, with its authentic Victorian decor, is a truly magical place.
Best Actor is a devil to pin down as there are so many fine performers out there, and my field of vision is limited to the shows I’ve seen. Taking third place is David Schaal in the disturbing but compulsive Weatherman at the Park Theatre. Schaal delivered a chilling performance as the boss of a human trafficking operation. In second place is Miles Jupp in The Life I Lead at the Wyndhams Theatre, a delightful one man show charting the life of journeyman actor David Tomlinson. But the undoubted winner is Wendell Pierce in the turbo-charged Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre. So good was Pierce’s performance as Willy Loman everyone else was bidding for second place; a performer of rare distinction and ability.
Similarly Best Actress is difficult to call, but in third place is Fiona Skinner in The Sweet Science of Bruising at Wilton’s Music Hall. Playing tomboy Polly, Fiona stole every scene in which she appeared. In second place we have Sharon D Clarke as Linda in Death of a Salesman. It’s no easy task playing opposite a powerhouse like Wendell Pierce, but Sharon was in many respects his equal as family matriarch. Just pipping her for first place is Collette Eaton for her brilliant turn in House of Yes at the Hope Theatre. She was in dazzling form as the psychotic middle class girl with a fixation on her twin brother.
Best Set Design/Special Effects was a category introduced last year to highlight ingenuity in small venues. So in third place we have Last Orders: the Haunting of the Old Red, strangely enough at the Old Red Lion. In a production that drew on the pub’s rich history to create a ghostly story of times past, by using a simple sound and lighting system they created a highly effective atmosphere. In second place is Dracula at London Library. Here the producers simply used what was already there: a beautifully designed reading room was transformed into a stage with carefully placed screens projecting images around the room. The effect was amazing.
But taking gold is the excellent Ragtime at the Bridewell Theatre. It was a remarkable production, not only because Sedos are an amateur theatre company with a professional edge, but the set was a stroke of genius in a cramped performance area; a wooden facade stretched across the stage. With the addition of simple props it became the bow of a ship bringing immigrants into Ellis Island, then the suburban home of a wealthy New York family and finally the city library. It was brilliantly conceived and executed and even managed to conceal an orchestra behind the set.
OK that’s the first half done. Stay in the moment and we’ll be back shortly to reveal the Best Tribute Act, best Shakespeare production, Best Musical and Best Play.