The public votes for stars

David Walliams in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: Johan Persson
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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I wasn't at the Whatsonstage Awards last night – I'd gone to Hackney Empire to catch up with the Union Theatre's transfer of its production of HMS Pinafore instead.

That show was an award winner if ever there was one, but wasn't actually nominated for a Whatsonstage Award in any category.

That's the problem with all awards ceremonies – not all the right people are in the running, let alone in the winning. But the Whatsonstage Awards throw up more anomalies than usual, since they're based not so much on sheer quality as pure popularity. As both nominations and winners are voted for by the public – whether or not they've actually seen the shows – you get an inevitable run of the famous, offset by a few quirkier nominations.

So it's hardly surprising to find Helen Mirren leading the charge in the best actress category – one she also won in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, but more controversially there as the several of the judges asserted that none of them had actually voted for her, and three of them resigned after she won. (Neither Lesley Manville nor Linda Bassett – whom Charles Spencer thought had been the frontrunners for the Standard Award – were even nominated for the Whatsonstage Award).

But throughout the Whatsonstage winners list, it's even more striking how many celebrity wins there are over the less well-known candidates: Daniel Radcliffe, David Walliams, Rupert Grint and Barry Humphries all took awards, instead of the likes of Charles Edwards, Daniel Mays, Kyle Soller or Richard McCabe (who won the Olivier Award last year for the same role) in the supporting actor in a play category won by Walliams.

Again, Grint's win as London newcomer of the year saw him leading the field with 50.3% of the overall vote, with the other four candidates sharing the other half the votes between them.

Some categories were a much closer call. Michael Grandage took the best director award for his season at the Noel Coward with 21% of the vote, against 19.7% by each of John Tiffany, Maria Friedman and Nicholas Hytner, and 19.9% for Jamie Lloyd.

The awards were held at the Prince of Wales Theatre, currently home of The Book of Mormon, so it was at least not just unsurprising but also appropriate that it took the best musical award – though the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards, that I hosted in January, also take place at the Prince of Wales, and didn't win that category at all (the critics gave it to The Scottsboro Boys instead).

It was nice to see the double win for Regent's Park in both revival categories – for best play revival (To Kill a Mockingbird, returning this summer prior to a national tour) and best musical revival (The Sound of Music); and also good to see at least one left-field candidate, The Play that Goes Wrong (that transferred from the fringe Old Red Lion to Trafalgar 2, and is now on a national tour) take the best new comedy over entries that included the West End's Perfect Nonsense and Barking in Essex.

I'm glad that Once got recognised, too, though puzzled by its win for best original music, since of course the music wasn't original to the theatre but was originally written for the film that preceded it. (The score was ruled out of the running for the 2012 Tony Awards on those grounds).

But there was also a keener absence from the awards than there have ever been: original staffer and founder of the awards Terri Paddock, who presided over the site for nearly 17 years, but who was dismissed by the site's new US-based owners Theatermania.com in December, as The Stage reported here at the time. Terri deserves an award all of her own for the passion she brought to the site and turning these awards into a force to be reckoned with.