London newspaper honors theater

Evening Standard Awards to bow Nov. 27

By the time Rupert Goold‘s revival of “Macbeth” arrives at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Feb. 12, it may have the added advantage of being garlanded with awards. Goold, his designer Anthony Ward and leading man Patrick Stewart have all been nominated for Evening Standard Drama Awards, with winners to be announced Nov. 27.

Although members of the legit profession tend to be skeptical of all awards except when receiving one, insiders take the Standard kudos — named for and presented by London’s primary evening newspaper — more seriously than the more famous Oliviers. Why? Because of the judging process.

Oliviers are chosen in a blind vote by an eight-strong panel comprising four members of the public plus four people with previous allied industry experience (in the past years, ex-agents and TV producers). Members of the panel are discouraged from discussing the choices, much less making an impassioned case for or against them.

By contrast, the Evening Standard Awards are chosen after discussion and, indeed, fierce argument among five suitably experienced and opinionated practicing theater critics. They come up with a seriously slimmed-downlist of just eight awards: play, director, actor, actress, design, musical, most promising playwright and most promising newcomer. The Grammys, they ain’t.

Not that everyone is happy with the list of nominations this process produces, let alone the final choices. Why, for example, has Pam Ferris‘ knockout performance in “The Entertainer” failed to be nominated? Likewise, Kristin Scott Thomas, whose scintillating Arkadina was the lynchpin of Ian Rickson‘s electrifying, Broadway-bound “The Seagull.”

But the oversights aren’t simply a question of individual taste. Why, for example, do the design nods fail to mention lighting?

Two of this year’s nominees — Robin Don for “The Emperor Jones” and Rae Smith and Handspring Puppet company for “War Horse” — are unarguable instances of theater design wholly conceived and executed with the imagination and talent of their respective lighting designers: Neil Austin and Paule Constable. To nominate these shows without even reference to their lighting is bizarre.

For promising playwright, the judges have nominated Polly Stenham for her immensely affecting debut, “That Face,” which played an SRO season at the Royal Court Theater Upstairs and has already won the TMA (Theater Management Assn.) Award for new play.

The Court’s executive producer Diane Borger told Variety the theater is in negotiations with producer Sonia Friedman to transfer the show to the West End, possibly preceded by a brief revival in its main house. All this is subject to the availability of the flawless original cast headed by Lindsay Duncan and Matt Smith — the latter among the nominees for promising newcomer.

The actor noms, meanwhile, include Charles Dance for his performance as philosopher and “The Chronicles of Narnia” author C.S. Lewis in Michael Barker-Caven‘s lackluster revival of William Nicholson‘s “Shadowlands,” which opened last month at Wyndham’s Theater.

Dance certainly gives the most engaging perf in this ponderous production, which makes too little of Matthew Wright‘s nicely conceived book-lined yet versatile set design. But Dance looks strikingly relaxed, handsome and available in a role that demands he be repressed to the point of being emotionally shut down.

Antony Sher‘s torpid “The Giant” at Hampstead Theater, meanwhile, opened too late to be considered for this year’s Standards, but even though it boasts a 12-member, all-male cast, only two will be in contention next year for acting prizes.

John Light fills the role of Michelangelo with fiercely focused energy. Alongside him, as the model for the statue of David, Stephen Hagan makes a striking professional debut. His focus and ease onstage are all the more impressive considering he spends several chunks of the three-hour play entirely naked.

The rest of Gregory Doran‘s uneven cast fail to enliven Sher’s earnest exposition of life and politics in 16th century Florence. Even William Dudley‘s monumental set, complete with life-sized David, feels like a production disappearing up the blind alley of overly literal presentation and ill-digested research. Buried beneath it, potentially dramatic ideas about art versus sexuality struggle to get out.

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