The Royal Court converted four of its 11 nominations in this year’s 55th annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards (See News, 9 Nov 2009), which were announced today (23 November 2009) in a lunchtime ceremony held at the Royal Opera House.

The Court’s back-to-back London premieres of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Lucy Prebble’s Enron, both of which transfer to the West End in the new year, went head-to-head in three of the biggest Standard categories - Best Play, Best Actor (Mark Rylance vs Samuel West) and Best Director (Ian Rickson vs Rupert Goold) – with Jerusalem edging ahead by winning the first two categories, and Enron’s Rupert Goold taking home his second Standard gong for Best Director (his first for his 2007 Patrick Stewart-led Macbeth, another production that originated in Chichester and subsequently transferred to Broadway).

The Royal Court’s fourth win today was for Most Promising Playwright, which went to Alia Bano for Shades, about secular, young Muslim woman in contemporary Britain, which premiered as part of the Court’s Young Writers’ Festival. The prize also includes a cheque for £5,000.

Elsewhere, Rachel Weisz scooped Best Actress for her portrayal of Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse. Newly renamed in honour of Natasha Richardson, the actress who died earlier this year following a skiing accident, the award was presented to Weisz by Richardson’s mother, fellow actress Vanessa Redgrave.

Though Weisz was unable to attend today’s ceremony, as she is in Romania shooting her new film The Whistleblowers, she said in a statement: “I’m so thrilled and honoured to receive this tremendous award. Thank you so much to the Evening Standard. It is even more of an honour because this is the first year that the award has been named after the great and much, much-loved Natasha Richardson.”

Somewhat controversially, the 51-year-old comedian Lenny Henry was named Outstanding Newcomer for his Shakespearean and theatrical debut in Othello, now running at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios. It was the only current West End production amongst the winners, or indeed the shortlists – and even it started life in the subsidised sector, at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse, co-produced by Northern Broadsides.

The Standard’s press release noted that it was “unusual” that there were no prizes for West End commercial productions this year. In fact, commercial productions are rarely singled out by the Standard judging panel, comprised of drama critics from several newspapers, including, of course, the Evening Standard. Last year, for instance, when the Donmar Warehouse dominated with four wins, there was only a single West End prize, again for newcomer, received by Fat Pig actress Ella Smith (See News, 24 Nov 2008).

Today’s award for Best Musical, for which this year’s West End blockbusters Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert were not even longlisted, went to the Open Air’s summer revival of Broadway classic Hello, Dolly!. The final category prize in this year’s Standard Awards, for Best Design, was nabbed by Mamoru Iriguchi for the fringe production of Mincemeat at Cordy House in Shoreditch.

Following his Variety Club accolade last week for “outstanding contribution to showbusiness” (See News, 16 Nov 2009), Ian McKellen was presented – by the Standard’s new Russian owner Evgeny Lebedeve - with another Special Award, this time for his “contribution to British theatre”, at today’s ceremony, which was hosted by newscaster Kirsty Young. Amongst the presenters, nominees and other VIP guests in attendance were: Hayley Atwell, Simon Russell Beale, Anna Friel, Tom Hollander, Vanessa Redgrave, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Stewart, Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Charles Dance, Neil Pearson, Joely Richardson, Kerry Fox, Lindsay Duncan, Alison Steadman, Sir Peter Hall, Miriam Margolyes, Samantha Bond, Natascha McElhone, Ben Miles, Zoe Wanamaker, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Samuel West.

Commenting on today’s winners, Evening Standard theatre critic and awards judge Henry Hitchings said: “The number of awards for productions at the Royal Court is strikingly high, but it's quite right, as under the artistic direction of Dominic Cooke great things are happening there. This is very much the Court's day. The bigger theme is the excellence of so much that's going on outside the West End. The award for Mamoru Iriguchi's design for Mincemeat at Cordy House is particularly satisfying, as it recognises the excitement that site-sensitive productions can deliver. Moreover, this promenade piece was put on by Cardboard Citizens, a company which provides more than 4,500 hours of paid employment per year to homeless people and those recently homeless. It's good to be able to pay tribute to their work.”

The Evening Standard Theatre Awards are the first prize-giving of the 'awards season', preceding the Critics’ Circle, the Laurence Olivier and our own Whatsonstage.com Awards (for which nominations continue until 30 November - click here to nominate now!).


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 as follows with winners in bold:

BEST PLAY

BEST ACTOR

THE NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS

THE SYDNEY EDWARDS AWARD FOR 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