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Mark Shenton’s week: Awards, awards, awards

Jane Harrison and Chris Hocking from ArtsEd. Photo: Alex Brenner Jane Harrison from ArtsEd and Robert Delamere from Digital Theatre. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Last week was a serious week for theatre awards, with the presentation last Tuesday of the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards and last Friday of The Stage Awards. I’m closely involved in both: in the first, I vote in the ballot and, as chairman, host the ceremony itself; in the second, I am part of the judging committee.

I’m particularly happy about a couple of the results

I’m particularly happy about a couple of the results, and I should stress that I applied no special influence. I was, for instance, delighted Bend It Like Beckham won for best musical, but the Critics’ Circle Awards are decided by a free vote of its members, with no haggling or horse-trading. Notably, Evening Standard theatre critic Henry Hitchings was one of those who voted for it (and presented the prize in an eloquent speech, without notes) when his own paper’s London Evening Standard Theatre Awards had awarded the prize (via public vote) to Kinky Boots.

At The Stage Awards, the school of the year prize was awarded to Arts Educational Schools London, where I have been a part-time teacher for the past four years, so I was excluded from voting in this category, though of course I agree with the result. ArtsEd has had another remarkable year – not just because one of its third-year acting students, Juma Sharkah, was nominated for an Olivier Award, but also that Trevor Nunn came to the school to direct her colleagues in one of their final-year shows, Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the few Shakespeares he’d never directed before. ArtsEd alumni continue to perform, in every sense. Out of 45 or so students who graduated last year, I reckon that — six months on — I have now seen at least 30 of them working professionally.

Of course ArtsEd is not the only game in town — continuing the awards theme, last Monday saw the launch of The Oliviers 40th anniversary year with an Oliviers in Concert evening at the Royal Festival Hall, which I also reviewed. I didn’t even have room to mention the 100-strong choir in the show, who came from GSA and lent a stellar evening of established West End stars a youthful punch.

But it’s not all glamour; the theatre is also about grit, and last week the panel for the annual Off West End Theatre Awards, of which I am also a part, convened to decide this year’s shortlist and winners (the results will be announced online on February 28). Alone among all the awards ceremonies, the Offies acknowledges shows, performances and creative contributions at places such as the Southwark Playhouse (which came up repeatedly in the judging conversations this year), the Old Red Lion, the Orange Tree, Soho Theatre, Park Theatre, Theatre503, the Print Room, the Finborough, the Gate, the Union Theatre, the Landor, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, the Yard and the Hope. Bravo to them all.

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