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The Stage Critic Search 2015 – finalists announced

The Stage Critic Search 2016 Photo: Shutterstock
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In April, The Stage launched a nationwide competition to find the UK’s best undiscovered theatre critics, with an open call-out to any aspiring critics based in the UK and aged 18 or over. This week, after receiving more than 300 entries from across the length and breadth of Britain, our judging panel has selected 11 regional finalists.

The Stage Critic Search 2015These are the finalists in The Stage Critic Search 2015, in association with TheatrePeople.com, with the 11 successful entrants spanning Britain – from Cornwall to Glasgow – and with an age range of 26 to 58.

The finalists’ entries were chosen through an anonymised process, meaning our judging panel did not know their identities when the selection was made. The next round of The Stage Critic Search will see each of our finalists review a theatre show local to them, with the review published in the July 16 edition of The Stage.

Our expert judging panel will then choose a final three from these reviews, before an overall winner is announced in August. The winner will receive £1,000 and the chance to review regularly for The Stage.

Each of the 11 finalists will receive mentoring from an experienced critic. Mentors include The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner, Henry Hitchings from the London Evening Standard and Andrzej Lukowski from Time Out.

Our judging panel did not select a finalist from Northern Ireland as the selection was too limited.

Here’s the list of regional finalists, with excerpts from their submitted reviews for the first round…


Name Pauline Flannery
From Putney
Age 58
Mentor Andrzej Lukowski
Review As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe)

“This meditative pastoral produces the tenderest of moments, such as Rosalind’s warm sincerity to resolve the play’s odd couplings, while the latter-day clowns – Daniel Crossley’s Touchstone, with a nod to Eric Morecombe, and James Garnon’s Jacques, Eddie Izard – excel. Love might be mad, but in [Blanche] McIntyre’s witty, tender production it dazzles.”

Rachel-Elderkin,East Midlands

Name Rachel Elderkin
From Nottingham
Age 26
Mentor Neil Norman
Review Promises of Happiness (Robin Howard Dance Theatre)

“Granted, it’s difficult not to feel joy when hearing pre-recorded phone calls to loved ones or watching a quartet of gold hot pant-clad performers dance unashamedly before their audience. Yet it’s the natural sincerity of these moments that enables [Robert] Clark and his company to achieve their goal. Their evident desire to please their audience is infectious, both in their performance and by their charming gestures of goodwill.”

Lee-Anderson,East of England

Name Lee Anderson
From Waltham Cross
Age 26
Mentor Henry Hitchings
Review The Funfair (Home)

“The fairground itself becomes a metaphor for a society that is quite literally spinning out of control. Designer Ti Green’s concrete cyclorama – complete with flaring flashbulbs, debris and ramshackle carousels – evokes a garish glitterland gone to seed. Meanwhile, Meierjohann’s melange of realist grit and expressionist tones captures the macabre melancholia of this decaying spectacle.”

Imelda-Says,North East

Name Imelda Says
From Hartlepool
Age 43
Mentor Sarah Hemming
Review The Ted Bundy Project (Northern Stage)

“What we know is that Greg [Wohead] wrote this show after coming across Ted Bundy’s confession tapes. (We know this because Greg tells us.) We know that he has created a compelling investigation into how far ‘normal’ people will be led by their morbid curiosity. We know that he is a performer of enormous skill, subtlety and control. What we don’t know is why he was typing ‘Ted Bundy’ into search engines in the first place.”

Nigel-Smith,North West

Name Nigel Smith
From Bootle
Age 52
Mentor Roger Foss
Review Plastic Figurines (Liverpool Playhouse Studio)

“Development of this one-act play has clearly involved a tremendous amount of research and soul-searching, and the result is a pair of finely drawn characters brought vividly to life in two exquisite performances. Jamie Samuels’ subtle portrayal of Mikey is so mesmerising that one sometimes has to make a conscious effort to turn attention to Remmie Milner’s Rose. Both have a gentle but powerful delivery that throws the pivotal moments into sharp contrast.”


Name Christine Irvine
From Glasgow
Age 29
Mentor Thom Dibdin
Review Into That Darkness (Citizens Theatre)

“Situated as it is in the flux between crime and punishment, Into That Darkness is almost unsettlingly non-judgemental, an unflinching examination of human nature that ably balances the emotional and intellectual and cements Gareth Nicholls’ arrival as a major talent on the Scottish scene.”

Dave-Fargnoli,South East

Name Dave Fargnoli
From Brighton
Age 31
Mentor Matt Trueman
Review The Vote (Donmar Warehouse)

“For a play so definitively set in a collective moment, there’s little to place it in the here and now, and a passing reference to YouTube doesn’t give it contemporary credibility. “It has to mean something!” Mark Gatiss’ returning officer rails as the absurdity escalates. The audience may be left wondering if it really did.”

Philly-ByrdeSouth West

Name Philly Byrde
From Camborne
Age 28
Mentors Jake Orr, Maddy Costa
Review Wolf’s Child
 (Felbrigg Hall)

“Bill Mitchell’s lens-sharp cinematic vision is back on form. A cathedral of pines as Nature’s blackout. An infinite avenue of choice for our wildling heroine. Vitally, the primal physicality of the cast – who have run with wolves and braved the elements during the devising process – keep these heart-pounding scenes from becoming mere decoration.”


Name Jafar Iqbal
From Cardiff
Age 27
Mentor Lyn Gardner
Review Iphigenia in Splott (Sherman Cymru)

“Despite rooting itself in the harshness of working-class Cardiff, Iphigenia in Splott works because it speaks to an entire island. Swap Splott for any other working-class city in the UK, and the struggles and sacrifices still resonate. In these changing and uncertain times, it couldn’t be more relevant.”

Katharine-Kavanagh,West Midlands

Name Katharine Kavanagh
From Dudley
Age 34
Mentor Clare Brennan
Review Moon Songs (Tenting tour)

“From first impression until last dance, the artisan design ethic and welcoming community feel are superbly crafted. The titular songs are a sequence of African influenced lunar-themed live covers, ranging from Beethoven to Ozzy Osbourne; the central acts create a meeting point for the youthful dreams and adult realities of Ethiopian jugglers Bibi and Bichu.”

Henry-MalbrookYorkshire and the Humber

Name Henry Malbrook
From Pontefract
Age 30
Mentor Andrew Haydon
Review Anna Karenina (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

“Director [Ellen] McDougall’s problem is immediately apparent: she’s been cretinized by television. The whole show has the suspended air and sticky texture of children’s television; the desire being to infantilise an audience in order to accommodate and combine ‘the deep child of my heart,’ with Tolstoy’s masterpiece. What we in fact get is CBeebies meets a delirious Dostoyevsky.”


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