The Civil Awards – Winners 2014

Competition has been fierce. Tears, wine and blood have been spilt. Not necessarily in that order. All that remains, with votes cast, arguments played out, and money in brown paper bags tallied and accounted for, is to dust off the golden envelopes and announce the hotly anticipated (umm, by who? – ed) results.

If you are under the suspicion that these awards don’t have any real meaning and are just another internet blog’s attempts to round off the year in a show of unnecessary and undeserved self-importance then, well, you would be right.

However I rest happy knowing these are the views of someone who has seen, and written, a lot about theatre in 2014. And that has a meaning above and beyond those offered by a certain awards ceremony funded by a bearded Russian billionaire whose questionable wealth accumulation tactics enabled them to buy an entire newspaper for seemingly the sole purpose of indulging twin fantasies of being a cultural impresario and being photographed with an arm around attractive celebrities.

So mea culpa over, lets on to the winners.

Best Actor – Female

Juliet Stevenson             Winnie                  – Happy Days

Fiona Shaw                    Mary                     – The Testament of Mary

Kristin Scott-Thomas      Electra                  – Electra

Denise Gough                Louise                   – Adler & Gibb

Gillian Anderson             Blanche                 – A Streetcar Named Desire

And the winner is… Juliet Stevenson (Happy Days)

2014 has been a great year for women in theatre. There have always been brilliant female actors around but rarely have there been so many opportunities to shine. In the first three months Fiona Shaw, Juliet Stevenson and Lisa Dwan all were given brilliant monologues to play with. Later in the year the ancient tragedians took to the stage with both Medea (Helen McCrory) and Electra (Kristin Scott-Thomas) taking very different approaches to making plays over 2000 years old resonate with a modern audience.

Gillian Anderson took a lot of plaudits (and awards) for Blanche and it was a good performance albeit of a role that feels like it was built for a star-turn. However this year’s breakthrough performer goes to Denise Gough for Adler & Gibb at the Royal Court. Tim Crouch’s play was audacious in its approach and split the critics but Gough’s central performance marked her out as a star for the future.

However it was Juliet Stevenson’s role as Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days at the Young Vic which took the crown. It is arguably the greatest part for a woman available in drama and Stevenson did it full justice. She made the role her own just as she had down with Nora in The Dolls House 20 years before. It was the perfect showcase for her intelligence and the image of her trapped in sand will forever live alongside the mirrored image of a songbird trapped in a cage. It is coming back in 2015 and everyone who missed it last time should make swift tracks to see it.

Best Actor – Male

Mark Strong                      Eddie Carbone   – A View From The Bridge

Tim Pigott-Smith                King Charles      – King Charles III

Christopher Brett-Bailey                               – This Is How We Die

Richard Armitage               John Proctor      – The Crucible

Danny Braverman                                        – Wot? No Fish!!

And the winner is…Mark Strong (A View From the Bridge)

It may not have been the strongest year for male performances, and some of the contenders were found in the most unexpected of places (well, Battersea), but the winner could lay claim to a performance that may well have won in any other year. Mark Strong’s Eddie was stunning in its physicality and presence. His tragedy had an orbit that sucked the audience into its path and in stripping away everything, Ivo Von Hove allowed the actors the space to make Miller’s play their own. Not someone regularly seen on stage – and not always considered in the first rank of British actors – Strong blew everyone else off the shortlist. More please.

Best Supporting Actor (Male/Female)

Oliver Cris                          Prince William                    – King Charles III

Lydia Wilson                      Duchess of Cambridge       – King Charles III

Vanessa Kirby                   Stella                                   – A Streetcar Named Desire

Jade Anouka                     Hotspur                               – Henry IV

Adrian Schiller                   Reverend Hale                    – The Crucible

Phoebe Fox                      Catherine                             – A View From The Bridge

And the winner is…Vanessa Kirby (A Streetcar Named Desire)

It was a great year for supporting actors – the competition so tough that it led to six nominations. All would have deserved winners and all will be seen contesting the top prizes in years to come. Phoebe Fox’s Catherine, diminutive in stature, more than matched the hulking physicality of Mark Strong, and delivered a sense of knowing transgression to their relationship. Adrian Schiller took us on a journey in The Crucible and his scenes with Richard Armitage’s John Proctor were as electric as any courtoom drama.

Olivier Cris and Lydia Wilson formed a wonderful double act as Will and Kate in Mike Bartlett’s smash-hit, King Charles III. Bartlett breathed life into our future royal leaders and Cris and Wilson leapt on the opportunity presented to them. Cris was scarily realistic as William whilst Wilson displayed the same sly intelligence that she has shown throughout her career to bring a touch of the Macbeths to the couple. Both worthy nominees.

But the battle was ultimately between Jade Anouka who produced a revelatory performance as Hotspur. Revelatory both in terms of the quality of the acting but also in how it enabled an entirely fresh insight into the character, and into the relationship with his wife, Lady Percy. Anouka was a sparky bundle of energy and managed to wrestle attention away from Harriet Walter – and anyone capable of doing that is someone to take note of.

However ultimately it was Vanessa Kirby as Stella who takes the prize. Providing a masterclass in how to act without anyone noticing, Kirby’s Stella stole my attention away from the histrionics of Blanche and the hulking brutishness of Stanley. It made me care about a Tennessee Williams play, which as regular readers will note is a rare event indeed. After three big performances (Masha in Three Sisters, Isabella in Edward II and now Stella) one suspects that cinema may be on the point of luring Ms Kirby away from the stage but for the sake of us theatre-goers one hope that she stays a little longer.

Best Director

Mine Cerci                          – How A Man Crumbled

Ivo Van Hove                     – A View From The Bridge

Benedict Andrews              – A Streetcar Named Desire

Thomas Ostermeier          – An Enemy Of The People

Simon Stone                      – The Wild Duck

Dmitry Krymov                   – Opus No. 7

And the winner is…Ivo Van Hove

There have been some beautiful plays this year but it is telling that none of the directors shortlisted are based in the UK. The continuing conservatism of the British tradition is a worry and for truly ground-breaking plays one must still look abroad. Two magnificent reinventions of Ibsen at the Barbican showed it is possible to mess around with the classics. Ostermeier delivered a predictably in your face Enemy of the People but it was Simon Stone’s perspex-boxed The Wild Duck that really managed to transcend its style with substance.

Dmitry Krymov could have had two plays on the shortlist but it was Opus No.7 that was beautiful, powerful and entirely unexpected. Marrying an abstract history of modern Judaism with a focused piece on Shostakovich shouldn’t have worked but was so carefully put together that each moment seemed like a little play in itself.

However Ivo Van Hove managed to marry directorial style with an ability to get the best out of his actors in A View From The Bridge. There were a dozen moments of beautifully, physical stylishness (including a phenomenally powerful take on the chair-lifting scene) but this were counter-balanced with top-class performances across the cast. It was difficult to find a fault with any part of the production.

Best Musical

Forbidden Broadway

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

The Mikado

Oh! What A Lovely War

Cosi Fan Tutte

And the winner is…Forbidden Broadway

There might have been better musicals this year but then again I didn’t see them – and even better; with Forbidden Broadway I didn’t need to. An unexpected delight and something entirely aimed at fans of musical theatre, Forbidden Broadway did for musicals what the Reduced Shakespeare Company did for the bard. It was witty, topical satire and it was performed by a cast that, if they weren’t doing this, wouldn’t have looked out of place in any major West End production. Full marks and one hopes the small-scale musical continues this mini-revival.

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