Portillo & De Jongh Clash as Winners Thank Critics
Date: 3 February 2004
The ceremony for the 15th annual Critics Circle Awards, held this afternoon at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, contained more than the usual amount of shocks and surprises (See Today’s Other News for full list of winners).
Former Conservative MP Michael Portillo (pictured), who’s recently been made theatre critic at the New Statesman magazine (See The Goss, 19 Jan 2004), gave an opening speech in which he confessed that his appointment was “very amusing” even to him and that he felt a “terrible fraud” because of his lack of experience.
That admission, however, was not the controversial bit. Praising the “extraordinary talent” amongst actors, writers, directors and other creatives, Portillo went on to “pay tribute to the importance of theatre. In this country, even before the free press, the theatre has always symbolised freedom of expression, freedom of speech, the right to be critical and satirise those in power…. It remains one of the signs by which people outside the UK know that we are a free society.”
Coming on a few moments later to present the award for Best Designer to Mourning Becomes Electra’s Bob Crowley, Nicholas de Jongh, the outspoken Evening Standard critic and author of the book on stage censorship Politics, Prudery & Perversions, didn’t hesitate in denouncing Portillo’s comments as the most ridiculous ‘drivel’ he’d ever heard.
“We have just lived through a century of suppression and repression of the theatre that only ended in 1968,” De Jongh railed, to a smattering of applause, which was silenced by one angry voice in the audience shouting out in response, “this is not the time to speak such rubbish!”
CRITICS’ CIRCLE WINNERS’ REMARKS
Winners, of course, also got to have their say on receiving their various awards. Amongst them:
Lisa Dillon, winner of Most Promising Newcomer for Iphigenia at Sheffield Crucible and The Master Builder in the West End, singled out her Ibsen co-star Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart, who accompanied her to the ceremony, “for having such faith in me”.
Lucy Prebble, winner of Most Promising Playwright for The Sugar Syndrome at the Royal Court Upstairs, revealed that, on her press night, a friend advised her, a la Picasso, that “’Critics should mean as much to artists as ornithologists mean to birds’”, but then, she said, “I read the (rave) reviews and thought, no, these people are geniuses!” When writing The Sugar Syndrome, Prebble was employed during the day at the National Theatre, working as PA to artistic director Nicholas Hytner. She left there last week in order to concentrate on her next play, but thanked her former colleagues for giving her time off to write and “for being so inspiring. I hope I do you justice.”
The more seasoned playwright Michael Frayn, whose Democracy won Best New Play, said the general acclaim for the drama about West German politics “pleased” but also rather “surprised” and “disconcerted” him since, when asked what his new play was about while writing it, “most people fell asleep before I got to the end of the first sentence.”
Following the Portillo-De Jongh outburst, Best Designer Bob Crowley diffused the situation with the jest: “Talk about meeting your nemesis.” As for the award and Mourning Becomes Electra, he said: “This production was 25 years in gestation for me. I first read the play at drama school and fell in love with it then. Thank God I got it right.” Howard Davies, who won the Best Director award for the same production, also praised O’Neill’s American epic as “an extremely daunting and very very provocative play.”
Greg Hicks, who won the award for Best Shakespearean Performance for Coriolanus, confessed that, unlike many actors, he does read everything the critics write. His favourite critical ‘accolade’ was the conclusion “what a peculiar actor this is”. “Over the years, I really have doubted whether anyone would ever like my style of behaving on stage,” Hicks said. “I know I’m an acquired taste. And this year, it seems I’m finally in fashion.” The actor has also been nominated for an Olivier award for his performance in the RSC production (See News, 15 Jan 2004).
Michael Sheen, who followed his Evening Standard Award up with another Best Actor win for Caligula (See News, 24 Nov 2003), not only confessed to reading the critics but that “it was a critic (the late Kenneth Tynan) that made me want to act in the first place”. Sheen said, that, as a child, reading Tynan’s reviews of Laurence Olivier’s performances “lit me up and made me want to be a part of theatre”. He went on to praise theatrical criticism as “a truly noble profession”.
When Jerry Springer – The Opera was announced as the Best Musical winner, members of the show’s company joined Mail on Sunday critic Georgina Brown in loudly singing a refrain of “This Is My Jerry Springer Moment”, followed by chants of “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry”. Receiving the award with his co-writer and director Stewart Lee, the show’s visibly rattled composer Richard Thomas said he was unaccustomed to making acceptance speeches and had “really fucked up the last one” at November’s Evening Standard awards. “Before this, I was just a jingle monkey in a little box so now I feel like I’m in a parallel universe.” He also thanked the critics for getting behind Jerry Springer in its genesis from the Battersea Arts Centre to the National and now on to the West End. “Without the critics’ support, the show would have sunk ages ago, because Jerry Springer as an opera was never an easy one to sell.”
Eve Best was not available to accept her award, for Best Actress for Mourning Becomes Electra, due to filming commitments. The actress first came to the attention of the Critics’ Circle five years ago, playing opposite Jude Law in ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, for which she went on to win the 2000 award for Most Promising Newcomer.
- by Terri Paddock
Our own 2004 Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Theatre Awards were also announced today (See Today’s Other News). To view the full list of those winners & nominees, click here.
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