Last night’s 66th Evening Standard Theatre Awards event was a tearjerker. The poignant speech by Dame Vanessa Redgrave about her father. Jodie Comer was praised by Stephen Graham as “our kid f***ing smashed it.” Nica Burns, a producer and theatre owner, remarked, “We are bloody good at what we do.”
The nation’s oldest theatre awards, which were first presented in 1955, were reinstated following a pandemic-related break of two years. Lord Lebedev, the proprietor of the newspaper, sponsored the awards at the Ivy in West Street in collaboration with Garrard.
A list of winners that was not just stacked with A-level talent but also exceptionally young and diverse, demonstrated the strength of London theater’s comeback. For their outstanding performances in Cyrano de Bergerac and Prima Facie, both at the Harold Pinter Theatre, James McAvoy, 43, and Comer, 29, respectively, took home the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Both hail from Glasgow and Liverpool’s working classes.
McAvoy was filming in Italy and was unable to attend. However, Sheridan Smith, who served as the evening’s emcee and is due to make a comeback to the West End in a production of Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell, read out a message from him to everyone in attendance: “Drink something toxic and get your dance on.”
Star of Killing Eve Comer discussed how Prima Facie affected her both personally and professionally. She had only performed on stage once prior to her one-woman show on sexual assault and the law; the following year, she will bring Prima Facie to Broadway.
She accepted the trophy from her friend and mentor, Graham, and stated, “Winning this award means a lot. It’s probably the thing I am most proud of in my life.”
The Milton Shulman Award for Best Director, named after the late theatre and cinema critic for the Standard, was given to Lynette Linton, 32, for her National Theatre production of Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky. Since the directing category was founded in 1981, she is just the sixth woman and the first woman of colour to win. She stated, “I’m a little sensitive about it since it hasn’t really sank in. She paid respect to the early black theatre performers who had paved the way for her.
Her show’s cast members Samira Wiley, Giles Terera, and Ronke Adékoluejo won acting nominations, and the Bush Theatre, where she serves as artistic director, garnered four nominations total on the shortlist.
Three young black teens navigating friendship, adulthood, and gentrification on a London housing estate football pitch are the subjects of Tyrell Williams’ Red Pitch, which received an unprecedented nomination for Best Play and won the Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright.
Williams, 28, who still resides on the Aylesbury Estate, based the drama on his own recollections of playing football there. He declared, “To win this is an honour and fantastic for my career going forward.” Editor-in-chief of American Vogue, artistic director, and global content adviser Dame Anna Wintour presented the award in honour of her father.
Charles Wintour, a former editor of the Evening Standard, founded the Theatre Awards in 1955 while serving as the publication’s deputy editor.
Isobel McArthur, the Pride and Prejudice* (kind of) adapter, codirector, and star, received the Emerging Talent Award this year instead of an actor who often receives it. The show relocated from Glasgow to the Criterion, where it delighted audiences by telling Jane Austen’s story through the use of karaoke and the perspective of the servants. The 33-year-old McArthur, who previously trained and worked in Scotland, claims that it symbolises a move into something with more widespread recognition in the United Kingdom.
When theatre made a comeback, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club—originally starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley—became one of the most talked-about productions in the West End. The prize for Best Design went to Tom Scutt for its magnificent appearance. Scutt remarked, “I actually feel very fortunate and pleased to be able to accept it on behalf of everyone there. This level of cooperation, which you constantly aspire to but rarely achieve, has amazing power.
Both the Bush and the Young Vic enjoyed successful years. The so-called “sexy” Oklahoma!, which removed the cosier accretions from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical to reveal it as something intense, stark, and dark, was transferred from New York to the south London powerhouse.
The origins of Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s production date back 15 years, when Fish directed a production at NY’s Bard College for students. The London production, which has a cast that is a mix of British and Americans, won the Best Musical award this night, two months before it moves to the West End. The award for Best Musical Performance was won by Patrick Vaill, 36, who has played the ominous Jud Fry in every production of the show since 2007 and is the only surviving original cast member. He declared that it was beyond anyone’s reasonable expectation of life to be received by the crowd and the city in this manner.
The year’s best play was also performed at The Young Vic. In his book Best of Enemies, James Graham connects the demise of political commentary to William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s antagonistic coverage of the 1968 Presidential debates.
It was a given from the beginning, and the prize came on top of the production’s West End transfer’s five-star reviews. The 40-year-old Graham added, “I still have all the fears and imposter syndrome that any writer has, so it’s extremely good to be recognised.” In addition, he performed the great musical Tammy Faye this year, which is about televangelism in 1980s America, and he has recently provided TV fans with Sherwood and Quiz.
The special prizes granted by Lord Lebedev to honour two people’s contributions to London theatre brought a lively group of winners to a successful conclusion.
The first went to Dame Vanessa Redgrave, who had her acting debut in 1958 and appeared in My Fair Lady at the Coliseum at the age of 85, practically shortly after the lockdown ended. Dame Vanessa Redgrave, who was introduced by her daughter Joely Richardson, spoke passionately about the art and community of acting and paid tribute to her late father Sir Michael Redgrave.
Nica Burns, chief executive officer and co-owner of Nimax, which owns six West End Theatres and was the first organisation to reopen its venues after each relaxation of lockdown restrictions, received the second special prize. Burns, 68, also recently inaugurated the @sohoplace Theatre, the first purpose-built West End theatre in 50 years. She declared to the adoring gathering gathered in the private dining room of the Ivy, “Let’s admit it, we are damned good at what we do. “We amuse folks,”
“I am glad to celebrate the greatest of London theatre with the talented authors, actors, directors, and producers who brought the West End back to life,” Lord Lebedev exclaimed at the conclusion of a happy and occasionally rowdy evening. In addition, I’m happy to revive one of the paper’s biggest customs, which I have severely missed during the recent pandemic years.