Awards themselves were a hot topic at today’s Critics' Circle Awards presentation, which took place at the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre. As guest speaker Arthur Smith took to the microphone, he applauded the Critics’ Circle Awards as being the “worst-dressed and least publicised of all the awards” and reminded everyone to switch ON their mobile phones, advising the audience that “this is quite a dull event so it’s a perfect opportunity to make a few calls and try out a few new ring tones. Is Richard Griffiths here?!”

He went on to announce his intention of launching his own “Smithy Awards”, with categories including Best Tantrum After a First Night, Fastest Roll-up by a Techie, Most Ludicrous Clapped-Out American TV Star to Appear in a Provincial Panto, The Steven Berkoff Award for Over-acting, and “the ever-popular” Least Promising Newcomer.

Smith also told an anecdote about holding a grudge against playwright Tom Stoppard, whose Rock 'n' Roll won two accolades, for Best Play and Best Actor for Rufus Sewell. He said: “About 15 years ago I saw Tom Stoppard in the National Theatre book shop, and I had just read an article he’d written that morning about smoking and I thought it was hilarious. I don’t normally do this but I went up to him and said ‘I thought that article was hilarious…’ and he wandered off and didn’t say anything. I held a grudge against him for about 15 years. And then I was at an opening of a play that his son, Ed Stoppard, was in a couple of years ago, and Tom Stoppard walked into the room. Except that this Tom Stoppard – the real Tom Stoppard - was a tall man.”

When director Trevor Nunn accepted the award for Best Play on behalf of Stoppard, he remarked “I wondered why Arthur came up to me that day in the National Theatre bookshop...!” Meanwhile, Rufus Sewell has come to the conclusion that the secret to good acting – for him, at least – is playing Czechoslovakian characters. He remarked that he won the 1992 award for Most Promising Newcomer at the Critics’ Circle Awards for James SaundersMaking It Better, in which Sewell played a Czechoslovakian student, followed up this year by another Czechoslovakian character, Jan. Sewell joked he regretted not having had a chance to chat to Trevor Nunn before the director had to leave in a hurry for his RSC rehearsals about the two of them collaborating on “Wenceslas the Musical”


Others also had their say on presenting and receiving today’s Critics’ Circle Awards. Amongst them:

  • Most Promising Playwright Nina Raine admitted to “almost stalking” critics when they came to review her play, Rabbit, which transferred to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios following its premiere at Islington’s Old Red Lion pub. One she picked out was’s own chief reviewer, Michael Coveney, who she said was “wearing shorts and sitting on the end of a row. I was worried about sight-lines.”

  • Best Shakespearean Performance Award winner Tamsin Greig – the first woman to win the award in its seven year history – thanked “you lovely, stupid, clever people” whom she said kept her down to earth. The actress, who won the accolade for her performance as Beatrice in the RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing, said she only read one review during the show’s run, and that was the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer’s, whose critique she read because her mother thought “his word was gospel.” Greig claimed she was dispirited to read Spencer’s comment that she was “not exactly beautiful; more Edwina Curry.” Spencer looked sheepish, and said “I’m sure I said a lot of nice things too!”

  • The Guardian’s Michael Billington presented the Most Promising newcomer Award to Connie Fisher, who he said was as believable as the Von Trapp children’s nanny as she was as a sexy wife – with the moment in the production she pulled a see-through nightie out of her case a particular hightlight, suggesting “a Maria who’s into a lot more than warm woollen mittens.” Fisher commented: “When I first joined a reality TV queue I think everyone thought I’d gone mad.” She went on to thank her fellow cast members and director Jeremy Sams, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, and her mum and her nan, without whom, she said “I wouldn’t be Maria.”

  • Fellow Most Promising newcomer Andrew Garfield also thanked his parents in a speech read by casting director Alastair Coomer: “Wow, I’m one lucky, lucky boy. This wouldn’t be possible without established professionals being daring and taking risks by giving young actors opportunities which leads me to thank and give lots of love to… Mum and Dad for supporting my profession, without whom I’d be lost… maybe… you never really know but it’s a nice thing to say about them.” He added: “Thank you for one of the best years of my life… it’s hugely exciting and humbling for me.”

  • In a speech read out by the National Theatre’s executive director Nick Starr, Tony Kushner, whose Caroline, or Change won the Best Musical Award, said: “Next time either of us anticipates opening a musical or a play or even a can of soup in New York, we will try to institute beforehand a transatlantic cultural exchange program by means of which you lot come over and fill in for the New York drama critics (or at least some of them, we get to pick which), while the New York drama critics we’ve selected will be sent... Somewhere else. Florida, perhaps. While you’re all in New York, London will, for a brief time, be devoid of drama critics, but during the necessary temporary cessation of all British theatrical production, maybe one or two American plays will make it to Broadway! Nick Hytner and Nick Starr and all the astounding people at the National moved mountains, endured and surmounted endless overseas complaining and confusion and made the translation of this American musical not only possible and successful in London, but as well a great source of joy for us and for George C. Wolfe, our genius director, collaborator and friend – and of course the National helped George assemble our passionate, dedicated, and truly brilliant cast. So in other words this has been a wonderful experience, and today you provide a perfect capper, and a great honour for us. It’s hugely helpful, and hugely encouraging, and again, and forever, we’re grateful.””

  • The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner praised Black Watch as being a play she would always remember, saying it was directed by John Tiffany with “flair and total precision.” Tiffany thanked all the critics who saw the play during its three week run in Edinburgh, and said he is looking forward to future success with the forthcoming tour of the production.

  • In accepting the award on Tom Stoppard’s behalf for Best Play for Rock 'n' Roll, the play’s director Trevor Nunn said Stoppard “didn’t write any of his inimitable one-liners for me to read out… so you have to put up with my speculation that Tom would have been ecstatic that he was at last a Royal Court writer. He would want to give his passionate thanks to everybody at the Royal Court where we all had such a memorably enjoyable time in spite of the daunting address and indeed the daunting 50th anniversary.” Nunn reminded the audience that Rock 'n' Roll is “still playing at the Duke of York’s, and there are some good seats available for certain midweek performances.”

    - by Caroline Ansdell