Joining the ranks of actors, playwrights and others who’ve staged protests, critics had their chance to have a public go over Arts Council England’s (ACE) controversial proposed funding cuts to 194 organisations, at the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards ceremony, held this afternoon at the Prince of Wales theatre (See Today’s Other News for Full Results).
The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer, chairman of the drama section which holds the awards, said that “it would be wrong for the Critics’ Circle to announce an official view” but, adding to the opinions expressed by individual critics in their corresponding publications, he declared the situation “a shambles” and hoped that many theatres – including the Bush, the Orange Tree, Exeter Northcott and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud “where I first cut my teeth as a critic” – would be reprieved at ACE’s national council meeting, which also took place today.
Following Spencer, and to shouts of agreement, the Evening Standard’s Nicholas de Jongh called for ACE “to be destroyed and put away”, Guardian critic (and What’s On Stage columnist) Michael Billington attacked “the deluded desk-wallahs at the Arts Council” and the Financial Times Ian Shuttleworth demanded that someone “bring me the beating heart of Peter Hewitt (ACE’s outgoing chief executive) on a platter”. All affected organisations will be informed this week, with an official announcement issued by the Council at 11.00am on Friday (See The Goss, 28 Jan 2008).
In addition to critics, the majority of Critics’ Circle winners - Anne-Marie Duff, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Rupert Goold, Polly Stenham, Leanne Jones and Charles Dance - were in attendance today, as were members of their various companies.
Amongst the acceptance speeches, Charles Dance caused a stir by effectively biting the hands that fed him. After collecting his Best Actor Award for Shadowlands, Dance pulled out a sheet of paper and disdainfully re-read a clutch of “sobering”, unflattering reviews from earlier in his career. Written by Robert Gore-Langton (formerly of the Daily Express), our own Michael Coveney (then of the Daily Mail) and Charles Spencer (stood next to Dance on the stage as the actor spoke), the historic notices dismissed Dance as “bland”, “dull”, “weak” and “undeserving” of his fame. The actor said that he had, in subsequent years, stopped reading reviews – though he understood that he and Shadowlands received very good ones.
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PHOTOS BY DAN WOOLLER FOR WHATSONSTAGE.COM.
OTHER CRITICS’ CIRCLE WINNERS’ REMARKS
Anne-Marie Duff, named Best Actress for her title performance in Saint Joan recalled “I knew that I would have to make many leaps of courage in order to serve (the play)” and said she was able to do so because of the “parachute” of safety provided by the rest of the male company, “the most beautiful gang of gentlemen”. Duff also admitted that she has “such a crush” on her Saint Joan director Marianne Elliott. In presenting the award, the Evening Standard Nicholas de Jongh declared Duff “one of the greatest actresses of our time”.
The prize for Best Shakespearean Performance was, for the first time, awarded jointly to Chiwetel Ejiofor for Othello at the Donmar Warehouse and Patrick Stewart for the Chichester Festival transfer of Macbeth. Ejiofor – who the Sunday Times’ John Peter said had given “the most profound performance” of the Moor since Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic in 1964 – said there were “still so many avenues to explore” in the play and that he was enjoying doing so with a group of actors (including Ewan McGregor as Iago and Kelly Reilly as Desdemona) who were “so exciting, so giving and such fun”.
Stewart, who takes Macbeth to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music next week, said he was “so proud to share” the award with Ejiofor and proud to “belong to a profession” that produces the quality of work currently being seen around town – “this is an extraordinary time in the life of our professional theatre”, Stewart marveled.
Best Director winner Rupert Goold explained that his “starting point” with Macbeth was simply to tell the story and “make it scary”. He caused his wife – Kate Fleetwood, who plays Stewart’s Lady Macbeth – to blush when he related an argument they’d had during the play’s Gielgud season when he turned up and tried to give notes after a long absence, including that Stewart had started “mugging it a little bit”. Goold ultimately bowed to Fleetwood’s first-hand experience on the production and today praised the “truculent” actress and all of the “18 phenomenal people at the coalface” in the acting company.
Before Most Promising Newcomer Leanne Jones started her thank-yous, she posed on stage and squealed for a photo snapped by her proud father in the second row. She thanked the creative team and producers of Hairspray for “having faith in someone who had maybe given up hope”. She remembered that, before winning the role, she “had started to think that maybe it wasn’t going to happen”. Instead, she was at today’s ceremony as living proof that “dreams really can come true”.
Slightly later, Leanne Jones was back on stage with choreographer Jerry Mitchell to accept the Best Musical certificate for Hairspray. Jones said she was going back to the Shaftesbury to share the award with the company and “have a big group hug”. The American said how happy that he – and the Broadway musical – was to be in London. “Thank you for embracing us.”
Producer Judith Dimant, accompanied by A Disappearing Number actors
Paul Bhattacharjee and Chetna Pandya, were on hand to collect the Best Play award on behalf of Complicite and director Simon McBurney, currently in Japan rehearsing the company’s new show. The Times’ Benedict Nightingale, presenting, described A Disappearing Number as “Complicite at its most adventurous … genuinely extending the horizons” of theatre. In response, Dimant confessed that the project, more than 11 years in development, was “ambitious beyond belief, such a hard show to make”. Bhattacharjee hailed McBurney as a “genius” and urged the audience to “treasure him”.
National Theatre associate director Tom Morris accepted the Best Designer award on behalf of War Horse’s Rae Smith and the Handspring Puppet Company (and its puppet designers Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones). Saying the accolade was a “truly fitting prize for great people”, Morris commended Smith as a “designer of extraordinary vision and unparalleled collaborative gifts” and the Handspring pair, who spent two-and-a-half years creating War Horse’s life-size equine creatures, “an absolute inspiration to all of us who worked on the show … giving life where life shouldn’t be possible, in a bundle of bamboo”.
Keeping it short and sweet, Most Promising Playwright Polly Stenham expressed her gratitude to the critics for “getting it” with her much-lauded debut play, That Face. Prior to it, “I’d never written anything properly before beyond an essay”.
And, finally, while echoing the subsidised sector’s concerns over Arts Council funding, Charles Dance also used his Best Actor speech to note that “it is also a very risky business putting on a straight play in the commercial West End”. He thanked Andrew Welch and Brian Eastman at Richmond Theatre Productions for taking the risk with Shadowlands, the production company’s first offering.
- by Terri Paddock