By Maryam Philpott
2015 has been another impressive year for the London stage and with a crop of ‘reviews of the year’ about to emerge, the EveningStandard once again pips everyone to the post by presenting its annual Theatre Awards months before anyone else.
Theatrical luminaries gathered at the Old Vic on Sunday to celebrate the 61st Evening Standard Awards, where nominees and guests were seated on a purpose-built dining room above the stalls for a pre-dinner sponsored by the Ivy. Taking a little longer than anticipated to sate the hunger of the West End’s finest, the journalists and students were eventually admitted to the circles and the ceremony could finally begin.
Naturally it was a night of tears for many, particularly Joely Richardson who choked back the emotion as she and Ralph Fiennes presented the Editor’s Award for lifetime achievement to her mother Vanessa Redgrave. Receiving a huge standing ovation, Redgrave paid tribute to her “brothers and sisters of the theatre” and the joy of being part of a profession that reflects “the world that has been” as well as “the world to come”.
It was a big night for Hollywood stars as popular choices James McAvoy and Nicole Kidman took home the best actor and actress awards, emphasising the continued draw of the London stage even for those with reputable film careers. McAvoy, who starred in Jamie Lloyd’s superb revival of The Ruling Class at the start of the year, lost out at the 2015 Oliviers to Mark Strong, but here beat off strong competition from Ralph Fiennes (Man and Superman), Kenneth Cranham (The Father) and Simon Russell Beale (Temple).
McAvoy, his shaved head reminding us of his film star status having spent the summer filming the next X-Men instalment, was clearly moved by Redgrave’s tribute to her theatre family and went to on to thank director Jamie Lloyd, his “ninja” crew and his wife, Anne-Marie Duff whose rôle in Husbands and Sons may well be nominated next year. Kidman too paid a tearful tribute to her scientist father who had been an inspiration for her rôle as Rosalind Franklin in Photograph 51, and relished the “power of connecting with the audience” after 17 years in film as well as “the privilege and honour of being on the London stage.”
There were popular wins too for Gemma Arterton for Newcomer in a Musical for Made in Dagenham, who talked about not being allowed cheese, cigarettes or coffee during the run, as well as another rousing ovation for Gypsy star Imelda Staunton who won Best Musical Performance and treated the auditorium to a rendition of Everything’s Coming Up Roses. An excited Killian Donnelly collected the Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical with his colleagues from Kinky Boots, which seemed very fitting given its greater popularity with theatre-goers than critics while best play went to an absent Stephen Adly Guirgis for The MotherF**ker with the Hat. Pixie Lott even performed Moon River from her forthcoming rôle in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
This was a very democratic awards ceremony recognising shows not just from the powerhouses of the West End and National Theatre, but also the edgier venues such as the Almeida, Trafalgar Studios and Royal Court, the latter picking up a Most Promising Playwright for Molly Davies who wrote God Bless the Child and for Anna Fleischle winning Best Design for Hangmen,which transfers to the Wyndham’s in December. Over at the Almeida, Robert Icke won the Best Director Award for Oresteia,which also transferred to the Trafalgar Studios. Very much off-West End, the Beyond Theatre Award presented by Salma Hayek went to the touring Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition that took the V&A by storm for several months earlier this year leading to 24-hour openings to cope with demand.
Finally, Stephen Sondheim (main image – above) received the Lebedev Award presented to him by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan (who managed to forget his lines!) and gave short but modest thanks for the honour. And with that it was all over and host Rob Brydon sent everyone on their way having used up his best joke at the start of the evening by praising the producers of Elf! For trying to attract new audiences by setting ticket prices at a level that only “premier league footballers could afford” and with a large number of students in the circle it was a popular jibe.
Yet one of the interesting aspects of award ceremonies like this is the range of experience it attracts all coming together to celebrate excellence in London’s theatre. And in this room there were those hoping to break into the profession, well-known faces from TV and film including Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Jessica Brown Findlay and Gillian Anderson, as well as up-and-coming young actors like Luke Thompson, Gemma Chan and Jeremy Irvine, sitting alongside heavyweights like Jeremy Irons and Michael Grandage. As Nicole Kidman said about her own cast members “we live and die together, each night, every performance” and that theatrical solidarity was the clear winner at the 2015 Evening Standard Theatre Awards.