The Donmar Warehouse provided screen star wattage at today’s 21st annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, with Rachel Weisz and Jude Law both on hand in the Delfont Room at the West End’s Prince of Wales theatre to collect gongs for their performances in Donmar productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Hamlet respectively (See Today’s Other News for full results).

Weisz - who was ushered up to podium first, to accept the Best Actress award, as she then had to dash off to Grosvenor House for the last-ever South Bank Show Awards, where Streetcar was presented with another prize today (See Today’s Other News) - probably summed up the uneasy feeling of many of the awards recipients when she said the fact that “the London critics are the toughest and most discerning in the world”, which is why the recognition was so meaningful.

Jerusalem author Jez Butterworth, when collecting the award for Best New Play, also had a few good-natured swipes at the critics, delighting in the fact that they have “a circle” before mischievously declaring, “I just found that you all live together... I thought you lived separately, with your mums.”

In addition to Best Actor for Jerusalem, Mark Rylance surely won the award for most bizarre acceptance speech, with a long fisherman's tale (identified by a WOS reader, below, as a poem by Louis Jenkins called "Nice Fish"), presumably as a comment about the perceived value of trophies, while Punk Rock’s Most Promising Newcomer Tom Sturridge raised smiles by thanking co-producers the Lyric Hammersmith and the Royal Exchange, Manchester because “they’re good buildings ... morally as well as architecturally”.



Today’s event was introduced by comedian Arthur Smith (a popular Critics’ Circle Awards perennial, with a new set of naughty jokes) and hosted by Mark Shenton, chair of the Critics’ Circle Drama section. Other speech highlights from the winners included:

  • In her introduction for Best Shakespearean Performance, Metro critic Claire Allfree said “if you want to win (this award), it’s a good idea to play Hamlet” (amongst previous Hamlet winners was David Tennant just last year) but noted that this year’s winner Jude Law had “found his own distinct pathway” in the role, despite following so close on the heels of “Doctor Who”. Law said: “Thank you to the Critics’ Circle and everyone. This came as a huge surprise and means an incredible amount to me. Mostly also, thank you for giving me the opportunity to mention the Donmar - Anne (McNulty), James (Bierman) and everyone there that put this fantastic season together, I was so proud to be a part of it. To Christopher (Oram) and Neil (Austin), the whole team, who set this wonderful world for me to play in, and the fantastic company who supported me every night, and who I miss terribly, and most especially Michael Grandage, my director, my inspiration and who became a great friend. I thank you very, very much.”
  • In addition to commenting on critics, when collecting Best Actress for A Streetcar Named Desire, Rachel Weisz also thanked Michael Grandage, Anne, James, Christopher and all at the Donmar: “They’re just the most fantastic theatre. It’s like being part of a family when you’re there, and it’s just a wonderful place to go to work and be creative and have a company.” She recalled Streetcar as “a really thrilling, exhilarating experience” and said “I hope I get to come back to the London stage sometime soon”.
  • Jerusalem’s Best Actor Mark Rylance lived up to presenter and outgoing Times’ critic Benedict Nightingale’s description as “not just a completely excellent person but ... a mad genius” by delivering an acceptance speech that defies summary or explanation. So rather than try, here it is in full: “When he finally landed the fish, it seemed so strange, so unlike the other fishes he caught. So much bigger, more silvery, but more important, he actually thought the fish might talk to him, and grant his wishes if he returned it to the water. But the fish said nothing, made no pleas, gave no promises. His fishing partner said, ‘nice fish, you ought to have it mounted.’ Other people who saw it said the same thing, ‘nice fish.’ So he took it to the taxidermy shop but when it came back, it didn’t look like the same.

    “Still it was an impressive trophy, mounted on a big board. Like it was, it was too big to fit in the car. In those days, he could fit everything he owned in the back seat of his Volkswagen. But the fish changed all that. When he got married a few weeks later, nothing could fit in the car. He got a bigger car, and he got a new job and children. The fish travelled with them from house to house, county to county. All that moving around took its toll on the fish, who began to look worn and its fin had broken off. It went into the attic of the new house. Just before the divorce became final, when he was moving into an apartment, his wife said, ‘take the goddamn fish!’ He hung the fish on the wall of the new apartment before he had unpacked anything else. The fish looked huge; it was too big for this little apartment. Boy, it was big. He couldn’t imagine he’d ever caught it, such big a fish. Thank you very much.”
  • When presenting Best New Play to Jerusalem, the Independent on Sunday critic hailed the central role of Johnny Byron, played by Rylance, as “up there with Peer Gynt and Falstaff” as an epic character. Jez Butterworth put the play’s creation and success down to a fluke. He said he’d had “an unbelievably lucky year” but it was “really, really fluky” because the Royal Court wanted a new play that he didn’t want to write and “they sort of forced me into doing it, and fluky once again for working with Ian (Rickson) for the fifth time, which is just an incredible blessing. But I think I was really fluky with the fantastic cast”, led by Rylance. And giving the cast full credit, Butterworth said, “they know exactly what their involvement is in me standing here right now - including whole elements of the play that are down to them - so I’m really glad this (certificate) says Best Play and not Best Playwright because it’s true, it goes to everyone”.
  • Spring Awakening won the prize for Best Musical despite closing early in its West End transfer from the Lyric Hammersmith, a point picked up on by the trio of the show’s commercial producers – Joe Smith, Matthew Byam Shaw and Michael McCabe – who took to the stage to collect the award. “They say if the public don’t want to see your show, there’s no stopping them. It was sadly true with Spring Awakening, and we will be eternally sorry for the incredible momentum that started at the Lyric did not transfer to the West End,” said McCabe. “But every one of us was thrilled to be part of this experience. And it really does mean a great deal to win this, not least to suggest that we weren’t all insane to put this show on in the West End.”

    Byam Shaw admitted “it’s true to say that all the producers were lurching a little” at the end when “there were a lot couple of black eyes and bloody noses”, but, he said, “we loved doing the show” and “learned a lot” from the experience. He concluded: “Above all, I’d like to salute the astonishing, fierce array of bright young talent which we were very, very privileged to produce for this time.”
  • Picking up yet-another Best Director award, this time for Enron, Rupert Goold got a bit of a hard time from Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer, who labelled him a “young man in a hurry” whose theatre company name, Headlong, sums up his career, in which he’s “always taking us by surprise, sometimes with duds”. Enron opens in the West End tonight (26 January) at the Noel Coward theatre, and if Goold wasn’t already nervous about it, he may have been after Spencer joked, “I hope we’re all going to think it’s fantastic again (tonight) or else we’re going to look very silly (tomorrow)”.

    Goold accepted the award on behalf of the cast, absent in preparation for tonight’s opening. “As with all plays, directors will shamefacedly admit that so much of the imagination and the ideas on the stage come from the company and their creativity, and their energy every night is very inspiring. I think why they're so committed is that we are all so proud of the play. We really feel that Lucy (Prebble) has written something very extraordinary.” He also suggested that, in the year of Jerusalem and two consecutive transfers from the Court, Enron has been somewhat shortchanged in terms of accolades. “Something got lost,” according to Goold, pointing out, “that this is only Lucy's second play, she's still only 28 and she's written a huge political play for our times. It's a massive success in the West End and that's still an extraordinary thing - really all the success is for her.”

    Acknowledging Spencer’s comments about Goold’s occasional hit-and-miss time with the critics, the director recalled his two “very happy directing experiences last summer”, which were Enron and his English National Opera production of Turandot at the London Coliseum – the only real difference between them being the critical reaction (the latter was largely panned). “I’ve had a few drubbings in my time, but the great thing about the British press is that they’ll watch the show that’s in front of them rather than the show they’re expecting to see, and I think that as long as that remains the case, we’ll always have hope." As for re-reviewing Enron tonight, Goold encouraged them to have a few glasses of wine at the awards ceremony as it might facilitate their enjoyment.

  • Another Donmar winner, Best Designer Christopher Oram for Red, thanked more people from the theatre including the ones who “don’t often get thanked”, including the stage managers, and also his own “studio sparring partner” and assistant Richard Kent, like the Ken (played by Eddie Redmayne) to painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) in Red. Finally, he praised Rothko himself “whose work through this play I have come to respect more than I could possibly imagine”.

  • Most Promising Newcomer, Punk Rock’s Tom Sturridge confessed that “I really was a newcomer when I started this play, I really didn’t know what I was doing”, which was the same for “almost all of us” in the cast. He attributed the fact that they “didn’t look like complete novices” to Punk Rock’s “inspiring” director Sarah Frankcom and author Simon Stephens who “taught me everything I know about theatre”.

  • Meanwhile, Most Promising Playwright Alia Bano thanked a long list of personnel at the Royal Court, including artistic director Dominic Cooke and Nina Raine, who directed her debut play Shades in the Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs last year. She also thanked “my family, who were there at the beginning right to the end”.