Thanks in large part to its back-to-back premieres of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Lucy Prebble’s Enron, the Royal Court dominates the nominations in this year’s 55th annual Evening Standard Awards, which are announced today, having been whittled down from longlists published last week (See News, 2 Nov 2009).

The two dramas, both of which transfer to the West End in the new year, go head-to-head in three of the biggest Standard categories: Best Play, Best Director (Ian Rickson for Jerusalem vs Rupert Goold for Enron) and Best Actor (Mark Rylance vs Samuel West).

Enron, which is co-produced by Goold’s Headlong Theatre company and was first seen this past summer at Chichester, is only the second play by 28-year-old Lucy Prebble, following The Sugar Syndrome which premiered at the Royal Court Upstairs in 2004 and scooped her the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright. Butterworth is also a former Most Promising Playwright winner, having won that accolade in the Standard awards in 1995 for his debut, Mojo, which also premiered at the Royal Court, directed by Jerusalem’s Ian Rickson (former Court artistic director).

For this year’s Best Play prize, Enron and Jerusalem are in the running with Tracy LettsAugust: Osage County, the production from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre company which transferred to the National last year, and Simon Stephens’ explosive drama about teenage angst Punk Rock, premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Commenting on this year’s shortlists, London Evening Standard critic Henry Hitchings – who sits on the judging panel with the Observer’s Susannah Clapp, the International Herald Tribune’s Matt Wolf, the Mail on Sunday’s Georgina Brown and the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer – singled out the vibrancy of playwriting. “What is striking about new plays is how they are engaging with urgent contemporary issues, such as climate change and the financial crisis and social inclusion and race, but still work well as drama. They’re not po-faced.”

The big musicals, on the other hand, were found wanting. In the single Standard category for the art form, Best Musical, the year’s two biggest openings, Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, did not even make the longlists. Of the four shows to make the shortlist, only two - A Little Night Music and Spring Awakening - had West End seasons, both now finished, the latter only lasting a few weeks despite strong reviews. They compete with the Open Air Theatre’s revival of Hello, Dolly! and the Young Vic’s premiere of Been So Long.

The fiercest battle in this year’s Evening Standard Awards is being waged in the Best Actor category, where Jerusalem’s Mark Rylance and Enron’s Samuel West are in the running with three-time Standard winner Simon Russell Beale for A Winter’s Tale and Ken Stott for A View from the Bridge.

For the Natasha Richardson Best Actress Award - renamed this year in honour of the actress, and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, who died in March following a skiing accident (See News, 19 Mar 2009) – the field comprises Rachel Weisz for A Streetcar Named Desire, Juliet Stevenson for Duet for One, Penny Downie for Helen at Shakespeare’s Globe and August: Osage County’s Deanna Dunagan.

One of the most surprising names on the shortlists must be comedian Lenny Henry. For his stage debut in the title role of Othello, now at Trafalgar Studios, the 51-year-old is nominated for Outstanding Newcomer, against Been So Long’s Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Tusk Tusk’s Bel Powley and Punk Rock’s Tom Sturridge.

The first prize-giving of the 'awards season' - ahead of the Critics’ Circle, the Laurence Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Awards (which opened nominations last week - click here to nominate now!) – this year’s Evening Standard Awards will be announced at a ceremony hosted by newscaster Kirsty Young at the Royal Opera House on Monday 23 November 2009.


The full shortlists of contenders in this year’s 55th annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards, which covers openings up until the end of October 2009, are:

BEST PLAY

BEST ACTOR

THE NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS

BEST DIRECTOR

THE NED SHERRIN AWARD FOR BEST MUSICAL

  • A Little Night Music (Menier Chocolate Factory/Garrick)
  • Been So Long (ETT/Young Vic)
  • Hello, Dolly! (Open Air, Regent’s Park)
  • Spring Awakening (Lyric Hammersmith/Novello)

BEST DESIGN

THE CHARLES WINTOUR AWARD FOR MOST PROMISING PLAYWRIGHT

THE MILTON SHULMAN AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING NEWCOMER