GALLERY: Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards 2017

The importance of youth in amateur theatre was highlighted at this year's Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards.

Adjudicator Trevor Jones spoke to the six companies involved at the awards ceremony on Wednesday, saying how important it was to encourage young people into the world of theatre by using them in productions when possible.

Winners of the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards 2017 with adjudicator Trevor Jones and compere Kate Dyson

Winners of the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards 2017 with adjudicator Trevor Jones and compere Kate Dyson

He said: "Plays with a few middle-aged couples are all very well and easy to find for amateur theatre companies but finding plays with younger people, or even children, is more difficult and less obvious to produce.

"These youngsters are, after all, the theatre's future, both professional and amateur."

Southwick Players had two 12-year-old actors, Henry Andrews and Thomas Scott, in lead roles for Goodnight Mr Tom, plus several other children in the play.

Henry, who played William, and Thomas Scott, who was Zach, were presented with the Arthur Churchill Award for Excellence.

Mr Jones said: "What a talented duo these two boys are. They were word-perfect and gave stunning performances."

He was also impressed by Jenny Burtenshaw, who operated the dog, and awarded her The Coffin Mew Award for outstanding achievement.

Mr Jones said: "Throughout the play, there was an extraordinary performance of Sammy the dog, beautifully operated by the puppeteer Jenny Burtenshaw. It was fantastic."

There were many colourful characters in Wick Theatre Company's production of Brief Encounter and Mr Jones said all were well cast by director Diane Robinson.

He presented Diane with the award for best technical achievement for the impressive use of the screen.

Mr Jones said: "The set design allowed the production to be broadened out, with the actors moving in and out of the buffet and on to the station platform at the same time, and beyond the platform, a screen, where we see a train arrive and Dr Alec walks into the screen and boards the train."

Wick Theatre Company also won the award for best publicity, which was presented to Rosemary Bouchy on behalf of the team.

Burgess Hill Theatre Club put on The Tin Woman, a play director Vicky Gooding found by accident on the internet.

Mr Jones said: "A lucky find, if you ask me. It is an unusal play drawn from real-life events."

Carolyn Chinn won best supporting actress for her 'funny performance' as Darla, as well as her part as the nurse.

Impressed by the staging of the hospital bed, funeral, two homes, a car journey and cemetery, Mr Jones awarded the company best stage crew.

He said: "The stage at Burgess Hill is compact and there are many scenes and many locations in the play but somehow Burgess Hill stage management pull off the passage of time and space with inches to spare."

Henfield Theatre Company, taking part in the awards for the first time, won best overall production for Billy Liar and best costume design, plus Ann Atkins was named best director.

Mr Jones said: "The play still stands the test of time. The choice of 1960s music placed us directly in that period and the retro style of decor, particularly the fashion of the period, was spot on - great styling from the costume and wardrobe team.

"There were great performances from the entire company. The dialogue between the adults, often spoken at the same time, was beautifully honed."
Lancing Repertory Players performed Playhouse Creatures, which won two awards. Best set design was presented to Mark Oliver and Ruben Pol, who played Thomas Otway, was named best supporting actor.

Mr Jones said: "There was a really clever period set, designed by Mark Oliver. It was like a sort of children's pop-up picture book, brilliant."

New Venture Theatre chose Anna Christie and won four awards, including best sound for Ian Black and best lighting for Phil Palmer. Isabella McCarthy Sommerville, who played the title role, won best actress for her 'stunning performance' and Mark Lester, as Chris Christopherson, won best actor.

Mr Jones said: "The acting between the three actors is superb and even though the play is long, our attention is constantly held by the rich dialogue, beautifully expressed between these three.

"The various settings of the barge are terrific. The atmospheric lighting, the choice of music, the sound of the sea and the ever-present fog all added up to a wonderful evening in the theatre."