It’s hard to pinpoint the best moment of the 67th Evening Standard Theater Awards, co-hosted by Standard owner Lord Lebedev and Ian McKellen on the final night at Claridge’s. Was it when Nicole Scherzinger said “I’m freaking out right now” when she accepted her Best Musical Performance Award for Sunset Boulevard?
Did Sir Sam Mendes describe theater life as the family he never had growing up? Patsy Ferran and Anjana Vasan heard they jointly won the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress, for their performances as sisters Blanche and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire? Elton John declared it “the gayest moment ever” when Boy George and Jake Shears presented him with a special award.
Whatever moment you succeeded, this was a joyous event where the London newspaper celebrated the talent, the self-deprecating humor and above all the camaraderie of London theatre. It began with presenter Susan Wokoma spoofing the stage-dressed video sequence seen in Sunset Boulevard.
And it ended, at least in formal terms, with a tribute to the contribution of unsung and rarely seen musicians to shows, when a band hidden in the crowd came to life for a musical medley. The after-party and after-party continued into the wee hours of course. As well as recognizing excellence, the UK’s oldest drama awards are an opportunity for many glitzy, glamorous people to come together and have fun.
Scherzinger spoke emotionally about how the London theater community embraced her when Jamie Lloyd cast her as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, which won the Milton Shulman Award for Best Director. The award is named after the former theater critic of the Standard.
Lloyd said his leading lady had given a “performance for the ages”. However, Sunset Boulevard took the Best Musical Award to Nicholas Hytner’s stunningly immersive revival of Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre. Hytner thanked his cast, crew, and the willing participation of the audience for “making that fun.”
Andrew Scott scored his second ESTA Best Actor award for his one-man adaptation of Chekhov Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre, directed by Sam Yates, following his previous win in 2019 for Present Laughter at the Old Vic. He was unable to attend last night’s ceremony due to film commitments in Los Angeles, but in a speech read out by Jenna Coleman, he said: “I’m really happy. Long live London theatre, and theater everywhere.”
Elton John and Ruth Wilson received a special Editor’s award from the Standard’s new Editor-in-Chief, Dylan Jones OBE. Wilson was from her extraordinary 24-hour production of The Second Woman at the Young Vic, where she performed the same scene 100 times to 100 different men, most of them amateurs (including ES Magazine Editor Ben Cobb, who she recalled bad,” dragged to the floor by his Gucci tie”).Elton John has been honored to bring his collaborative musical spirit to the theater, most recently on Tammy Faye, created with Jake Shears and writer James Graham.
Tom Hiddleston presented Wilson with his statuette and described The Second Woman as “one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life”. Elton John said he was still learning about art, music and collaboration, at the age of 76, and that those involved in the theater should be proud. “We are happy, and in this world today that is what we need.”
Sir Sam Mendes was awarded a special Lebedev Award for his contribution to theater over four decades running the Donmar Warehouse, directing for the RSC and National Theatre, and winning the West End and Broadway, while also peerless film career development.
Mendes spoke emotionally about how the pandemic has exposed the freelancers, other creatives and behind-the-scenes staff who make the industry work. He announced that the Theater Artists Fund he established in 2020 would soon roll out a pilot program to secure two-year contracts for 20 theater professionals in 15 partner theaters across the UK. He also paid tribute to his wife Alison Balsam, his producing partner Caro Newling, and — a recurring theme throughout the evening — the theater community that supported him so closely.
Jack Thorne’s play The Motive and the Cue, which Mendes directed for the National Theater and tells the backstage story of John Gielgud who directed Richard Burton in Hamlet on Broadway in 1964, won the Best Play Award, and next month moves to the West End. Thorne pointed out that Burton was a lost child saved by a visionary teacher and argued that drama in state schools should be protected.
In one of the biggest moments of the night, David Tennant named Patsy Ferran and Anjana Vasan as co-winners of the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress, presented this year in association with luxury ready-to-wear brand Mithridate.
Ferran stepped into the role of Blanche at a week’s notice after the original actress withdrew, learning the part and creating a lightning-fast performance. But the judging panel felt that Vasan’s proud portrayal of Stella played an equal role in putting the Tennessee Williams sisters in the limelight. “This is honestly the best result,” Ferran said as the two women addressed the raucous crowd together. “If I had won on my own I would have given it to her,” said Vasan.
It was a good year for the Almeida, with nominations in various categories, including Tammy Faye for Best Musical and Sam Holcroft’s dystopian drama A Mirror for Best Play. Frecknall was nominated for the directing award for Streetcar, and her leading man Paul Mescal was nominated for Best Actor for his brooding, watchful performance as Stanley Kowalski.
Almeida boss Rupert Goold was shortlisted in the director category for his production of Dear England, James Graham’s drama about Gareth Southgate’s revival of the England Football team, at the National. The show was also nominated for Best Play, which Graham won last year for Best of Enemies at the Young Vic. This year, the National also received nominations for Paapa Essiedu for Best Actor and Taylor Russell for Emerging Talent in Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, directed by the very busy Lloyd.
Guys and Dolls also received nods for Best Design (Bunny Christie), Best Musical Performance (Marisha Wallace) and Emerging Talent (Andrew Richardson, who made a bogglingly confident stage debut as Sky Masterson). Shows at the Barbican were nominated in three categories and the new venue @sohoplace got a Best Actress nod for Sophie Okonedo’s laceratingly raw Medea.
West London’s Bush Theater won the Charles Wintour Award for Brightest Screenplay with two out of four nominations. The category is named after the former editor of the Evening Standard, who created the awards in 1955 when he was deputy editor. Dame Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue, artistic director and global content consultant of Condé Nast, supports him, in memory of her father.
This year he went to Isley Lynn for The Swell, his study of a relationship between three women over many years, at the Orange Tree Theater in Richmond. Further proof that theater thrives outside the big venues and mid-scale powerhouses came when Georgia Lowe won the Best Design Award for her comic sets for The Good Person of Szechwan at the Lyric Hammersmith.
The Emerging Talent Award went to writer, singer, and composer Tatenda Shamiso for her one-man show about gender transition, NO ID at the Royal Court. The little polymath joked that the statue was almost as big as him.
Susan Wokoma was a very funny host, complaining that she was not cast in any of the shows on the short list. Guests drank Laurent-Perrier champagne and Bird in Hand wine during dinner and Eight Lands vodka cocktails were served after the ceremony.
In his welcoming speech Lord Lebedev praised those who kept the flame of the London theater alive during the pandemic and enabled it to surge back into life. He described theater as “alchemy” that creates new worlds for audiences to escape into and told the delighted crowd: “I want to say on behalf of everyone, thank you.”
Baz Bamigboye, Sarah Crompton, Nick Curtis, Farah Najib, Alice Saville and Matt Wolf were the judges on the panel for the 66th Evening Standard Theater Awards and it was chaired by the Evening Standard’s Culture Editor Nancy Durrant. The Awards took place at Claridge’s on Sunday 19 November; Polestar carried the winners there in sustainable style