More than four hundred arts professionals packed into Sherman Cymru for this year’s Theatre Critics of Wales Awards. They also drank the bar dry, an event usually promoted as a challenging one for end of year exam period at university. The companies certainly put all those students to shame, but there was much cause for celebration this year. The popularity of the awards, by now in their second year, was plain to see as many more companies were in attendance; the venue was at its capacity. Each company also brought a large group of support, so the atmosphere in the theatre was really buzzing, if a little loud at times. In fact, the host, Nicola Heywood-Thomas was prompted to stand at the podium, waiting for silence, announcing ‘my mother was a primary school teacher.’
After a hectic start, everyone was finally ushered into the theatre and the awards began. The first award for best music and sound went to the fantastic Gagglebabble for their production The Bloody Ballad. Lucy Rivers accepted the award being the main songwriter for the production. The tone of the evening was thus set: the evening would be a celebration of the array of talent in Wales, despite the size or prominence of the companies. Gagglebabble went on to win the award for Best Ensemble, rivalling the bigger companies. The company expressed their excitement on how winning this particular award was a massive compliment as they strive to create an ensemble atmosphere in and through their work.
Welsh National Opera scooped the best opera production with Lulu, whilst Marie Arnet, unable to attend but sending a few gracious words on her behalf, won best female performance in an opera production. Ballet Cymru won Best Large Scale Dance production for their Romeo a Juliet whilst Earthfall: Chelsea Hotel won best small scale dance production. Best Female in an English production went to Siwan Morris for her gritty role in Tonypandymodium, whilst Welsh actress Rhian Morgan accepted Best Female in a Welsh performance for her heart wrenching performance as Eileen Beasley in Theatr Genedlaethol’s Dyled Eileen. Rhian Morgan was the only actress to receive two nominations in the same category, one for Dyled Eileen and one for Tir Sir Gar in which she played the farmwife and mother who watches her family home descend into uncertainty after the death of her husband. The actress gave a heartfelt acceptance speech emphasising how important the character of Eileen Beasley truly was and revealed that the show would be touring again later in the year.
Best Actor in an English Production went to the talented Robbie Bowman for his role in Living Pictures’ one-man Gogolian show Diary of a Madman. The one-man show proved popular in this category, and Best Male in a Welsh Production went to Owen Arwyn for his role as Handi Al the clown in Aled Jones Williams’ superb Pridd. Pridd narrowly missed out on best script in the Welsh language which went to Roger Williams for his poignant Carmarthenshire-based script Tir Sir Gar, a script inspired by conversations with farmers about the challenges they face in the twenty-first century. Best English script went to the infamous Tim Price for Salt, Root and Roe, who exclaimed ‘At last, I’ve beaten Kath Chandler!’ Kath was also nominated for her script Parallel Lines. Price’s script was described by critics as an inverted version of Dafydd James’ Llwyth, a production which received numerous awards last year. Despite receiving several nominations this year for My Name is Sue: The Second Coming, Dafydd James missed out on an award. Nevertheless, he would have been undoubtedly thrilled to see The Bloody Ballad, a show for which he was a creative associate, be recognized as one of the most successful productions in 2013.
And now for the big ones. This year saw a dramatic change in the decision for Best Production in both languages. There was firstly the critics’ choice, chosen by the panel. There was also the public vote, sponsored by both Wales Online and Golwg 360. Best English Production as voted for by the public went to Tonypandymonium. Rachel Trezise accepted the award along with director Mathilde Lopez. Trezise’s script was based on her own experiences growing up with an alcoholic mother, and was recognized by the public as the best production in Wales in 2013. The same privilege was awarded to Theatr Genedlaethol’s Tir Sir Gar, whilst critics voted Blodeuwedd as their favourite Welsh language play of 2013. Dirty Protest won critics’ vote, and was received by Parallel Lines director Catherine Paskell who drew attention to the fact that the evening had been dominated by the smaller companies who received little or no core funding. This seemed to be the message for this year’s awards: that by being proactive and creating fantastic shows which were deemed the best in Wales in 2013, the smaller companies triumphed.
The evening was therefore a massive success. Our second awards ceremony is over, and we look forward to the ever expanding demand for one in 2014. Next year, greater emphasis will be placed on the development of bilingualism during the ceremony, and also a recruitment drive for more Welsh-speaking panellists in order to represent a wider Wales.