The Wharfedale Festival of Theatre continues to defy the national trend that has seen the demise of many competitive amateur theatre festivals as, for the last five years, this popular Yorkshire festival has attracted more and more entries every year.

The 2009-10 festival was no exception, with a 20 per cent increase in entries from plays, musicals and pantomimes performed in the Wharfedale, Airedale and Nidderdale areas.

The organisers were particularly pleased to see numbers in the youth and schools competition at an all-time high of eight. The Wharfedale Festival of Theatre’s Awards Evening is modelled on the Hollywood Oscars ceremony and, on Saturday, July 10, more than 200 adults and young people gathered at St Mary’s School, Menston. There they were treated to a buffet and viewed displays and photographs of all entries, before trophies and certificates were presented.

For 18-year-old St Mary’s School, Menston, sixth former Tom McNulty, the evening was a double success. He was joint winner of the award of best actor in the youth and schools competition for his performance as Judas in his school’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and was also runner-up to best actor in the drama (adults) competition for his doubled roles of Bottom and Lysander in Hope Theatre Group’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Tom, a gifted actor and singer, is a member of the National Youth Theatre.

In the hotly-contested youth and schools section, best musical was also won by St Mary’s School, Menston, with Jesus Christ Superstar producing joint winners of best actor in the youth and schools section – Tom McNulty and Matthew Roberts.

Best actress in this section was won by Charlotte Thornton for her performance in the title role of Peter Pan – The Musical, presented by first-time entrants Pudsey Grangefield School. Pudsey Grangefield also won the ambience award front of house for the welcome given to all audience members.

Best supporting actor went to Luke Saville of Leeds West Academy for his portrayal of Daddy Warbucks in Sweet Charity, and best supporting actress produced a tie between two young performers – Tayla Rae Wilson for her role as Bloody Mary in Prince Henry’s Grammar School’s South Pacific, and Kat Martin who played Lucy Lockit in Kaleidoscope’s The Beggar’s Opera.

Best male cameo performance was won by Daniel Bendjelloul for his portrayal of King Herod in St Mary’s School, Menston’s Jesus Christ Superstar and, along with Herod’s dancing girls, Daniel was also awarded the Valerie Jackson Trophy for dance (youth and schools), a new award this year donated by Valerie Jackson MBE, principal of Stage 84 Performing Arts School.

Georgina Collins’s portrayal of orphan Molly in Ralph Thoresby School’s Annie won her best female cameo.

Best director was Miranda Armitage for Alice in Wonderland (Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society junior section), with A Marvin runner-up for her direction of Jesus Christ Superstar. Best choreography went to Andrea Hayley Mallen for Stage 84’s Spectacular 2009, which featured extracts from West End musicals.

The competition for best stage presentation produced a tie between South Pacific (Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Otley) and Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society Junior Section’s Alice in Wonderland.

Ralph Thoresby School’s production of Annie won the Malcolm Pinder trophy for best interpretation of the libretto and a chairman’s special award for the staging of the orphanage scenes, while Kaleidoscope attracted a chairman’s special award for costumes in their production of the 18th century musical play The Beggar’s Opera.

With 11 entries in the drama (adults) section, the battles were hard fought and only a few marks separated the top productions from one another, but for the second year in succession the William Whiteley salver for the best play was awarded to Fulneck Dramatic Society. Their sell-out adaptation of Shaun Sutton’s 1948 stage version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was a worthy overall winner, also netting the best actor award for Greg Adams for his portrayal of Scrooge, and the Dorothy Fenwick trophy for best director, won by the play’s co-directors Dick Porter and Liz Sergeant. In second place came north Leeds group Stars with their presentation of black comedy Nasty Neighbours, while Hope Theatre Group were placed third with a quirky production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in mid-winter in the atmospheric setting of the Lady Chapel in St Oswald’s Church, Guiseley.

Runner-up in the competition for best director was Raymond Williams, director of Limelight Drama Group’s production of The Cemetery Club, a play about life after bereavement. Best actress was won by Stars’ actress Jane Collins for her portrayal of Mrs Peach, the obsessively house-proud wife of a deranged man. Stars were also awarded the Peter Hewitt Trophy for technical excellence. Runner-up for best actress was Mollie Williams (Limelight Drama Group) for her performance as a superficially merry widow in The Cemetery Club. The award of best supporting actor resulted in a tie between Richard Knowles’s portrayal of the not-very-bright Gary in Westgate Drama Group’s thriller Dead Guilty, and Bernard Riley of Adel Players, for his moving performance as senile serf Firs in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Adel Players’ production of The Cherry Orchard also achieved other honours, the assessors awarding it the Telegraph & Argus trophy for accomplished performance and imaginative staging, and their members Helen Duce and Claire Lipman won the awards of best newcomer and runner-up to best supporting actress respectively for their performances as Anya and Varya. Joint winners of best supporting actress were Becky Sheldon for her performance as socialite Sheila Birling in Addingham Drama Group’s production of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, and Heather Goring for her portrayal of eventual murder victim Joan Reece in Weeton & Huby Players’ production of thriller At the Sign of the Crippled Harlequin.

The Trevor Hallatt Trophy for Best Comedy Performance was awarded to the versatile cast of Yeadon Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s production of Ladies Down Under.

Once again the award for best musical (adults) produced a “battle of the Dales”, with Nidderdale’s Ripon Amateur Operatic Society triumphing over its Wharfedale rivals with a production of Oliver! performed at Harrogate Theatre in April. Runner-up was Yeadon Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s Gypsy, the story of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. These two productions tied for the awards of best musical director (Phil Redding (Ripon)) and John Webb (Yeadon), and also shared the award for best stage presentation. Best director was won by David Kirk (Yeadon).

First-time entrants Skipton Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society were awarded the innovation trophy for their vibrant, colourful and imaginative staging of Calamity Jane, performed in the appropriate setting of the cattle auction ring at Skipton’s Mart Theatre. Skipton’s director Craig Cowdroy also won the award for best choreography. Best actor went to Mark Allen for his portrayal of Quasimodo in Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society’s production of musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which also won the Ilkley Playhouse Trophy. Best actress was shared between Jenni Brown for her performance as Nancy in Ripon Amateur Operatic Society’s Oliver! and Gemma Durkin for her portrayal of Louise – stripper Gypsy Rose Lee – in Yeadon’s production of Gypsy.

Best supporting actor for his portrayal of Mr Bumble in Oliver! was awarded to James Parkes (Ripon), while best supporting actress went to Sarah Day for her role as teenager Dinah in High Society (Harrogate Phoenix Players).

Top honours in the pantomime competition went to Addingham Pantomime Group’s Beauty and the Beast, which also netted the awards for best comedy support (Vickie and Andy Burns), best musical director (Vickie Burns), and best director (co-directors Vickie Burns and Carol Baker). Runner-up in this section was Yeadon Charities Association’s traditional pantomime Mother Goose, performed each year to raise money for local charities, and directed this year by Marjorie Inman. Mother Goose also won best stage presentation, and shared the award for best choreography (Christine Braid) with Otley Little Theatre’s Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates (Ruth Birkett and Catherine Peace). Best pantomime dame was won by Rob Inman (Yeadon Charities Association), best principal boy by Kathryn Tonks (Otley Little Theatre), best principal girl by Rebecca Matthews (Yeadon Charities Association), best pantomime villain by John Wise (Burley Millennium Theatre Group), and best fairy queen by Caroline Darnbrook (Yeadon Charities Association).

The spirit of theatre award went to Ian Wilson for his outstanding contribution to the development of amateur theatre in this area over many years.

In closing proceedings, long-standing festival committee member Joan Newman celebrated the variety, vibrancy and strength of grass roots theatre in our area. She reflected on the 11 successful years that the festival has operated in its peripatetic format, with assessors visiting societies and schools at their home venues to assess their productions. She praised all the competitors for the spirit in which they take part, pointing out that it is this that gives the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre its unique “amateur theatre community” feel. Joan particularly welcomed the doubling in 2009-10 of entries to the youth and schools section. This augurs well for the future of amateur theatre in our area, and it is hoped this will continue for the 2010-2011 Wharfedale Festival of Theatre, entries for which are already being received.

Full information about the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre, including a downloadable information pack and entry form for the 2010-11 festival, can be found on the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre website at

See this week's print editions of the Ilkley Gazette and Wharfedale & Airedale Observer for a full list of award winners.