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Now, without donning our tinfoil hat, let’s just say this: since 2013, the most famous actress has always won at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Men-wise, and 2008-12 gives us Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mark Rylance, Rory Kinnear, Benedict Cumberbatch joint with Jonny Lee Miller, and Simon Russell Beale.That’s quite celebby, though most of them were less ‘Hollywood’ famous back then.The question is: does a Hollywood blockbuster on the CV hold more weight in the final reckoning of the awards winners than a good old-fashioned barnstorming stage performance?The shift has not unreasonably been attributed to Evening Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev.From 2013 to 2017, the ES winners were Helen Mirren, Gillian Anderson, Nicole Kidman, Billie Piper and Glenda Jackson. Two also won Oliviers: Piper, and (ironically) Mirren.However, the remaining three Olivier winners in the same period are noticeably less starry: Lesley Manville, Penelope Wilton and, of course, Denise Gough. And there is at least one absolute howler of a decision there: Kidman’s triumph over Gough was totally preposterous.
In a sense, most awards shows are about the optics.In 2013, there were six of these, most infamous of which was David Walliams’ ‘award for comedy’, an uncontested category, never repeated, that had allegedly been made up to celebrate the magnificence of his turn as Bottom in Michael Grandage’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.Other winners that year included the theatre icon award (to Maggie Smith), the Lebedev Award (to Andrew Lloyd Webber) and the editor’s award (to Kevin Spacey, hey ho).Obviously Lebedev was a presence, but not so heavy-handed that judges walked.First, let’s look at the contentious best actress category.