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The cast of Martin McDonagh's Hangmen

The cast of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen

The annual best of lists are always a good indication of who’s likely to triumph at the Critics’ Circle Awards, which were presented this afternoon at the Delfont Room in the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre. Understandably so as it’s critics who, by and large, draw up those lists and critics only – voting by secret, first-past-the-post ballot – who determine the Critics’ Circle Awards.

As I wrote at the beginning of the month, the productions most likely to top #theatre2015 lists were: Martin McDonagh‘s Hangmen (today’s Best New Play winner), Robert Icke‘s reimagining of the Oresteia (Best Director winner for Icke), Florian Zeller’s The Father (which won its title star Kenneth Cranham Best Actor) and Headlong’s People, Places and Things (which won its star Denise Gough Best Actress).

The main discrepancy between the lists and today’s results in the musical field isn’t even a discrepancy – while Gypsy topped most critics’ round-ups at the turn-of-the-year for its West End transfer last spring to the Savoy Theatre, it already won the critics’ prize for Best Musical from its original Chichester Festival run. (Any professional production opened anywhere in the country is eligible to be voted on by critics, so there are regularly winners from those regional productions – mainly from Chichester or the RSC – that enough critics have seen that make the grade.)

Today, that critics’ gong goes to the critics’ favourite new musical of last year, Bend It Like Beckham which, sadly, despite the rave reviews when it opened last June, has posted closing notices for 5 March.

Returning winners

Denise Gough and Martin McDonagh were both picked out early in the careers: McDonagh winning Most Promising Playwright in 1996 for The Beauty Queen of Leenane (which, like Hangmen, was also premiered care of the Royal Court) and Gough winning Most Promising Newcomer in 2012 for Desire Under the Elms.

Dame Judi Dench – who today picked up Best Shakespearean Performance for her turn in The Winter’s Tale as part of Kenneth Branagh’s year-long Plays at the Garrick season – is another returnee, having won the critics’ award for Best Actress for Amy’s View in 1997.

Puzzling prize-givings

The Critics’ Circle are the second of the four “major” annual theatrical awards, preceded by the Evening Standard Awards, where this year there are just three overlaps: Best Director (Robert Icke for Oresteia), Best Designer (Anna Fleischle for Hangmen) and Most Promising Newcomer (David Moorst for Violence and Son at the Royal Court).

Next up are the WhatsOnstage Awards in February – I founded these ones, as you probably know, but have had nothing to do with them for the past two years – and the Olivier Awards in April.

Increasingly, though, the Critics’ Circle Awards are the ones that are, consistently, the most credible. They may be predictable, but they do make sense – you may sigh at this affair but you want scratch your head in bewilderment. And, if the Circle, ever published their long lists, they’d be even more representative of the best of the year’s theatre, as judged by the people who (like ’em or loathe ’em) have seen the most and have the most discerning tastes.

By comparison, the Standard Awards have become far too much of a celebrity backslap, with chop-and-change categories and the best musical decided only by audience vote (it used to be they had a separate audience prize). The WhatsOnStage Awards, being by their very nature audience voted, have always been dominated by big names and big shows when it came to winners of the leading prizes, but over the past two years, they’ve also abandoned loads of worthy categories (the, much humbler, Also Recognised Awards that Mark Shenton and I launched last year on My Theatre Mates was a means of addressing this) and many of the nominations in the shortened shortlists (there are also fewer contenders per category) are just plain odd.

Full list of winners

Best New Play – Hangmen by Martin McDonagh

Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London award presented to Matthew Dunster (director) by Susannah Clapp, The Observer

HANGMEN: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London – award presented to Matthew Dunster (director) by Susannah Clapp, The Observer

 

Best Musical – Bend It Like Beckham

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: Phoenix Theatre, London - award presented to Gurinder Chadha (director & new book), Howard Goodall (original music), Paul Mayeda Berges (new book) and Sonia Friedman (West End producer) by Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: Phoenix Theatre, London – award presented to Gurinder Chadha (director & new book), Howard Goodall (original music), Paul Mayeda Berges (new book) and Sonia Friedman (West End producer) by Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

Best Actor – Kenneth Cranham in The Father

Kenneth Cranham in THE FATHER: Bath Theatre Royal Ustinov Studio & Tricycle Theatre, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London and 2016 transfer to Duke of York’s Theatre, London and UK tour award presented to Kenneth Cranham by Michael Billington, The Guardian

Kenneth Cranham in THE FATHER: Bath Theatre Royal Ustinov Studio & Tricycle Theatre, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London and 2016 transfer to Duke of York’s Theatre, London and UK tour – award presented to Kenneth Cranham by Michael Billington, The Guardian

 

Best Actress – Denise Gough in People, Places and Things

Denise Gough in PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS: Dorfman Theatre at the National, London, followed by 2016 transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London - award presented to Denise Gough by Dominic Maxwell, The Times

Denise Gough in PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS: Dorfman Theatre at the National, London, followed by 2016 transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London – award presented to Denise Gough by Dominic Maxwell, The Times

 

Best Shakespearean Performance – Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale

Judi Dench in THE WINTER'S TALE: Garrick Theatre, London - award presented to Judi Dench by Georgina Brown, Mail on Sunday

Judi Dench in THE WINTER’S TALE: Garrick Theatre, London – award presented to Judi Dench by Georgina Brown, Mail on Sunday

 

Best Director – Robert Icke for Oresteia

Robert Icke for ORESTEIA: Almeida Theatre, London, followed by transfer to Trafalgar Studios, London - award presented to Robert Icke by Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

Robert Icke for ORESTEIA: Almeida Theatre, London, followed by transfer to Trafalgar Studios, London – award presented to Robert Icke by Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

 

Best Designer – Anna Fleischle for Hangmen

Anna Fleischle for HANGMEN: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London - award presented to Anna Fleischle by Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

Anna Fleischle for HANGMEN: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, followed by transfer to Wyndham’s Theatre, London – award presented to Anna Fleischle by Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

 

Most Promising Playwright – James Fritz for Four Minutes Twelve Seconds

FourMinutesTwelveSeconds_2015

James Fritz for FOUR MINUTES TWELVE SECONDS: Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, London & Trafalgar Studios, London award presented to James Fritz by Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

 

Most Promising Newcomer – David Moorst in Violence and Son

David Moorst in VIOLENCE AND SON: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London award presented to David Moorst by Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

David Moorst in VIOLENCE AND SON: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London
award presented to David Moorst by Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

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