Winners of The Stage Awards 2023, in association with Tysers Insurance Brokers, were announced at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London today, Monday January 30.
Two theatres were recognised with the prestigious Theatre of the Year accolade, sponsored by Cabbells. At a time when new writing in British theatre is facing cuts, the judges celebrated two theatres with a focus on new work.
The Bush Theatre in London, celebrating its 50th anniversary, was praised for being a great identifier of new-writing talent, recently launching a New Writing Fund, which is raising £100,000 to support the next generation of playwrights. Programme highlights have included Tyrell Williams’ debut play Red Pitch, which won best play at The Stage Debut Awards. Meanwhile, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast also took home the title for its hugely impressive programme which featured eight full-scale productions, seven of which were new work. Judges were impressed by its Play/Write scheme, an online festival of workshops across five weeks that offered free skills development sessions and its New Work Open Call, which received 188 applications.
Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot won Theatre Building of the Year, for its newly built 17th-century style ‘cockpit’ theatre. As well as a 420-seat main auditorium, the venue is home to a fully accessible outdoor performance garden, an exhibition gallery, 60-seat studio theatre and learning centre. It has been a key catalyst for regeneration in the borough, which was one of the most deprived in England.
Derby Theatre’s immersive digital VR experience Odyssey won Digital Project of the Year, in recognition of the imaginative way it helped make arts more accessible to a previously under-served group of young participants across the care sector.
Meanwhile, Community Project of the Year, sponsored by Evolution Productions was won by There and Here. Luca Silvestrini’s Protein project was a devised dance and music piece co-created with non-dancers aged 19 to 70, who hailed from Angola to Turkey and Ecuador to Kuwait. It had a transformational impact on the lives of those involved, enhancing linguistic skill, combating isolation, improving self-expression and allowing them to be seen and heard.
Sam Crane / Rustic Mascara for Hamlet in Grand Theft Auto took home this year’s Innovation Award,sponsored by Charcoalblue. By auditioning and performing a fully-staged production of Hamlet within the open-world video game Grand Theft Auto, Sam Crane showed that theatre can embrace new technologies without a big investment behind them.
Improbable was named Producer of the Year, sponsored by TodayTix Group, for proving to be pioneering theatremakers and great collaborators in 2022. One of UK theatre’s most consistently adventurous performing arts companies, Improbable has created a host of great work spanning theatre, opera and improvisation, working successfully in partnership with other producers. In total, its work played to more than 185,000 people in the past year and included My Neighbour Totoro and An Improbable Musical.
The Fringe Theatre of the Year award, sponsored by encoreinsure.com, was won by Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle for its work showcasing and developing exciting theatremaking in the North East. The theatre has put huge emphasis on improving opportunities for local emerging artists. Alongside each full-length run, it commissions a local creative to develop a short piece in reaction to the work.
The International Award, sponsored by Concord Theatricals, was won by Another Route, an international fellowship for artists based in England that was created with the aim of providing opportunities for a new generation to make work abroad. Against a backdrop of Brexit and Covid, it has played a crucial role in giving a new generation of creatives and theatremakers the knowledge and opportunity to work internationally.
Meanwhile, the Unsung Hero award, sponsored by Kindred Partners, was for the second year in a row presented to a group rather than an individual. UK theatre’s remarkable front-of-house staff were collectively recognised for going above and beyond every day and being at the frontline of theatre’s recovery from the pandemic lockdowns. Collecting the award on behalf of staff across the country were a special selection of three theatre workers who were put forward by their colleagues to be recognised for their own individual contributions to their home theatres. All of them have served their theatres for more than 25 years, including in front-of-house roles. They are Jill Doyle-Davidson from the Savoy Theatre, London, Sheila Howarth from Leeds Playhouse and James ‘Jim’ Whaite from the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
Commenting on this year’s winners, Alistair Smith, editor of The Stage, said:
“At a time when new writing in the UK is facing damaging cuts, we are delighted to be able to celebrate two wonderful producing theatres who are staging some of the most exciting new work around, while also maintaining and extending their support to playwrights.
“Elsewhere, our winners underline the way UK theatre is both celebrating tradition (via projects such as the recreation 17th-century Shakespeare North Playhouse) but also embracing new technologies and looking to the future (through initiatives such as Derby Theatre’s Odyssey and Sam Crane’s Hamlet).
“The judging panel was also delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on areas of the industry that are sometimes overlooked, especially the tireless work of front-of-house staff, who have been at the frontline of helping theatres reconnect with their audiences as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Congratulations to all our winners and nominees – they are the tip of the iceberg in an endlessly creative and resilient sector.”
The Stage Awards, in association with Tysers Insurance Brokers, celebrate the greatest achievements in UK theatre in the past 12 months. The awards recognise performing arts organisations and teams who have been making fantastic work and those helping to shape and rebuild the sector for the better.
Sponsors for this year’s event include Cabbells, Charcoalblue, Concord Theatricals, encoreinsure.com, Evolution Productions, Kindred Partners and TodayTix Group with support from Autograph Sound, Blue-I Theatre Technology, Marshfield Farm Ice Cream, Plann, RFS Consulting, Spotlight, TAIT and The Society for Theatre Research.