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Bean Bags Standard Award

On the day that his uproarious new version of Goldoni opens in the West End, Richard Bean is reported to have cocked a snook at David Hare at last night's Evening Standard awards dinner.

Grabbing the best play gong for One Man, Two Guvnors (and The Heretic at the Royal Court), he declared: "What a terrible, terrible day this must be for serious theatre. Is David Hare in? Is he in? I just want to see his face."
As a former stand-up comedian, Bean no doubt raised a laugh in the room, but he's probably regretting it now: it just doesn't look very nice, or very clever, in cold print in the newspapers.

Ironically enough, the Guardian is also running today a long extract from Stephen Sondheim's new book, Look, I Made a Hat, in which he pours buckets of measured scorn over all critics and all awards: "Competitive awards boost the egos of the winners (until they lose) and damage the egos of the losers (until they win), while feeding the egos of the voters (all the time)."

I hope Sondheim will make an exception for the Whatsonstage.com Awards which are decided only by popular vote and therefore by-pass the smoke-filled room and critical vanity syndrome completely when the nominations are sifted and announced on Friday week at the Cafe de Paris.

For the awardee, Sondheim says, "the most depressing is the lifetime achievement, which signifies one more nail in your coffin. It denotes the slippage from respect into veneration. In my blacker moments, I think of it as the Thanks-a-Lot-and-Out-With-the Garbage award."

There was no lifetime award at the Standard shindig, but Kristin Scott Thomas received a curious consolation  prize -- the Lebedev Special Award - for not winning best actress (that went to Sheridan Smith in Flare Path, surely a supporting performance, not a leading one). Scott Thomas's stage career is so insubstantial that you wonder what the "special" signifies; not "lifetime," that's for sure.

Evgeny Lebedev is the Russian owner of the Standard, and has stamped his imprimateur on these awards by establishing the wonderfully incongruous Moscow Art Golden Seagull award; this went to Tom Stoppard for his contribution to Russian theatre (ie, all those Chekhov "translations" and the somewhat uneven Coast of Utopia trilogy).

There was even a third "extra" award - this is getting a little ridiculous - for Michael Grandage, an Editor's Award, for turning the Donmar Warehouse into a "hit factory," which by other standards may be perceived not to be such a good thing to have done. "Quality" is perhaps what they meant, but that sounds dreadful, too.   

But hang on a minute: I see there's even a fourth "extra" award, a "Beyond Theatre" award for the Pet Shop Boys for something they did, and I've never heard of, at Sadler's Wells.

Perhaps this is deemed a "popular" award to replace the online readers' "best entertainment" award the Standard launched with some fanfare but which seems to have perished in the ether; all the online voters are holding their fire for the Whatsonstage.com Awards, obviously. 

One assumes that these four bonus awards are decided not by the panel of critics, who played pretty safe in nominating Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller jointly as best actor for Frankenstein, and most wisely for Kyle Soller as outstanding newcomer at the Young Vic. Hard to quarrel, too, with the nod for Mike Leigh as best director, or for Penelope Skinner as most promising playwright.

The doggedly metropolitan Standard awards were decided before Matilda even opened in London, which is both a flaw in the process and a prompt to an alternative list of winners had the "not yet opened" criterion been more generally adopted at the judges' meeting:

Best play: Haunted Child by Joe Penhall at the Royal Court; Best musical: Backbeat; Best actor: Michael Sheen in Hamlet; Best actress: Anna Calder-Marshall in Salt, Root and Roe; Best director: Michael Grandage for Richard II; Most promising newcomer: Clare Dunne for Juno and the Paycock at the National; and Most promising playwright: Rachel De-lahay for The Westbridge at the Royal Court.

Award-winners are a bit like Manchester City at the moment: it's fairly easy to pick two or three different teams that would still beat everyone else. So it's only right that Whatsonstage.com voters join in the fun, too, always bearing in mind the sobering thoughts of Mr Sondheim on behalf of touchy artists everywhere:

"No matter who the voters are, and whether you accept them as worthy of judging you, winning means they like you more than your competitors. For that moment, you are the favourite child of the family. Of course, if you make the mistake of looking back at the people who have won before you, it can be a matter of some dismay."


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