Manchester Theatre Awards

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News: Last year's trophy winners

Winners of the 2011 Manchester Theatre Awards gathered to celebrate the best of the region's theatrical talent, recognising its continued influence both nationally and internationally.

Earlier in the year the nine-strong judging panel revealed the winners who were chosen across 17 categories, including best production, best actor, best design and best new play, as well as a special award for outstanding contribution to North West theatre.

Many of the productions receiving awards - including Ghost the Musical, The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic, and Secret Thoughts - premiered in Manchester and have since gone on to enjoy international success.

More than 100 invited theatre practitioners and event sponsors, from around the region and beyond, heard veteran Manchester performer David Fleeshman wholeheartedly support both the region’s vibrant theatre life and its first independent awards.

Listing the metropolis’s many venues he told an appreciative crowd: “The work in these places is some of the best in the world.”

It was a theme taken up by producer Paul Clay accepting award for The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic at Manchester International Festival (Best Special Entertainment) who said it was: “Proof, if proof were needed, that work made in Manchester is the best in the world.

Of the awards - relaunched by a group of the region’s most respected reviewers late last year – David Fleeshman added: “These awards are an essential part of this amazing region’s theatre life. They may be starting small again this year, but from small acorns great things will grow.”

On accepting the award for Best Actress in a Visiting Production for her role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost The Musical, in which she is currently starring in the West End, Sharon D Clarke paid tribute to the wealth of opportunities Manchester theatres have offered her since beginning her acting career at Contact Theatre in 1987.

"To come back and open Ghost at the Opera House was a joy to me," she said.

The technical extravaganza of a show also won the award for Best Musical and is currently running on Broadway with Cheshire's Richard Fleeshman in the lead, played by Patrick Swayze in the film version.

Collecting the award, Richard's mum, actress Sue Jenkins said: "If Broadway didn't know Manchester it does now because Richard is telling everybody. It is his pride that he opened in his home town and I am very proud that Ghost The Musical won this category."

But it is not just the big budget shows that have gone on to enjoy international success. David Lodge's Secret Thoughts, which began life at The Octagon Theatre in Bolton, is now running in Paris. Accepting the award for best new play, the acclaimed novelist said: "I'm delighted to receive this. Secret Thoughts is my third play and this is the first prize I've won for a play and a huge encouragement to me. I owe everything to artistic director, David Thacker."

Indeed it had been a triumphant year for The Octagon which won four awards – Best Actress (Margot Leicester), Best Supporting Actor (Kenneth Alan Taylor), Best New Play and the highly-coveted Best Production, for The Price.

The number of world-class productions Thacker has staged is all the more remarkable given the size of the venue and its resources, the success of which he fondly attributed to its departing executive director, John Blackmore, who, he joked, "had to learn to live with austerity before we all knew what austerity meant."

In turn Kenneth Alan Taylor, accepting his award, paid tribute to Thacker: “Everybody said ‘You and Thacker? You'll never get on’, but I think it's true to say I fell in love with him!”

“The happiest production I have ever been in - except perhaps my own pantomimes!”

Designers Judith Croft and Nick Richings praised the collaborative effort that went into the Library's innovative and ambitious production of Hard Times which took Best Design.

Margot Leicester, receiving the award for Best Actress, recognised the space awards provide to thank all the people to whom you are really indebted. “Of course, that obviously includes those who never share the credits.

“The people at the Octagon embody everything that’s brilliant about local theatre,” she said, “and these awards embody local theatre’s sense of encouragement and ambition to be the best.

“There are more brilliant creative theatre people in this area than anywhere else in the world; I’m so proud to come from here, and so happy to be part of this event.”

Shannon Tarbet, who accepted the best actress in a supporting role award in Bruntwood-winning play, Mogadishu at The Royal Exchange, said: "My dad is my biggest influence on any achievement I've made and will always be the push behind me."

The 20-year-old added that Manchester also marked a huge personal step. “It’s my second-favourite place after home in Brighton,” she said. “Manchester was my first long period away from home; I really grew up in the city.”

Stage and screen star Con O'Neill, who picked up Best Actor for his role in A View From The Bridge at the Royal Exchange, brought his parents along to share the celebration and explained: "I dedicate this award to all the mums and dads who allow their kids to fly."

O’Neill - whose stunning intensity in A View From the Bridge had audiences on the edge of their seat added: “When I was a boy, theatre changed everything for me. It encouraged me to be brave. But as a boy growing up near Wigan, theatre wasn’t something you did. So I was a bit ashamed to tell my parents I wanted to be an actor.

“But when I did they didn’t bat an eyelid; they let me follow my dream.”

As well as home-grown productions the region's receiving houses also allow Greater Manchester audiences to enjoy the best national and international theatre.

Accepting the award for Best Dance for Cinderella, Simon Harper of the Birmingham Royal Ballet celebrated the company's 10-year relationship with the Lowry, "We love our home in this area and hope that our relationship with the Lowry will continue."

Julia Gregg of Opera North, collecting the award for Best Opera, also praised the Lowry for nurturing the relationship which enabled a winning premiere of a little-known contemporary opera, The Portrait.

Host, and awards chairman, Kevin Bourke announced several awards to recipients who couldn’t attend, including Best Visiting Actor Rory Kinnear - who starred in the National’s Hamlet on tour at the Lowry; and retiring Royal Exchange founding artistic director Braham Murray, who received a special award for his 35-year contribution to North-West theatre life at the head of one of the country’s most respected theatres.

Plans for the 2012 Manchester Theatre Awards are already advanced, and it is hoped to raise their profile even further with the help of the city’s council and business sponsorship.

This year’s ceremony, organised by Touch Events, was held at The Broderick Suite, at the Co-operative's New Century House building with entertainment by stand-up comedian Phil Buckley.

Look out for reports from our media partners Lancashire Life, Cheshire Life, BBC Radio Manchester and British Theatre Guide. For more information, contact us at info@manchestertheatreawards.com.

David Chadderton
09 May 2012