In a year when the Olympics may well be emptying theatres, the Critics’ Circle’s theatre section yesterday joined forces once again for our annual celebration of the shows that actually filled them — and our columns — last year with champion performances that yet again prove the undoubted excellence of our vibrant theatrical culture.
I hosted the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, generously sponsored by Nyman Libson Paul, in my role as chairman of the Critics’ Circle, so I have to declare more than a passing interest in them, of course. But just as everyone’s now a critic thanks to the internet, so award ceremonies that lets the entire world vote for them has increased exponentially; by contrast, these are awards that actually mean something because they’re voted by critics whose job it really is to pass judgement on what they’ve seen.
In a strikingly youthful list of winners, we have several of the big stars of the future who are undoubtedly making waves already, like Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and Sheridan Smith, all of whom began their careers on the stage and even as they have moved into film and TV still like to return to it. The National Theatre, too, once again proved ground-breaking, winning the awards for both Best Play and Best Musical, while the Bush and Finborough, both in west London, demonstrated their key role in nurturing new talent.
There are only winners in the Critics’ Circle Awards; we do not engage in the protracted, competitive rounds of longlists, shortlists and nominations that set productions and actors against each other. These awards are voted independently from a secret ballot of the entire membership of the drama section of the Critics’ Circle, not as a result of the kind of discussions and horse-trading that mark out other ceremonies, so we only announce an overall winner in each category.
But as I’m in receipt of the voting forms, which are independently validated to draw the winners out of, I can share some of those who were named in each category.
The best new play award was won by Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors, but votes were also variously cast for another Bean play, The Heretic, Mike Bartlett’s 13, Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty, Gillian Slovo’s The Riots, The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells, Tiger Country by Nina Raine, Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, Dawn King’s Foxfinder, John Donnelly’s The Knowledge, Wastwater by Simon Stephens, David Eldridge’s The Knot of the Heart, The Acid Test by Anya Reiss, Jumpy by April de Angelis, debbie tucker green’s Truth and Reconciliation, Tim Price’s Salt Root and Roe, Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw, Nick Dear’s Frankenstein, David Lodge’s Secret Thoughts, and Roadkill by Steph Smith.
The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical (new or revival, and named in honour of the late, long-serving editor of The Stage) was won by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork for London Road, but also named were the revivals of Sweeney Todd at Chichester Festival Theatre, The Beggar’s Opera and Crazy for You (both at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park), fringe productions of Ragtime at the Landor and Parade at Southwark Playhouse, and the new West End musicals Backbeat, Ghost, Shrek and Betty Blue Eyes.
Benedict Cumberbatch won the award for Best Actor for his performances in the title role and the Creature in Frankenstein; also named were his Frankenstein co-star Jonny Lee Miller, James Corden, Tom Edden, Douglas Hodge, Adam James, Charles Edwards, Michael Sheen, Dominic West, Rupert Everett, Trevor Fox, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles, Harry Hadden-Paton, Jude Law, Tobias Menzies, James Earl Jones, Andrew Scott, Tim Piggott-Smith, Ben Daniels, Jack Gordon, Con O’Neill and Kevin Spacey.
Sheridan Smith won the award for Best Actress for her performance in Flare Path at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; also named were Ruth Wilson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mercy Ojelade, Samantha Spiro, Sian Brooke, Lesley Manville, Juliet Stevenson, Rosie Wyatt, Jessica Raine, Tamsin Greig, Anna Calder-Marshall, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, Lisa Dillon, Felicity Jones, Sandy McDade, Cush Jumbo and Margot Leicester.
The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance went to Eddie Redmayne, currently finishing a run in Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Others who got mentions were Charles Edwards, Susannah Fielding, Vinette Robinson, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Richard Clothier, Eve Best, Lars Eidinger, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Kevin Spacey and Lenny Henry.
Mike Leigh won the award for Best Director for his production of his own play Grief at the National. Others named were Rob Ashford, Dominic Cooke, Michael Grandage, Danny Boyle, Patrice Chereau, Trevor Nunn, Nicholas Hytner, Rufus Norris, Nina Raine, Michael Attenborough, Declan Donnellan, Jonathan Kent, Tamara Harvey, Katie Mitchell, David Thacker and Sam Mendes.
Mark Tildesley was named Best Designer for his work on Frankenstein at the National. Others mentioned were Paul Wills, Lizzie Clachan, Borkur Jonsson, Adam Cork, Bob Crowley, Jon Bausor, Giles Cadle and Dan Jones, Miriam Buther, Oliver Townsend, Paul Brown, Rae Smith, Ben Stone, Vicki Mortimer, Alison Chitty, Rob Howell, Bunny Christie, Soutra Gilmour, Christopher Oram and Andrew D Edwards, Tom Scutt, Judith Croft and Scott Pask.
Tom Wells was named most promising playwright for The Kitchen Sink, seen at the Bush. Also mentioned were Dawn King, Rachel De-Iahay, Vivienne Franzmann, Penelope Skinner, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Tim Price, Pasanna Puwanarajah and Sarah McDonald Hughes.
Finally, the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer (other than a playwright) was presented to director Blanche McIntyre for her productions of Accolade and Foxfinder, both seen at the Finborough. Others mentioned were actors Lucy Briggs-Owen, Kyle Soller, Phoebe Fox, Tom Rosenthal, Joseph Drake, Tom Byam Shaw, Alex Lawther, Robert Sheehan, Johnny Flynn, Ruby Benthall, Vinette Robinson, Joshua Mcguire, Audrey Brisson, Ryan Sampson and Matthew Tennyson, and directors Andrew Keates, Michael Strassen and the 1927 company.