The quality of amateur theatre in this area has surprised and delighted the adjudicator of the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards 2018.
Having seen all eight entries, Jane Collins, professor of theatre and performance at Wimbledon College of Art, revealed the winners at the awards ceremony at BHASVIC last night.
She said it was the first time she had ever done anything like this and her expectations were quite moderate.
She thought she would encounter 'a range of massive egos and people playing up to their friends and families' and admitted this was the kind of prejudice levelled against amateurs.
Jane said: "How wrong I was. What I saw was seriousness, originality, generosity on stage and off, and a selfless commitment to performing that is often lacking in the professional productions where actors fall back on tired technique.
"What was common across all the groups was the passion. This has been a real learning curve for me and a privilege and a pleasure to see your work.
"All eight productions had qualities I felt should be recognised. High standards were maintained right across the board."
The companies taking part this year were Burgess Hill Theatre Club, Hurstpierpoint Players, Wick Theatre Company from Southwick, New Venture Theatre from Brighton, Rottingdean Drama Society, Southwick Players, Henfield Theatre Company and Saints Theatre Group from Worthing.
Henfield Theatre Company
Henfield Theatre Company won best overall production for Brighton Beach Memoirs, a semi-autobiographical play by Neil Simon, and Mike Cawte won best lighting design.
Jane said: "The spacial arrangement of the design worked superbly. I take my hat off to Sheila Nye, the director, because she found a way of enabling for the actors to totally inhabit their characters and the space. It was as if they weren't on stage, they lived it."
Southwick Players won three awards for The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams, including best publicity. Louise Yeo was presented with the award for best actress and Martin Oakley won best set design.
Jane praised the immaculate, detailed box set, depicting the interior of a Welsh cottage and the landscape beyond.
"This was excellent ensemble work but the catalyst and driver of the play was Miss Moffat, here played by Louise Yeo. Louise has a real presence on stage. She moved through the different emotional states with astonishing dexterity, energy and conviction."
Rottingdean Drama Society
Rottingdean Drama Society also won three awards, for Mother Courage and her Children, including the Coffin Mew Award, which recognises outstanding achievement. Sam Bullen was named best supporting actor for his role as Peter the cook and Stephanie Gilbert won the award for excellence as the most promising newcomer for her role as Kattrin.
Jane said: "The excellent ensemble work permeated every aspect of the production and all the activities surrounding it, creating a real sense of a community event that was engaged with the past and the current political situation and that I believe the writer of this play would have totally supported."
Saints Theatre Group
Saints Theatre Group, a new company based at St Paul's in Worthing, won two awards for The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley, including best stage crew and best sound design for Ian Black and Dan Skelt.
Jane commended the 'sight responsive design', boldly configured in the round and using parts of the building within the set.
She added: "This was a lively production with some spirited playing and plenty of physicality from the talented cast."
Burgess Hill Theatre Club
Burgess Hill Theatre Club also won two awards, including best technical achievement for the steady rain that fell throughout the play and almost became a third character in the production,
A Steady Rain by Keith Huff. Ben Pritchard and Culann Smith were jointly awarded the best actor award for their roles in this two-hander.
Jane spoke of the fine acting, referencing Daniel Craig, who she directed at drama school, and said how impressed she was by the continuous downpour of real rain.
She added: "I admit at first I thought it was a bit tricksy. I realised this was a master stroke of design. The rain became like another character, a constant irritant racking up the tension."
Wick Theatre Company
Victoria Thomson won best supporting actress for her dual role, as Jean McCormack and Muriel Tate, in Plaza Suite for Wick Theatre Company.
Jane commented on her skill in playing two very contrasting roles 'with great conviction and amazing energy'.
The entire company of Hurstpierpoint Players won best costume design for Habeus Corpus by Alan Bennett.
Jane said this adult comedy was a really difficult play to stage and it demanded very skilful playing.
New Venture Theatre
Claire Lewis won best director for New Venture Theatre's production of Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon.
Jane said it felt very much of this moment and was a highly-accomplished production.