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Critics quit Evening Standard Awards panel amid vote-rigging claims

Helen Mirren in The Audience. Photo: Johan Persson
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Theatre critics Charles Spencer, Susannah Clapp and Georgina Brown have quit the judging panel of the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

They have stepped down amid claims of vote-rigging, which reportedly led to Helen Mirren winning the best actress title at this year’s ceremony.

Reports have claimed that Mirren – who won the prize for her role as the Queen in The Audience – was not originally voted for as the clear winner.

One judge was able to transfer their vote after their first choice became redundant, because the actress they had originally selected was removed from the shortlist to be included in this year’s new category, best musical performance. This change of vote then led to Mirren winning the best actress prize.

A spokesman for the Evening Standard denied there had been any misconduct during this year’s voting process, adding that the critics had not given reasons for their departure.

He said: “The judging for the Evening Standard Theatre awards was conducted properly. The transferable vote is a perfectly legitimate and long-standing element of judging.

“One judge’s first choice in the category in question was a winner in a different category; therefore his second choice became his first vote. The result of the transferred vote, without a clear winner in the category, gave us our best actress.”

The judging panel for this year’s awards included Spencer, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, Clapp, a critic at the Observer, Brown, who works for the Mail on Sunday, and Libby Purves, who formerly wrote for The Times. It also featured the Evening Standard’s editor Sarah Sands, and its theatre critic Henry Hitchings, as well as Matt Wolf of the International New York Times.

Writing on the Telegraph’s website today, Spencer said that changes to the judging process in the last two years, which resulted in a secret ballot, had caused him concern.

He said his “jaw dropped” when he discovered Mirren had won at this year’s awards as she had not received as much support as other candidates during the judges’ conversations.

Spencer said: “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.”

Daily Mail reporter Baz Bamigboye and Paul Taylor, who writes for The Independent, will join as two new panel members for next year’s awards.

The Stage was unable to reach Spencer, Clapp and Brown for comment.


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