THE Wharfedale Festival of Theatre 2018-2019 has once again been a big success, attracting 26 entries - ten for Drama (Adults), five for Youth & Schools, six for Pantomimes (Adults) and five for Musicals (Adults).

The team of adjudicators and markers very much enjoyed visiting the home venues of each of these productions to assess what is being achieved in very widely differing locations throughout the area - venues that range from full equipped theatres to town halls, village halls, and schools with their own often state-of-the-art theatres.

Many productions were of a very high standard indeed and these very variable performance spaces were often used with great imagination and creativity by the groups putting on productions there.

The Festival’s annual Awards Evening is modelled on the Hollywood Oscars ceremony (but without the speeches) and on Saturday almost 200 enthusiastic adults and excited young people gathered at Leeds West Academy to hear who had won the many awards on offer.

There they were treated to a sumptuous buffet and viewed static displays and a DVD of production photographs of all the entries, before trophies and certificates were presented to all those who had been awarded the much prized local “Oscars”.

Despite the immense financial challenges faced by musical societies in the present economic climate there has certainly been no falling-off in the quality of the entries for Musicals (Adults). Guiseley Amateur Operatic Society carried off top honours in this section with a moving production of the demanding show A Chorus Line, and its co-directors Amy Horton Atkinson and Ted Oxley-Kirk were named Best Directors and Best Choreographers. Runners-Up were Yeadon Theatre Company with a beautifully presented production of the gritty musical Bad Girls, with its staging winning them Best Stage Design and its costuming winning the Keighley Playhouse Cup for the Best Costumed Production.

Leeds Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s Musical Director Jonathan Drummond won the Eileen Mogridge trophy for the Best Musical Director for the second year running, this year for the high standard of music and singing in their production of Guys & Dolls.

A Special Chairman’s award was given to the harpists of the Pennine branch of the Clarsach Society, who provided sound effects for the fairy Tinkerbell in Burley Theatre Group’s production of Peter Pan, and provided delightful and unusual interval music for the audience.

This year, much to the disappointment of the Festival Committee, there were no entries for the Drama (Youth & Schools) competition, and they will be taking steps to encourage Youth & Schools groups to enter plays as well as musicals in future years.

However, the lack of entries there was compensated for by the very high standards achieved by the entrants in Musicals (Youth & Schools).

Leading the way and winning the Cyril Spencer trophy for the Best Youth & Schools Musical were the young members of Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society Juniors with a spectacularly staged, brilliantly acted, and superbly directed production of the musical Rent – a production which Festival markers felt would have given a run for their money to any of the competitors in Musicals (Adults). Its director Mark Allan was named Best Director, and its Staging team led by Andrew Walbank won the Peter Russell trophy for Technical Excellence for the spectacular and very professional lighting, sound, and stage presentation of Rent.

Joint Runners-up were Leeds West Academy with an engaging and imaginative production of Beauty and the Beast, and St Bede’s & St Joseph’s Catholic College with their convincingly staged and lively production of Fame. The Valerie Jackson Youth Dance trophy was also awarded to St Bede’s & St Joseph’s Catholic College, which has a long tradition of providing high quality dance tuition.

A Special Chairman’s award went to Ralph Thoresby School’s Stuart Knight and Andy Smith, who had constructed a huge head for the Wizard in the school’s production of The Wizard in the school’s production of The Wiz. Kaleidoscope’s Musical Director Katy Grainger was named Best Director of a Youth & Schools Musical. Katy composed the music and was joint director with Sally Edwards of Bingley Arts Centre’s junior group Kaleidoscope’s original musical Much Ado About Elvis, based on the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. This production also saw Daisy Smith and Freddie Bullock being awarded the Trevor Hallett trophy for Best Comedy Performance for their uninhibited portrayals of the bumbling constable Dogberry and his equally incompetent sexton partner Verges.

Entries to Pantomimes (Adults) continues to rise and they are very much looked forward in the communities in which they are performed. For the second year in succession, Ilkley-based youth group Upstagers carried off the Pantomime Cup for their spectacular production of Sleeping Beauty, while its co-directors John Clark and Andrew Hewitt were names Best Directors.

This pantomime netted a raft of individual awards, too, with Elliot Broadfoot winning Best Pantomime Dame, Hannah Green winning Best Pantomime Villain, Harry Hodge winning Best Principal Boy, Harriet Dibb winning Best Fairy, and Joey Wilby winning Best Comedy Support (Male).

Runner-up in Pantomimes (Adults) was Yeadon Charities Association with Aladdin. Not overlooked by the assessors were LIDOS with their charmingly staged pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: LIDOS’ Lauren Hampshaw won Best Principal Girl, and their delightful troop of children who portrayed the dwarfs earned a Special Chairman’s award.

Invariably the competition attracting the largest number of entries is Drama (Adults), and this year’s winner of the William Whiteley trophy for Best Play in a very competitive group of entries was Fulneck Dramatic Society with their innovative production of a 250-year-old Restoration comedy School for Scandal. With a modernised script and malicious gossip being spread by mobile phones, the play had much to say that is relevant to a modern audience. Its director Dave Robbins also played the lead role of Sir Peter Teazle and as a result was not only named Best Actor, but also Best Director, while his wife Chris won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the hyper-gossip Mrs Candour. This production was also awarded the Innovation trophy.

Tied in second place for the award of the Mary Payne Salver were S.T.A.R.S, with their production of Albert Nobbs, a moving play about grief, and Keighley Playhouse with Saving Jason, a difficult and controversial play about drug-taking. With the Jack Pitts trophy for 3rd place in Drama (Adults) came Ilkley Playhouse’s innovatively staged play The Thrill of Love, a well-researched presentation of the events leading up to the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in England to be hanged for murder.

Rich Francis of Leeds Arts Centre won Best Cameo for his superb portrayal of the Gravedigger in Hamlet, and a fellow Leeds Arts Centre actor, James Bell, was named Best Supporting Actor for his camp performance as the courtier Osric. The Bernard Riley trophy for the Best Young Performer in an adult production was won by Harry Rundle of Keighley Playhouse, who played the title role in Saving Jason.

Finally, the very special Pat Dyson Spirit of Theatre award (awarded to someone who in the opinion of the adjudicators has made an outstanding contribution over the years to amateur theatre locally) went to Dorothy Schofield. Dorothy was ill and unable to accept the award in person, so it was accepted on her behalf by Chris Binns, Chairman of Leeds-based S.T.A.R.S.

No-one could be more deserving of the award of the Pat Dyson Spirit of Theatre trophy, and everyone present at the Awards Evening cheered her and sent her their very best wishes for her speedy recovery.

The evening concluded as Festival Chairman Ken Stott thanked everyone for coming, reminded them that entries for the 2019-2020 Festival are open and that he looked forward to seeing them all this time next year.