OFFIES 2020- a look at the finalists

As the Offies Awards have announced their shortlists, I thought it might be interesting to take a look through the finalists in some of the major categories. (You can find the full list here).

When reading through, you can read my Unrestricted Theatre review of the show by clicking on the title of any show which is highlighted.

In the category Choreography / Movement, Oti Mabuse is a finalist for AIN’T MISBEHAVIN‘ at the Southwark Playhouse. Mabuse worked her cast well and I would hope that she would take away the prize for this category. (However I was very disappointed that Robby Graham was not even longlisted for his work on LEAVE TO REMAIN which ran at Hammersmith in January 2019.)

In the Performance Ensemble category, finalists include THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON at Southwark Playhouse, (Matt Burns, Rosalind Ford, Joey Hickman, Philippa Hogg, James Marlowe)(my review here). Also a finalist is LITTLE BABY JESUS at the Orange Tree Theatre (Anyebe Godwin, Rachel Nwokoro and Khai Shaw). (my review here).

Yet another finalist in this category is GHOST QUARTET at Boulevard Theatre, (Carly Bawden, Niccolò Curradi, Maimuna Memon, Zubin Varla). I would hope that Ghost Quartet wins this category as the interconnection between the four actor-musicians was just incredible, one of the main reasons I saw it twice (a rarity for me!).

In the category Company Ensemble the SpitLip company blow all competition out of the water with their superb OPERATION MINCEMEAT.

The Female Performance in a Play category shortlist includes Lucy Briggs-Owen for OUT OF WATER at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. Frankly all three performances in this play were award-worthy, but I wish Lucy well in this category.

The Male Performance in a Play category finalists include Irfan Shamji for THE ARRIVAL at the Bush Theatre (you can read my show review here). How you can choose one of the two powerful, inextricable performances in this play and not recognise both is a mystery to me.  I wish Mr Shamji well -while thinking his co-star Scott Karim deserves equal praise.

The Most Promising New Playwright category includes Samuel Bailey for SHOOK at the Southwark Playhouse, this year’s Papatango Prize winner, and I WANNA BE YOURS, by Zia Ahmed at The Bush Theatre . In my opinion Zia Ahmed should win for his eloquent look at a couple trying to hold on to love in an unequal world. Not only that, the production was beautifully acted and directed too.

Best New Play category finalist Rose Lewenstein challenged us all with her raw slab of a play called COUGAR at Richmond’s Orange Tree. In my opinion she deserves to win. You read an interview with the writer Rose Lewenstein here.

In the Best Director category I was disappointed to see that Max Key had not been chosen as a finalist for his stylish, mesmerising production of THE GLASS PIANO at The Coronet Theatre.

In the musicals categories, I was happy to see that Supporting Male Performance finalists include both Oliver Saville for FALSETTOS and Cedric Neal for THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, the show which also features in Best Set Design for finalist Lee Newby.

For the best Male Performance in a musical I was delighted to see that Keith Ramsay is shortlisted for his role as Rachmaninoff in the brilliant PRELUDES at the Southwark Playhouse. This show is also a finalist for Best Lighting Design (by Christopher Nairne).

Best Musical Director is really a shortlist of riches, with the talented Jordan Li-Smith longlisted twice (he also was an accomplished musical associate on PRELUDES) and shortlisted as a finalist, but for me the winner here should be Benjamin Cox for the detailed and mesmerizingly beautiful GHOST QUARTET at the Boulevard Theatre.

Best Director in the musicals section features Bill Buckhurst as a finalist for the aforementioned GHOST QUARTET, who in my opinion should win for his intricate weaving together of music, mood, whiskey and magic.

GHOST QUARTET is also a finalist for Best Musical Production, which nobody who saw it would quibble about.


Review: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

IN BRIEF Fitzgerald’s regression story given sincere and intriguing folk interpretation by musically talented cast, but runs too long.

The story of the man who is born old and lives backwards, dying a baby has been told several times before, by different authors, but Fitzgerald’s has seen the most light of day. Taking the barest skeleton of the story, this production uproots the tale from its Baltimore setting and reimagines it as a kind of West Country folk tale, with Celtic-inspired music, which works pretty well albeit rather over- “atmosphere”-d for my taste (the dry ice sticks in your throat for hours!).

We enter to fog on an atmospherically lit harbourside. A decked platform serves as the performance space, with a piano and drum kit at the rear. The cast of five performers are all good singers as well as skilled musicians whose talents suit the string-emphasised score by Darren Clark.

The music has variety of tone – by turns rousing, lilting and passionate – generally very pleasing to the ear, but for me the numbers all started to blend into each other, and for me there were no themes I took away once out of the auditorium. I remembered to write down a note about the lovely song Time, which like others in the score, is punctuated and fractured by dialogue which was disappointing as it reduced the enjoyment of the undoubted skill of the songwriter.

Schonlatern’s deceptively simple staging (and lighting design) is thoughtful and inventive, the traps in the stage also used to clever ends. Puppetry was simple but reasonably effective, but I liked the idea of the puppets being made from discarded items which could have washed up on the coastline.

The first act is slowly paced, and goes on for at least 15 minutes too long; the second half, being shorter, is more effective in every way, with the death of the wife being undoubtedly a very moving piece of theatre, although the actual end of the show rather petered out for me.

The book is generally leisurely-paced, however the way that the narrative keeps hammering home tiny facts and micro-details about time and events for me eventually became annoying and ended up turning me off. To compare to another recent show, AMELIE used this narrative device also, but they just spotted it through the show, whereas this piece over-labours the points and becomes over-stylised.

It’s All Just A Matter of Time, as the cast (seemingly endlessly) hammer home to us. For me, the time went a little too slowly, but I was glad to have seem this imaginative reworking of a story made better by its new soil, given life by a dedicated cast, and an interesting and attractive score in a production invested with a lot of thought and care.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON runs at Southwark Playhouse’s Little Space until June 8th. Information and tickets here