Celebrating creative excellence and the outstanding work seen on stages in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK Theatre (UKT) Awards have been recognising achievement in regional theatre since 1991.
Of the 15 award categories this year, six showed what black British creative talents have been saying for years – leave London, and there are opportunities and the wholehearted embrace of good work produced by good people, regardless of the artist’s demographic or superficial characteristics.
The UK Theatre Award ceremony took place in London’s Guildhall, on Sunday October 15th 2017, hosted by TBB Treasure and Olivier Award-winning actress Sharon D. Clarke. Guest presenters included TBB Favourites, the multi-award nominated actress Tanya Moodie and Brit-on-the-rise Tyrone Huntley.
Out of the Afri-Carib talent nominated, only one emerged triumphant – Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who was awarded the Best Supporting Performance of 2017 for her portrayal of Stella Kowalski in Sarah Frankom’s 2016 production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire at the Manchester Royal Exchange.
Team TBB are extremely happy about this, specifically because we showed unreserved solidarity with Duncan-Brewster after her award-winning performance suffered, in our opinion, a racially motivated attack in a national broadsheet. After the press night performance, with post reviews appearing, the scathing, contemptuous piece emerged, contrary to virtually every other review of the same show, and apparently fuelled by Duncan-Brewster’s casting as the traditionally white Stella. An obvious Maxine Peake (Blanche DuBois) fan, the reviewer seemed deeply, personally affronted at their juxtaposition as sisters , so much so, that he could barely commit an opinion of the actual performance to print!
It was also our opinion that the item should never have got past the editor. Except the editor issued a Facebook endorsement amidst the furore. Yet, here we are in 2017, with Duncan-Brewster a winner for that very performance, elected by a theatre panel which ironically included the offending critic! This win not only validates her talent as measured against all UK productions in the eligibility timeline, and vindicates her casting, but it is also a healthy, ringing endorsement of the high quality of regional theatre performance. Period.
Of course, a public apology and an admission of misogynoir would have been bliss. We can only hope the critic cast his vote in Duncan-Brewster’s favour, with acknowledged respect, not least for the dignity with which she dealt with the whole distasteful affair.
Other UK Theatre Award nominations of note included:
- Alfred Fagon Award shortlisted Natasha Marshall’s Half Breed, a Talawa Theatre Company/ Soho Theatre production, was nominated for Best New Play. (Alfred Fagon Award winner Charlene James’s Cuttin’ It won this category last year, as a Young Vic/Royal Court Theatre co-production with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sheffield Theatres and The Yard Theatre).
- The African American 1960s nanny/ maid experience earned a Best Musical Production nomination for Caroline Or Change (2003), directed by Michael Longhirst for the Summer 2017 Chichester Festival Theatre. Last seen at The National’s Lyttleton Theatre in 2006, this through-composed musical scored with spirituals, blues, Motown, classical music, and Jewish klezmer and folk music by Jeanine Tesori will be taking up a short residency in the Hampstead Theatre, come March/April 2018 (book here), featuring a UKT Best Performance in a Musical nominated near-virtuoso showing by the extraordinary Ms. Sharon D. Clarke in the title role.
- The magnificent Ms. Tanya Moodie earned a Best Performance in a Play nomination for her portrayal of Wiletta Mayer, an African American actress dreaming of Broadway success in 1950s New York in Trouble in Mind, Theatre Royal Bath Ustinov Studio. TV acting Legend Joseph Marcel and Brit-on-the-rise Daniel Ezra co-star. Past winners in this category are Paapa Essiedu in the title role of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, 2016, and Ms. Cush Jumbo for her portrayal of Nora in Henri Ibsen’s modern tragedy, A Doll’s House at the Royal Exchange, Manchester in 2013.
- Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was nominated for Achievement in Dance for their rich and full programme performed with distinctive personality, and presented by Dance Consortium.
- Dalston’s Arcola Theatre was nominated surprisingly for the first time in the Promotion of Diversity category. Past winners of the UK’s Most Welcoming Restaurants Theatre Award in association with Smooth Radio are 2015 one of 12 regional winners Hackney Empire; 2011 Theatre Royal Stratford East.
For more information on the UK Theatre’s Awards, visit their website here.