William Russell, one of our London team, is cynical about our passion for Theatre Awards.
So here we go again – the annual Evening Standard awards are about to happen. Since it is London’s only evening newspaper and is free it is read by a couple of million people at least which gives it considerable clout. But do the awards mean anything?
Unlike the Critics’ Circle Drama Awards whose winners are voted for by the entire membership of the drama section – some hundred critics, big, small, famous and fatuous – these awards are bestowed by a cartel of the great and the good presided over, as is fit and proper, by the paper’s critic, Henry Hitchings. Anybody looking at the list of nominees with some knowledge of the famous few – Georgina Brown, Susannah Clapp, Libby Purves, Charles Spencer and Matt Wolff plus the paper’s editor Sarah Sands – could probably second guess the winners because critics have their funny little ways which are obvious to their readers.
It was, of course, always thus. Readers make allowances for the critic’s enthusiasms, and decide to go – or not – on the basis of that knowledge. The late Jack Tinker was a celebrated drama critic with a ready wit, but, for me at least, when he raved about a musical it was the cue to stay well away. I knew I would hate it. That is not to say he was necessarily wrong and I was right, just that critics have their foibles like everyone else.
How did I know what to do? Through bitter experience.
There will, of course, be horsetrading with any such panel – X likes something, Y likes something else, so to get Y’s vote for what he or she likes X will vote for what Y likes.
In other words the whole thing is just a PR stunt for the paper, a free lunch for the nominees and assorted celebrities who get invited, and an easy space filler rather than a serious critique of the output on the London stage. Does it have any relevance to the quality of the West End year? Your guess is as good as mine. As to who the famous few are, I have not listed their newspapers because most critics, unless they are television faces, are known only to their readers, who do not even include all the readers of their newspapers. X of The Daily Trumpet could well owe their authority because of The Daily Trumpet.
Why do we worship, so enthusiastically, at the altar of awards?