Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards

For those of you who weren’t privy to a ticket for the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards on Tuesday, let us, as the sponsors, provide you with an insider’s glimpse into the occasion.

No matter how many times you’ve been, there are two things which strike you about the event. The first is its intimacy.The regular home for the ceremony is the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Coventry Street, provided generously by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres. While the theatre’s main auditorium houses blockbusting productions like Mamma Mia!, its current occupant, the Delfont offers an altogether different space.

Tucked in the basement, the room was restored to the art-deco glory of its hey-day during the theatre’s £7.5m renovation in 2003. With the feel of New York speakeasy, a bar runs the length of the back wall of the long narrow room, and opposite stands the stage, a small diaphanous semi-circle replete with grand piano.

Theatregoers will know it as either the stalls bar, or an atmospheric venue for intimate performances from some of the West End’s leading lights.

For the awards, it is laid out theatre style. None of the six rows of seating is reserved, the closest of which nearly touches the stage: guests sit beside theatre’s gliterrati, with the critics sprinkled among the artists, stage managers, set designers, directors, and writers upon whom they cast their judgement.

If the Oscars are the equivalent of the Beatles playing the Shea Stadium, then this is one of their gigs at The Cavern – vivid, raw and deeply memorable.

The second is the eloquence, from the warm-up by the irreverent and unabashed Arthur Smith, to the introductory speeches from the critics themselves and the acceptances from the winners, the fluency is a mile apart from the televised ceremonies with which most of us are more familiar.

Yes, there were thank-yous but amid the informality, they were heartfelt and real, and none more so than Thea Sharrock, the first woman to win the Critics’ Circle award for Best Director, who won for her production of Terence Rattigan’s ‘After the Dance’ at the National. She was lofty – saying the award helped to soothe the wounds to Rattigan’s reputation inflicted she said unjustly by his critics during his life and since his death in 1977 – and human – telling the audience that her mum had been to watch her first play 27 times.

Then there was Daniel Kaluuya, perhaps best known for playing ‘Posh Kenneth’ in Skins, who won the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer for his performance in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court. He might be one hell of an actor, but he looked genuinely chuffed as he stepped off the stage, hesitating momentarily, to drink in his surroundings and his achievement.

And who can have failed to be captivated by the smile on the face of the angelic Josie Griffiths, one of three child prodigies who are sharing the lead in Matilda at the RSC which won the Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical, as she stood on stage with director Matthew Warchus.

As he accepted the award for Matilda – which Matt Wolf described as the best musical he had ever seen in 27 years of writing about UK theatre – he asked if she wanted to say anything. Josie shook her head and said: “No.” Warchus replied cheekily: “Nothing about how good the director is?”, at which point her face bloomed.

We are incredibly proud to support the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards as main sponsors, and wish all of the winners, both young and those longer in the tooth, our own heartfelt congratulations. We are already looking to next year!

For a full write-up about the awards, read either Jane Edwardes’ report for the Critics’ Circle – http://www.criticscircle.org.uk/drama/?ID=170 - or Mark Shenton’s blog for the The Stage – http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/shenton/2011/01/squaring-the-critical-circle/index.html