This Tuesday, the Prince of Wales Theatre paused its regular scheduling of singing Mormons to host the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. This awards ceremony, now in its 30th year, honours the theatrical works best loved by critics: “free of any discussion or industry influence”. These are the works that truly impressed the very people who serve as the communicator between the actors, directors, and audience. It’s for this reason, and its informal atmosphere, that the ceremony is well-loved by the industry.
The ceremony could not begin without, addressing Mark Shenton’s departure from his role as chairman of the Drama section of the Critics’ Circle. Shelton’s career has seen him write for The Guardian, Playbill, and the Sunday Express, however his nine year tenure as chairman was reflected upon fondly. He now passes the baton on to Henry Hitchings and moves on to wonderful new pastures as President of The Critics’ Circle. A delightful speech came also from Paul Taiano, representing sponsor Nyman Libson Paul and a colourful yet hilarious speech was given by the ever-lively comedian Arthur Smith.
Once the awards ceremony was underway, it was clear which shows had wowed critics throughout the year, and it was no surprise that many were also loved by audiences. Big wins were achieved by The Inheritance: Kyle Soller won best actor, Stephen Daldry scooped up best director and Matthew Lopez won best new play. Unsurprisingly, the West End favourite Company also made big wins: Marianne Elliott was present to collect the award for Best Musical, and Bunny Christie won Best Designer for her incredible and dynamic work.
Other wins were made by Patsy Ferran, who took Best Actress for her role as Alma in Summer and Smoke. Recent RADA graduate Chris Walley won The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer for his role in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Most Promising Playwright was taken home by Natasha Gordon for Nine Night and the incredible Sophie Okenedo won Best Shakespearean Performance. Heart-warmingly, Neil McPherson won the Special Award for Services to Theatre thanks to his tireless work as artistic director of the Finborough Theatre.
Despite the goodbyes that were said, the Critics’ Circle Awards 2019 were jovial and intimate. The critics at the event there to present the awards to the winners were truly passionate about maintaining integrity, ensuring that only the best and most innovative works of theatre got honoured. It will certainly be exciting to watch the direction Henry Hitchings takes the Drama Section between now and the next ceremony.
Written by Letitia Jarrett