[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/82320?ns=guardian&pageName=The+Evening+Standard+theatre+awards+need+to+be+braver+%7C+Lyn+Gardner%3AArticle%3A1308993&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CWest+End%2CMusicals+%28Stage%29%2CStage%2CAwards+and+prizes+%28Culture%29%2CCulture+section&c6=Lyn+Gardner&c7=09-Nov-23&c8=1308993&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2Fblog%2FTheatre+blog[/img]Theatre award ceremonies always celebrate the individual â€“ isn't it time we recognised the collaborative efforts behind stage successes?
So, as expected from the shortlist, there are almost no real surprise winners at this year's Evening Standard Theatre Awards: there's Rachel Weisz getting best actress for her performance in Streetcar at the Donmar, and a special award for Sir Ian McKellen for his contribution to British theatre. (Few can boast of having played both Beckett and Widow Twankey in the West End).
The only time an eyebrow might be raised is at Lenny Henry's success in the best newcomer category. His triumph comes over really astonishing young performers such as Ruth Negga in Phèdre, Bel Pawley and Toby Rego in Tusk Tusk or Tom Sturridge in Punk Rock. It even comes over some of those terrific youngsters from Spring Awakening, a show that only if it had been less glossily and expensively over-produced, may still be running in the West End to provide a real alternative for young audiences who wouldn't go near Hello Dolly (winner of the best musical award).
While Henry's performance in Othello was brave and perfectly adequate, it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination outstanding â€“ raising the possibility that the gong is actually for being really game and a nice chap rather than for any real achievement. Elsewhere the awards go exactly where most people with an interest in theatre could predict: Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem winning best play and the best actor award for Mark Rylance, and Rupert Goold scooping the best director award for Enron. Bet we'll see both plays dominating the Olivier and Critic's Circle awards too.
Given the buoyancy of the West End, and the fact that it has really broken the stranglehold of musicals to play host to some quality work, it is perhaps a pity that this bravery hasn't been recognized by the Evening Standard. But it is a reflection of the strength of theatre at the moment in all areas, subsidised and commercial, visual and text-based, experimental and traditional, that there is so much good work to choose from. Dominic Cooke's Royal Court, for instance, deserves its four wins â€“ once which also includes Alia Bano winning the most promising playwright award for Shades.
That said, I do increasingly wonder whether this way of awarding the industry, which sees actors, designers, writers and directors competing against each other in specific categories, needs to be rethought. After all, Goold's Enron success was only possible because of Lucy Prebble's script contribution and some terrific performances â€“ particularly the one from Sam West. And yet, it's very unlikely to ever happen; we like to see success as an individual achievement not a collaborative affair and the envelope-opening tension, the cries of the winners and losers, is all part and parcel of a glamorous event like this.
Of course the Evening Standard and its award panel is always going to be rewarding a particular kind of theatre â€“ and a pretty narrow one at that â€“ because of the nature of the work that the panel sees. (Of those on the panel, only Susannah Clapp ventures beyond the well-beaten track, while it does seem a strange omission that the Standard's excellent number two, Fiona Mountford, isn't on the panel at all.)
In the circumstances, it's particularly gratifying to see something beyond the mainstream gain recognition with Mamoru Iriguchi winning the best design award for Cardboard Citizens' production of Mincemeat. It's a triumph of luck (and hard work) that Iriguchi was nominated at all; a show or a performer can't be a contender if the panel hasn't seen it. And in the case of these awards the sticking point remains the fact that by the nature of the judging system itself, great swathes of London work are overlooked and the winners seem all too predictable.
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Guardian: The Evening Standard theatre awards need to be braver | Lyn Gardner
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