The Donmar Warehouse brigade was once again out in force today as the theatre dominated another awards ceremony, with four big wins at the 20th annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, announced today (27 January 2009) in the Delfont Mackintosh Room at the West End’s Prince of Wales theatre (See Today’s Other News for full results).

Margaret Tyzack and Derek Jacobi were on hand to collect awards for Best Actress and Best Shakespearean Performance in The Chalk Garden and Twelfth Night, respectively, while their director - and Donmar artistic director – Michael Grandage picked up another Best Director prize for his work on The Chalk Garden and Ivanov.

Ivanov’s title star Kenneth Branagh was named Best Actor, but Branagh was absent due to film directing commitments in Los Angeles. When his Ivanov fellow and friend Kevin R McNally collected the award, he read a message from Branagh that, he jokily pretended, began with the words: “I don’t deserve this, please give it to Kevin…”

Other company members from the Donmar’s three Critics’ Circle Award-winning productions – including Penelope Wilton, William Gaunt, Ron Cook and Guy Henry were also on hand to applaud their peers.

Aside from Branagh, the only other notable absentee amongst the winners was David Tennant, who shared the Best Shakespearean Performance accolade with Jacobi and is currently filming the next Doctor Who series in Cardiff. Penny Downie, who played Gertrude in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, collected on his behalf as his “very proud mother from Elsinore”.



There were impressions aplenty at today’s Critics’ Circle Awards. After warm-up comedian Arthur Smith gave his Kate Winslet acceptance speech rendition, several of those presenting or collecting awards followed suit. Ella Smith delivered her version of Fat Pig author/director Neil LaBute, La Cage aux Folles director Terry Johnson did a nice Harvey Fierstein (who ordered him “not to mess with the fucking dialogue without my express permission”) and Time Out theatre editor Jane Edwardes effected a non-vocal impersonation of Derek Jacobi’s forced Malvolio grimace in Twelfth Night.

Other speech highlights included:

  • Actor-turned-author Alexi Kaye Campbell, named Most Promising Playwright for The Pride, said it was “lovely to be told you’re still promising at my age”, if a little “daunting” that he may now be expected to “get my act together” and churn out several more new plays. In closing his speech, he paid special thanks to his partner Dominic Cooke, who is also artistic director of the Royal Court, where The Pride premiered in the Upstairs theatre last year (it was submitted under a pseudonym). Addressing Cooke, Campbell said, “doing my play was a very very difficult choice and I want to thank you for being brave”. Today’s award is, he said, affirmation “that the brave choice was the right choice”.
  • Ella Smith, Most Promising Newcomer for Fat Pig, thanked her agent and reminded the audience that’s the person “to call if you want to give me a job”.
  • Best Designer Neil Murray hailed the “extraordinary”, “wonderful” and “entirely collaborative” Kneehigh theatre company and West End producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers who had “the completely crazy notion” to put Brief Encounter into a cinema on Haymarket.
  • When presenting the Best Director prize to Michael Grandage, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer started by apologising. “He comes and picks up this prize almost every year, and we manage to cock it up almost every year” – when Grandage won for 2005’s The Wild Duck at the Donmar, the Critics’ Circle mistakenly listed the production as The Wild Dick. Grandage checked this year’s certificate for Ivanov and The Chalk Garden and was gratified to note there were “no mistakes”. Spencer commended him on another “blinding year” and for making the “fantastically bold decision to go into the West End” with the year-long Donmar residency at Wyndham’s.
  • The prize for Best Shakespearean Performance was, for the second year in a row, awarded jointly; this time to David Tennant for Hamlet and Derek Jacobi for Twelfth Night. Hamlet co-star Penny Downie read a note from the absent Tennant, which referenced the problems caused by his disrupted London season due to a back operation: “I’d like to apologise to (understudy) Edward Bennett for all the grey hairs I caused him.” Tennant also said he was “gobsmacked” to share an award with Jacobi for whom, as a student, he’d waited for at the stage door to get an autograph after seeing the older actor in Richard II. Jacobi said he was “very surprised and greatly honoured” by today’s recognition.
  • When collecting Best Actress, another Donmar winner, The Chalk Garden’s Margaret Tyzack, observed the “golden rule” of receiving awards, that is the “3 Gs” - be grateful, be gracious and get off. She quickly thanked Michael Grandage, co-star Penelope Wilton and “oh everybody”, lastly her grandson who helped her learn her lines: “he didn’t think I was so hot but I’m glad you did”, she told critics.
  • As assorted out-of-costume Cagelles hooted and hollered, La Cage aux Folles director Terry Johnson accepted the award for Best Musical. Best known for writing and directing plays, Johnson observed that “the great thing” about turning to musicals “at this time in my life” is rediscovering the “complexity of collaboration” with all members of the creative team. He also said he appreciated learning about budgetary presumptions from Menier Chocolate Factory artistic director David Babani and how to turn a “modest hit into a big event” from West End producer Sonia Friedman (who further instructed him to “never forget to mention” her name “on an occasion like this”).
  • “My name’s Tracy and I am a man,” August: Osage County’s American author Tracy Letts clarified when taking to the stage to accept the award for Best New Play. He went on to recall how everyone in the Steppenwolf company from Chicago was much more excited about bringing the play to London than they were about the earlier Broadway transfer. And he advised the UK theatre community to fully appreciate the National Theatre: “from an outsider’s perspective, that place is a by-god treasure, a treasure”.

    - by Terri Paddock