While Rachel Weisz was unable to attend the 55th annual Evening Standard Theatre Awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House today (See Today’s Other News for full results), all of the other winners – as well as myriad other celebrities – were on hand for the celebrations. And even Weisz made an appearance, via a video link from Bucharest, Romania, where she’s shooting her new film The Whistleblower (in which she plays a US policewoman – and was wearing the uniform to prove it).

In her filmed acceptance of the newly renamed Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress, for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse, Weisz said: “I’m so thrilled and honoured to receive this tremendous award ... 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.” She continued: “I so loved being back on the London stage, please please invite me back soon.”

The award was collected on Weisz’s behalf by Donmar artistic director and presented by actress Vanessa Redgrave, the mother of Natasha Richardson, who died earlier this year following a skiing accident. Visibly moved by the occasion, Redgrave said, “We share our hearts when we step onto the stage, and sometimes we have to stuff them back into our stomachs. You’ll all understand that this is one of those times for me.” Redgrave said that she and the rest of Richardson’s family, including sister Joely Richardson and husband Liam Neeson, were all “proud and grateful” that Natasha’s “life as an actress” continues to be “remembered, honoured and celebrated” through the Standard prize.

The other Standard winners – Alia Bano, Mamuro Iriguchi, Mark Rylance, Rupert Goold, Jez Butterworth, Timothy Sheader, Lenny Henry and Ian McKellen (scroll down for more speech highlights) – were presented with their awards by, respectively, Tom Hollander, Ruth Wilson, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Stewart, Simon Russell Beale, Hayley Attwell, Anna Friel and Kevin Spacey. The ceremony was hosted by Kirsty Young, with additional presentations by Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev and editor Geordie Greig.

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Amongst the nominees and other guests adding star power to today’s event were: Dawn French, Samuel West, Lucy Prebble, Tom Sturridge, Penny Downie, Juliet Stevenson, Jeremy Herrin, Ian Rickson, Alexi Kaye Campbell, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Katori Hall, Bel Powley, Gawn Grainger, Kate Fleetwood, Josh Hartnett, Laura Wade, Eddie Redmayne, Tim Pigott-Smith, Kenneth Cranham, Alex Jennings, Michael Blakemore, Polly Stenham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Iain Glen, Clare Higgins, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Neil Pearson, Lindsay Posner, Miriam Margolyes, Frances Barber, Guy Henry, Amanda Drew, Tim Piggot-Smith, Henry Goodman, David Lan, Mackenzie Crook, Che Walker, Zoe Wanamaker, Simon Stephens, Anthony Page, Howard Davies, Chris New, Bertie Carvel, Andrew Marr, Janet Suzman, Sir Peter Hall, Alison Steadman, Harry Treadaway, Henry Goodman, Natascha McElhone, Fenella Woolgar and London mayor Boris Johnson.


ADDITIONAL SPEECH HIGHLIGHTS

  • Most Promising Playwright - Presenting the award, Tom Hollander noted that writing plays is “90% perspiration, 10% inspiration and almost no remuneration”. In collecting the award, Alia Bano, who won for her debut Shades, seen as part of the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Festival, was the first recipient of the day to thank the Sloane Square theatre and “in particular, Dominic Cooke”, its artistic director. She went on to thank her director Nina Raine and “my family – my sisters and my mother – who helped me throughout all of this”.
  • Best Design - Mamuro Iriguchi, who won for his work on the promenade production of Mincemeat by homeless people’s theatre Cardboard Citizens, thanked artistic director Adrian Jackson and the many members of the company who “helped me carry lots of rubble and paint miles of walls”.
  • Best Actor - Awards presenter Fiona Shaw reeled off a long, poetic ode to winner Mark Rylance and his “performance of the decade” in Jerusalem in her introduction and confessed to having written it in the bath – “she must have a very big bath”, Rylance commented when he took to the stage amidst a standing ovation in his honour. The actor said “thank you for celebrating my work in this fabulous play”, “thank you for putting me on this shortlist” with other such distinguished names, and “thank you for putting me in this room ... I’m nearly 50 now, it’s extraordinary to be part of this community” of theatre artists. He also thanked the “Royal Court for sticking with writers like you do” and producer Sonia Friedman, who is transferring Jerusalem to the West End in the new year. Rylance disputed “complaints” by some theatre figures that younger successors are more interested in fame than craft (See The Goss, 13 Oct 2009). “These young actors (from the Jerusalem ensemble) were an inspiration to me,” said Rylance. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with young actors, I think they’re fine and the future’s good” in their hands.
  • Best Director - Rupert Goold was presented with the Best Director prize for Enron by Patrick Stewart, who starred in his 2007 production of Macbeth, which previously won Goold a hat trick of Best Director prizes at the Standard, Critics’ Circle and Olivier Awards before transferring to Broadway. Goold said today’s trophy for Enron was especially “wonderful” for his company Headlong, which commissioned Lucy Prebble, who “deserves every award”, to write it four years ago. He likened the show to a “circus” with himself as merely a very retiring “ringmaster”. The rest of the company, Goold said, are “writ large in this award”. He added that it’s a “source of huge pride” that “so many of us in this category” have been recognised this year for work on new plays.
  • Outstanding Newcomer - Lenny Henry couldn’t stop laughing when he first took to the podium, confessing, “My mum would have loved this (ceremony); she would have been here in her big church hat, sat in front of Kevin Spacey”. He recalled that, before making his theatrical debut in Othello, his last stage performance was in a school nativity play. “I must be the oldest newcomer there’s ever been – which means there’s hope for Bruce Forsyth’s King Lear,” Henry joked, then launching into a creditable Bruce-bard impression.
  • Special Award - Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey joined the Standard’s Russian owner Evgeny Lebedev on stage to present the final prize to Sir Ian McKellen. “Today is about tradition”, said Spacey, and the accolade for McKellen is not just about a particular role but about the “crown” he wears with “enormous dignity” which “teaches us all what it means to be a grand master of your craft”. Greeted by another standing ovation, in a lengthy and wide-ranging speech, McKellen talked about his “joyful” experience on Waiting for Godot and announced the production’s return with Roger Rees (See Today’s Other News); declared that “Patrick (Stewart) and I are the same person ... can you tell us apart?”; lamented the losses and endangered futures of the Hackney Empire, the Hippodrome and the Greenwich and Mermaid Theatres; toasted the recent discovery of the remains of Shakespeare’s first Theatre in Shoreditch (See News, 7 Aug 2008); bemoaned the paucity of female artistic directors; shamed the Theatrical Management Association (TMA) for not adopting in the regions the revised pay scales agreed between actors’ union Equity and the Society for London Theatre (SOLT), which allows for a “living wage” for actors doing eight performances a week; named his own shortlist of award-worthy performances from 2009 (Tom Brooke in Jerusalem, Chris New in Prick Up Your Ears, Jonathan Hyde in Peter Pan, Suzanne Bertish in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Miriam Margolyes “in her dustbin” in Endgame and the entire cast of Madam de Sade for their “fortitude and filthy good humour”); and admitted to crying when he watched Roger Allam perform “I Am What I Am” in La Cage aux Folles, which he attended with 30 gay friends to celebrate his 70th birthday in May (See Photos, 26 May 2009). He concluded by saying “I’m going to treat this award as a wonderful birthday present”.

    That present was followed by one more “special surprise” from Lebedev, when a director from the Moscow Arts Theatre climbed on stage to present both McKellen and Spacey with Golden Seagull certificates in recognition of their contributions to world theatre.