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National Theatre dominates 2011 Critics’ Circle Awards

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The National Theatre has won more than half of the prizes on offer at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards 2011.

For the past two years, the Royal Court has led the winners’ lists at these awards but the venue was not recognised in any category this year. Meanwhile, there was only one West End win – for Sheridan Smith for her performance in Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

The National picked up five gongs: best director for Mike Leigh, best musical for London Road, best actor for Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein, best designer for Mark Tildesley for Frankenstein and best new play for Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors. Bean previously won the 2006 best new play award for Harvest.

Bean said: “I respect these awards hugely because of the way they are voted for and also for the ceremony which is ‘winners only’ – there are no nominees – and if you have ever been a nominee at an awards ceremony and not won, you will understand why I think it is a really good system.

“I think the critics have a genuine role in the industry. They are endlessly annoying, of course, because they are, among other things, unpredictable, disloyal – they are like lovers who play away. But I think they are essential to the industry and can do an educational role which is important.”

At the Critics’ Circle, there is no judging panel per se – each member of the drama section votes independently “free of any discussion or industry influence”.

Eddie Redmayne won the John and Wendy Trewin Award for best Shakespearean performance for his Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Redmayne was previously awarded the most promising newcomer prize by the Critics’ Circle.

Redmayne, who had not appeared in a Shakespeare play since his first professional performance in Twelfth Night alongside Mark Rylance, said he took on the part of Richard II “with great excitement and in trepidation”.

He added: “All the other plays that I have done have been generally new plays and I realised that, subconsciously, I perhaps didn’t want to be compared to other people.

“My New Year’s resolution is to stop reading reviews. The difference with film and TV is that if you do a piece, then it’s nine months later and the thing is reviewed and there is nothing you can do about it. The problem with theatre is there is something you can do about it, so if you open your ears to everyone’s opinion, you are never going to please everyone.”

Redmayne also said he would love to work with Richard II director Michael Grandage again, although there are no plans at present.

Mark Shenton, chair of the Critics’ Circle drama section and Stage reviewer, said that the awards were an appropriate moment to celebrate the success of British theatre, especially with the Olympics ahead in 2012.

He said: “In a year when the Olympics may well be emptying theatres, it’s great to be celebrating the shows and performances that actually filled theatres last year.

“As award ceremonies have increased exponentially with the rise of the internet that lets the entire world vote for them, not just those who have actually seen the shows, these are awards that actually mean something because they’re voted by critics whose job it is to pass judgement on what they’ve seen.”

The awards were presented at a ceremony at the Prince of Wales Theatre in association with Nyman Libson Paul Chartered Accountants.

The Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards 2011 in full are:

Best new play: One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean (Lyttelton, National Theatre)

The Peter Hepple Award for best musical (new or revival): London Road (Cottesloe, National Theatre)

Best actor: Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein (Olivier, National Theatre)

Best actress: Sheridan Smith in Flare Path (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for best Shakespearean performance: Eddie Redmayne in Richard II (Donmar Warehouse)

Best director: Mike Leigh for Grief (Cottesloe, National Theatre)

Best designer: Mark Tildesley for Frankenstein (Olivier, National Theatre)

Most promising playwright: Tom Wells for The Kitchen Sink (Bush Theatre)

The Jack Tinker Award for most promising newcomer (other than a playwright): Blanche McIntyre for Accolade and Foxfinder (Finborough Theatre)

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