Entering its 14th year, The Stage Awards highlight the achievements in theatre across the UK. This year it turned its attention to 30 nominees across ten categories. For the first time this year, there was also the surprise addition of a Judge’s Award.
The prestigious event took place in front of an industry professional packed audience, with guests including West End producers, artistic directs, stage stars and many of the figures who featured in The Stage 100 list.
This years ten awards are, Theatre of the Year, Fringe Theatre of the Year, Theatre Building of the Year, Community Project of the Year, Producer of the Year, International Award, Digital project of the Year, Innovation Award, Unsung Hero Award and the previously mentioned new addition, Judge’s Award.
This year, the Theatre of the Year Award was given jointly to two venues in recognition of their achievements during 2023: The National Theatre in London and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury.
The win for the National coincides with its 60th anniversary year, a testament to outgoing artistic director Rufus Norris and an admirable legacy for its incoming artistic director Indhu Rubasingham. In its anniversary year, the National Theatre pulled out all the stops; not only did it deliver its most prolific season in the theatres history, producing 31 plays and musicals – with seven West End transfers and two shows in New York, it also continued to impress with its community and outreach work. Both onstage and off, the National continues to lead by example in demonstrating the power and importance of theatre.
Meanwhile, the Watermill Theatre’s win represented a heroic comeback story. At the end of 2022 the theatre lost its Arts Council England funding, however the team at the Watermill have worked tirelessly to ensure that the theatre not only survives, but thrives. Nowhere is this clearer than its triumphant and bold production of the Lord of the Rings musical.
The Fringe Theatre of the Year, sponsored by encore insure, was awarded to Little Angel Theatre, London. Similarly to the Watermill, Little Angel Theatre’s win gives recognition to its contribution to the theatre ecology through its championing of puppetry and children’s theatre. Based on an ethos of inclusivity and a passionate belief in the importance of stories for everyone, Little Angel is a beacon for the value of inventive and accessible theatre.
The Theatre Building of the Year was also awarded to an organisation that puts accessibility and engagement with younger audiences at the heart of their work. Roundhouse Works, London, designed specifically for 18-30 year olds, reminds us of the importance of carving out spaces within the theatre community in which to welcome and nurture young creatives. With this development, the Roundhouse has been able to expand its work with the next generation of artists massively, and will offer young creative affordable membership and financial assistance.
Nowhere is the development of creative spaces and the impact it can have on communities more evident than in Culture Collective, the recipient of the Community Project of the Year award sponsored by Evolution Productions.
Using pandemic recovery funds to support 26 organisations – ranging from tiny community hubs to regularly funded organisations across Scotland – Culture Collective has had a transformative effect on some of the communities and the industry professionals within them hit hardest by the pandemic – all against a backdrop of a chronically underfunded sector.
The winner of Producer of the Year: Ellie Keel Productions, equally embodies the importance of championing accessibility within the industry. Now in its third year, the Women’s Prize for Playwriting nurtures new talent. Through the prize, producer Ellie Keel demonstrates not only her passion for discovering new writers, but her commitment to producing their work. 2023 provided a busy year, taking three shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Winning the International Award, sponsored by Concord Theatricals, was Battersea Arts Centre (BAC). This year, BAC’s ambitious and commendable international program included a series of works, from productions such as Hate Radio by Milo Rau (Switzerland) and Miet Warlop’s propulsive and intense One Song (Belgium), to collaborations such as with the Shubbak Festival, the UK’s premier festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture. Through its work both on and off stage, Battersea Arts Centre is fast becoming London’s key hub for international theatre.
The winner of Digital Project of the Year, sponsored by Cabbells, was Parade-Fest and Artists on the Frontline’s With Fire and Rage. This immersive multimedia theatrical experience highlighted the importance of the international network, following artists on the front line in Ukraine and linking them to Liverpool. Stories unravelled in public spaces across the city as first-hand audio testimony was combined with a variety of mediums and art forms, bringing distant experiences to audiences with a powerful immediacy.
The value of engaging audiences beyond the physical realm is exemplified, too, in ZU-UK’s Within Touching Distance, which took home the Innovation Award sponsored by Charcoalblue. Within Touching Distance is a digital arts collaboration between mental-health patients and health professionals, researchers and community organisations. This intimate, one-on-one, mixed-reality production has been described by health practitioners as “a perfect example of the power art has to push the limits of healthcare simulation and make healthcare professionals think beyond their own reality”.
The Unsung Hero Award, sponsored by Kindred Partners, was awarded to Janet Bakose from the Chichester Festival Theatre. She is the theatre’s longest-serving staff member of an incredible 45 years. Janet first joined the theatre in 1978 as a deputy box-office manager. Since taking over the programming responsibilities for the winter months in 2004, she has brought in over 600 productions, performances and concerts. As colleagues describe: “Quite simply, it is impossible to underestimate her contribution to the success and ethos of Chichester Festival Theatre.”
In a surprise first for The Stage Awards, a Judges’ Award was given to north London’s Chickenshed for 50 years of excellence. Its ethos of being a theatre company for “absolutely everyone”, Chickenshed champions inclusivity and accessibility not only on stage but also through its courses, workshops and Young Company.
The winners were announced at The Stage Awards 2024 – hosted by Isobel Thom and Elan Davies, co-recipients of The Stage Debut Award 2023 for best performer in a play – on January 29, 2024 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, in association with Tysers Live. The ceremony also featured a live performance from the award-winning actor Jessica Lee, winner of best performer in a musical at The Stage Debut Awards 2023 for her performance in Miss Saigon at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Jessica Lee performed Borrowed Time from her run playing Misa Amane in the English-language premiere of Frank Wildhorn’s musical adaptation of Death Note: The Musical.