The week ahead brings us right into the thick of the theatre awards season, though of course the cycle lasts a lot longer than a week. We’ve already had the heavily disputed Evening Standard Theatre Awards, which culminated in the resignation of three of its judges after the ceremony, as I wrote here.
One of them Charles Spencer enunciated his reasons in a column in the Daily Telegraph last month:
By and large the results this year struck me as fair but with one glaring exception. There is no way of knowing for sure, of course, as the winners emerged from a secret ballot, but my impression from the discussions was that the strongest support for best actress was for Linda Bassett for her beautiful and very funny performance in Arnold Wesker’s Roots at the Donmar and Lesley Manville for her superb and harrowing portrayal of Mrs Alving in Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida. But the award went to the starrier Helen Mirren for her performance as The Queen in The Audience who in my memory figured but briefly in our discussions. I have no way of knowing whether she received support from other judges, as the voting was secret. But my jaw dropped when Mirren received the prize, fine though her performance was.
At lunchtime tomorrow, I’ll be hosting this year’s Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards in my role of chairman of the drama section, and Charlie will happily be presenting the best actress award. It turned out, according to the Standard, that there was a dead heat over the winner of their own award – which led to the Standard’s own critic Henry Hitchings revisiting his own vote.
As it happens, we have a dead heat at the Critics’ Circle Awards, too, in one category – but rather than revisiting any votes, we’re simply awarding two prizes in the same category. You’ll find out tomorrow which one.
Yesterday the shortlist was announced for this year’s Offies Awards, which recognises another vibrant but more unsung sector: the ever-burgeoning London fringe. I’m part of the judging panel for this, too, and of course it is impossible for the judges to get to everything. This year, some 319 shows were assessed by a team of 41 assessors, who reported their discoveries and recommendations into us – with a separate team of “super-assessors” then despatched to check out the ones that were disputed or particularly endorsed. But between us and assessor recommendations, a consensus eventually emerged to choose three finalists for each category (expanded to four for the acting categories). Winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 2.
And on Friday, The Stage Awards are being presented as part of the paper’s New Year Party. I was on the judging panel for this again, and I can officially report that our deliberations were very amicable. These awards go beyond the usual candidates to honour fringe theatre and unsung heroes, too, as well as our candidates for London and regional theatre of the year, producer of the year and school of the year.
Intriguingly, yesterday’s Sunday Times offered it’s own list of Britain’s 500 most influential people, from politicians and company chairmen to PRs, architects and health care specialists, with a goodly number of arts folk also represented from TV, film and theatre. There weren’t too many surprises – like the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times is drawn to celebrity, but it is also intriguing to see the spillover from other categories that also qualify for theatre, or indeed began in it. Among the film listings, for instance, Kenneth Branagh, Danny Boyle, Emma Thompson, Sam Mendes, Carey Mulligan and Peter Morgan are all represented. Thompson may not have done theatre for a while, but she began there in the original cast of Me and My Girl.
And amongst film producers listed, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan are also partners in the long-running stage adaptation of Billy Elliot, while Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson – half-siblings and partners in the Bond franchise – increasingly dabble in theatre, with Once and Strangers on a Train currently in the West End.
And from the TV listings, Damian Lewis, Julian Fellowes, Olivia Colman, James Corden, Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery all have a stage pedigree, while listed for their charity work, Elton John, Lenny Henry and Stephen Fry (currently to be seen on Broadway in Twelfth Night) also do.
But it is the specific theatre listing that is itself the most intriguing. While The Stage 100 limits itself to those who have been active over the previous year, the Sunday Times includes Tom Stoppard (who hasn’t had a new play produced since Rock ‘n’ Roll in 2006), but omits Alan Bennett (whose People was premiered in late 2012 at the National and toured last year) and the ever-prolific Alan Ayckbourn. There are plenty of other serious omissions – just from The Stage’s Top 20 alone, there’s no Bill Kenwright (who surely could have qualified under sport, too, as owner of Everton), Dominic Dromgoole, Daniel Evans, Nick Thomas, Jonathan Church, David Lan, Michael McCabe or Jamie Lloyd.
But, the most startling of all is the fact that they’ve left out our number one choice – for the 5th year running – of Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire, joint CEO’s of the biggest theatre operator in the country.