UK Theatre awards: women scoop acting prizes

Regional theatre awards honour actors Cush Jumbo, Janie Dee and Siân Phillips, while Blanche McIntyre wins best director

Women have scooped all the major acting prizes in the UK Theatre awards 2013. Cush Jumbo won best performance in a play for her starring role in A Doll's House, while Janie Dee won best performance in a musical for Hello Dolly! and Siân Phillips took the best supporting performance for This Is My Family.

The highest profile loser in the annual awards for regional theatre was Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who recently launched his 77th play at his Scarborough Theatre at the age of 74. He was shortlisted for best new play for his 76th, Surprises, seen in both Scarborough and Chichester, but in the event the new play prize went to Bull by Mike Bartlett, a production by Sheffield Theatres which also won best musical and best touring show.

The Stage award for outstanding contribution to British theatre went to Simon Callow, whose career in theatre began when he wrote a fan letter to Sir Laurence Olivier, and by return of post received an offer of work in the National Theatre box office. Acclaimed as an author and director as well as a stage, film and television actor, Callow is probably almost as well known now as Charles Dickens, from his touring one-man shows based on the novelist's own barnstorming readings. He also appeared as Dickens in a 2011 episode of Doctor Who.

A complex weighting system to ensure fair play among theatres of wildly different sizes meant the prize for the most welcoming theatre went to one of the smallest professional theatres in the UK, the 60-seater Bike Shed in Exeter. A cellar theatre with adjoining vintage cocktail bar, it has in the last three years hosted many touring companies and mounted a string of new productions.

Mark Shenton, a critic and member of the theatre judging panel, said the successes recognised in the awards were in the teeth of a sharply deteriorating financial climate for regional theatres.

"The cuts, in central government but more acutely in local government funding, are really starting to bite, with more to come. We have already seen some theatres close, and there will inevitably be more. It remains to be seen how much there is left for us to judge in future years. But the outstanding success of Sheffield shows what can still be achieved by a well supported local theatre with really strong leadership. It is striking that all their successes were for ambitious new productions, not modest two-handers."

Sheffield Theatres' prizes, apart from the best new play for Bull, included best musical for This is My Family and best touring production for The Full Monty. This Is My Family, tracking the stresses of a family holiday won in a competition, with the award-winning performance by Sian Phillips as the grandmother, was written and composed by Tim Firth – author of the smash-hit stage version of Calendar Girls – and directed by Sheffield's artistic director Daniel Evans. Among the shortlisted productions it beat was another Sheffield-Evans show, My Fair Lady.

Cush Jumbo's performance as Nora in Bryony Lavery's version of the Ibsen drama at the Royal Exchange in Manchester was admired by critic Lyn Gardner for its "steely delicacy". Jumbo, who was nominated for an Olivier award for her role as Mark Antony in an all-female casting of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, has most recently won rave reviews for her one-woman show about the dancer and singer Josephine Baker.

Janie Dee won the musical performance prize for her starring role – described in the Observer as "irresistible" – in Hello, Dolly! at the Curve in Leicester. The best director award went to Blanche McIntyre for her production of The Seagull, a Headlong and Nuffield Southampton production with Derby Theatre.

Contributor

Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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