Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Panel members

Panel Members
Panel members (from front, clockwise): Carmel Thomason, Robert Beale, Diana Stenson, Alan Hulme, Kevin Bourke, David Chadderton, Philip Radcliffe, David Upton and Paul Genty

First memory of live performance is Margaret Lockwood as Peter Pan at the Manchester Opera House. I was about three. But what really did it was being at the European premiere of West Side Story, also at the Opera House, in 1958, when Bernstein, Sondheim, Jerome Robbins and etc were there, in the stalls, in the row in front of me, and George Chakiris and Chita Rivera were up on stage. Few experiences since have rivalled that. I turned a hobby into a career by becoming theatre critic for the Manchester Evening News, from 1970 - 2000 and founded the MEN Theatre Awards in 1981. Onetime TMA Best Regional Theatre Critic. Since semi-retirement (while living partly in Tenerife) I have reviewed for the MEN as a freelance, until freelances got the sack in July 2011. I also review for What's On Stage.

After many years working at the MEN as a writer on film, theatre, music and arts, including running the MEN Theatre Awards after Alan Hulme's retirement, I'm now working as a freelance arts writer and broadcaster for a gratifying number of local and international media outlets. I'm sure I must have been taken to see panto as a young boy but my mum and dad would have been more likely to take me to see the latest Cinerama film release. Thus, the first live theatre I can honestly remember seeing (unless you count the Beatles Christmas show!) was a version of Waiting For Godot. That, and the fact that my Aunt Lil, who worked as an ice cream seller at the theatre, smuggled me in to see the first London production of Hair, perhaps helps to explain my subsequent taste! But there's really nothing that matches the visceral thrill of seeing a great live performance, whether it's Leonard Cohen or Bruce Springsteen enthralling a huge crowd or a solitary performer captivating an upstairs room at a pub with their lovingly-crafted fringe production.

My first recollection of big panto was Danny La Rue at the Palace back in the Sixties, when I, newly equipped with spectacles, managed to leave them at home and could honestly say I hated every moment, mainly because it was out of focus. Always the critic, including of myself. Since the late Seventies, when I became the Manchester theatre reviewer for the Oldham Evening Chronicle, I’ve seen perhaps 1,600-2,000 shows, operas and ballets, reviewed most of them, been knocked out by the young talent that has come out of the Oldham area, and spoken to the great and the good and the kidding themselves of the theatre world — as have we all on the panel. And after all that I mostly still love theatre. Mostly. It's not as dramatic as life though.

Philip Radcliffe has been reviewing theatre and music for more than 50 years -he started very young - for a range of publications, including chronologically the Bolton Evening News, The Manchester Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement and the Manchester Evening News. Currently, he reviews for The Arts Desk ( He was a long-serving member of the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards panel of judges. He is former Director of Communications at The University of Manchester and Adjunct Professor of Communications at the Pennsylvania State University, USA.

I was always interested in drama at school, but such frivolous subjects weren't taught there, so I joined a youth drama group at 16 and was extremely active in amateur theatre for several years. I started teaching drama for Mainstream Theatre Arts and also did a part-time degree with leading drama school Rose Bruford College. Since then, I've written lots of plays for young people's theatre and theatre-in-education, taught and designed classes and courses in schools and youth groups, written a couple of books, Practical Drama and The Theatre Makers published by Studymates, produced a weekly radio programme on theatre for Canalside Community Radio for over 3 years and started teaching undergraduates on the Rose Bruford course from which I graduated. I have been the north west editor for British Theatre Guide for some years, and took over as editor in 2012. Since then, I have revamped the web site, expanded its news coverage and introduced a podcast of interviews with leading figures in British theatre.

Robert Beale has followed classical music in the north of England since the days of Sir John Barbirolli and was music and opera critic for the Yorkshire Evening Press in York before joining the Daily Telegraph in Manchester under the editorship of Michael Kennedy. Since the 1970s he contributed reviews and articles on music, opera and dance to the Manchester Evening News, becoming music and opera critic (and a member of the Theatre Awards panel) in 1994. He writes for Classical Music magazine, Musical Opinion, Opera Now, International Piano, The Strad, the Musical Times and others.


Like many people I was introduced to theatre with trips to pantomime, Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but unlike most teenagers thankfully the experience didn't put me off. In fact I got so hooked that I once skived off school to get cheap matinee tickets to the RSC. Yes, I was that much of an English swot. My interest grew through trips to the Bristol Old Vic, which offered £3 tickets for students, meaning that we could see the show and afford a drink in Renato's afterwards. When I became a journalist it was wonderful to be able to watch theatre as part of my job. I started reviewing at Darlington Civic and Newcastle Theatre Royal. I've been reviewing professionally now for more than 12 years, 10 of those covering theatre in the Greater Manchester area. I come to this panel from my time as a judge on the Manchester Evening News theatre awards, where I was a member of the features staff for 8 years. I also review for What's On Stage. Outside of theatre I am a journalist and communications professional. My first book Every Moment Counts was published by Darton, Longman & Todd in 2011.

Diana Stenson had her first experience of drama when she appeared regularly in radio plays on Children's Hour - "I was very young but got the bug! Eventually I landed a job at the BBC in Manchester, was a regular presenter and producer on Radio Manchester and interviewed just about everyone who was anyone in town, and keeping up with all the new theatre productions. I moved on to producing Woman's Hour on Radio 4, as well as features, documentaries and serials - often all at the same time! This meant working with actors as well as watching them on stage and I loved it. My real interest is set design which has changed hugely in the last decade driven on by the digital revolution. These days I have moved on to making television commercials which can be drama of a sort - 22 takes on a recent one until we got it right!

Reading through the other biographies can’t help but wonder if I’m in the right place. Became interested in theatre when the Royal Exchange opened in 1976 and banquette seats were 50p (which was a lot of money in those days). The Exchange remains my favourite theatre; you never forget your first love. My involvement in reviewing is strictly amateur – have never written for a professional publication nor worked in the arts. Drifted into reviewing after commenting on the What’s on Stage website. See myself as an audience member lucky enough to have access to websites for my opinions. The only way I know how to assess a play is if it moved me and if I felt it was value for money. Chuffed to be on the Panel; still not sure if in the right place.

A school trip to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, at Manchester Library Theatre in the 60s, turned the head of a callow youth. A couple of years later, as an apprentice reporter in Altrincham, he began a love affair with theatre criticism, a passion generally undimmed by nearly 50 years reviewing drama, dance and music around the region for evening newspapers in Stoke, Oldham, Blackpool and Preston. Like most members of the panel I see between 60 to 70 productions annually, in my case providing previews and reviews for the Lancashire Evening Post and Wigan Evening Post and online for British Theatre Guide. I have also been a part-time lecturer, in critical performance analysis, for drama degree students, and an occasional broadcaster on BBC Radio Lancashire.

Youth panel

Biographical information to follow.

Biographical information to follow.

Originally from Kent, I moved to Manchester in 2014 and am now fully acclimatised to the North. I did English Literature with Creative Writing at Bangor University and spent a lot of time dancing/acting/improvising comedy with various student societies in Wales, the Netherlands and at the Edinburgh Fringe. I joined the Youth Panel when it was first formed in 2014. Reviewing is a brilliant way for me to engage my creative and critical faculties, as well as keeping in touch with all the fantastic theatre the North West has to offer.

Originally from the Wirral, I was brought up on a steady diet of outdoor Shakespeare and never looked back. Chairing the youth panel has made me realise just how much great theatre is made in, or comes to, Manchester and I'm proud we have so much to offer. I'm also passionate about diversity and involvement, and happy that the city has so many routes into its theatres for young people (and others!)

Biographical information to follow.

Biographical information to follow.

Inspired by theatre at an early age and recurrent victim of audience participation. A Film Studies and Visual Arts graduate with a passion for fringe productions and immersive experiences. Frequenter of the Edinburgh Fringe and keen to explore a wide range of artistic mediums.

Joining the Youth Panel in 2014 has allowed me to explore my passion for writing whilst sampling some of the finest theatre on offer in the North West and further afield. I am keen to encourage young people to grab hold of the arts and explore the opportunities on their doorstep.