On Broadway, the entire theatrical year is geared towards one event and one event only: the annual presentation every June of the Antoinette Perry Awards, or the Tonys, to give them their more colloquial name. Even though there are myriad satellite award ceremonies in the preceding weeks, the Tonys have come to define what’s known as the “season” in New York: from the cut-off date for eligibility for one year’s awards (usually in early May) to that for the next.

In London, where we more typically define things by the calendar year, there is no equivalent to this “season”. Our awards presentations tend to follow suit. Allowing for January to implement the various voting procedures by which winners are decided, three of the major ones are hitting the headlines this month.

We round up the four major accolades – including Whatsonstage.com’s own Theatregoers' Choice Awards – to look at what, who, when, where, how and why each matters. There are also theatrical nods contained in the annual award ceremonies presented by the Variety Club of Great Britain, the South Bank Show and Time Out magazine.


Who: The longest established of all the theatrical prize-givings, now in its 51st year, presented by London’s only weekday evening paper.
When: Always well ahead of the rest of the pack, the Standard winners for the 2005 theatre year were announced on 28 November.
Where: An invitation-only ceremony, held over a lavish lunch, at the Savoy Hotel.
How: A small voting panel of professional critics, led by the Standard’s own hard-to-please Nicholas de Jongh, determines the choices during an often heated lunchtime’s discussion. Contenders are not restricted to the West End. This year’s Outstanding Newcomer, for instance, was the 150-seat Southwark venue, the Menier Chocolate Factory (See News, 28 Nov 2005).
Why it matters: The prize that matters most here is Most Promising Playwright, since it comes with a £30,000 cheque that can help subsidise the winner’s all-important next play.


Who: Similar to the Evening Standard, these awards are decided exclusively by critics, albeit a much wider pool of them – the ranks of the Critics’ Circle’s drama section, the professional association of which there are over 80 members. Members are invited to cast a single vote each in the designated categories, with any productions seen anywhere in the UK (though there’s a heavy London bias) in the previous year eligible for consideration.
When: Voting forms are sent out in December and returned by the beginning of January. A ceremony will be held on 31 January 2006 to announce this year’s results.
Where: By invitation only at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
How: When the votes are collated, the winners are simply those who have received more mentions than anyone else. No shortlists are published.
Why it matters: These were the first awards to recognise the importance of giving separate awards promising playwrights and other newcomers, and to have a separate award for Best Shakespearean Performance.


Who: From the choice of a select few who are paid for their views (and get free tickets as a result) to the choices of the audience who actually pay to go to the theatre, our Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Awards – now in their sixth year – collect public contributions for both its nominees and eventual winners.
When: Nominations are solicited throughout November, with all productions opened between 1 December the previous year and 30 November eligible for consideration. From this emerges a shortlist that the public can then vote on again in December and January, before the winners are announced online on Whatsonstage.com – this year the announcement will take place on 31 January, simultaneously with the live Critics’ Circle ceremony, which should make for some interesting direct comparisons.
Where: Unlike all other awards, a party – to which all key participants in the year’s theatre are invited – is held to announce nominees rather than winners. This year’s star-studded launch lunch took place at Planet Hollywood on 30 November 2005 (See News, 1 Dec 2005).
How: It all happens online! The process is strictly monitored to avoid “multiple vote” cheating. Over 10,000 theatregoers take part every year. (Click here to vote in this year’s awards!)
Why it matters: In the words of The ProducersNathan Lane, accepting his award for 2004’s Best Actor in a Musical, “When I heard about it, I thought ‘wow!’. I love that it’s the audience voting. Those are the people you’re trying to reach so it means everything to know you’ve succeeded.”


Who: Set up and administered by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the professional body of West End producers and affiliate members, this in-house industry awards celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Originally less-than-graciously called the SWET Awards (after the trade body’s then name, the Society of West End Theatres), the awards were rechristened in 1984 in honour of England’s most celebrated stage actor. The Oliviers are considered the most prestigious of the various awards, the UK’s equivalent of the Tonys.
When: This year’s winners are announced on 26 February 2006.
Where: An invitation-only gala evening at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
How: There are four separate judging panels for theatre, opera, dance and the work of affiliate member theatres. The theatre panel comprises five “professional” panellists and eight specially selected members of the public who apply for the task and are given a year’s free theatregoing in return for their commitment to either plays or musicals. Any new production in the previous year in a SOLT-represented theatre is eligible, provided it’s proposed and seconded by members of the Society. Once proposed, the relevant panel sees the production. For the theatre categories, nominations are decided by the panel and a postal ballot of Society members. For affiliate, opera and dance fields, panels alone draw up nominations. Winners are then decided by the respective panels via secret ballot.
Why it matters: BBC Two used to broadcast the Oliviers. Though they haven’t been televised for the past three years, they remain an important event for the industry to celebrate its own achievements.

Taken altogether, do theatre awards mean anything? Though it’s difficult to gauge an economic benefit – and there’s none, of course, if the winning show has already closed, which is very often the case – awards do provide a marketing opportunity to draw the public in to see lauded performances or productions. And any attention that the various awards focus on the theatre can only be a good thing. For the winners, there’s no price for the feelgood factor they induce either.

Voting continues in Whatsonstage.com's 2005/6 Theatregoers' Choice Awards
until the end of the month. Winners are announced on 31 January 2006.