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Ejiofor and Stewart share Shakespearean honour

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 18 April 2008

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Patrick Stewart today jointly received the John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards 2007, following a “fantastically strong year for Shakespearean performances”.

At the ceremony held at the Prince of Wales, Ejiofor was recognised for playing the title role in Othello at the Donmar Warehouse, which continues until 23 February, while Stewart received the award for his portrayal of Macbeth at the Gielgud, which transferred from Chichester in September 2007.

Critic John Peter of the Sunday Times, who presented Ejiofor with his award, compared his performance in the role of Othello to that of Laurence Olivier in 1964, saying it had “an overwhelming greatness”. Accepting the award, Ejiofor said: “It’s been an extraordinary experience doing this play. I’ve had an exceptional time working with Michael Grandage on it. This is such extraordinary icing to what has been already been the most privileged time.”

This is Stewart’s third accolade in the awards season to date, having already won Best Performance in a Play at the Theatrical Management Association Theatre Awards in October and Best Actor at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards in November. Collecting the Critics’ Circle award, Stewart commented: “I’m absolutely thrilled. This is capping an extraordinary 12 months.” He acknowledged the importance of theatre critics to his early interest in theatre as a 17-year old. “These were the people who fed my appetite for the theatre and gave me ultimately the courage to attempt to become part of that world.”

He added: “It seems to me that this is an extraordinary time in the life of our professional theatre, to have writers, actors and performers, the quality that you see, it’s astonishing. I’m so proud to be part of this profession”.

As at the Evening Standard Awards, it was a double win for Macbeth in today’s ceremony as Rupert Goold, who directed Stewart in the production, picked up Best Director. The duo will soon be recreating the winning partnership in New York as Macbeth opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in February.

Anne-Marie Duff claimed the Best Actress prize for her performance in Saint Joan at the National, while Charles Dance received Best Actor for his portrayal of C S Lewis in Williams Nicholson’s Shadowlands, which plays at the Novello until 23 February.

Dance commented: “I’m just very, very grateful and I’m glad that I’m doing it. You are what you seem to be in this business – people have perceptions. If you are lucky enough to be offered a part that enables you to at least attempt to change people’s perceptions, then do what I did and grab it.”

Hairspray was another double winner, picking up the Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical and the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer for Leanne Jones, who made her professional debut playing the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in the 1960s-set dance musical at the Shaftesbury. Collecting the award, Jones said of getting the part in Hairspray: “I had kind of started to think that it wasn’t going to happen. The fact that it happened in such a huge way, in the biggest, largest show it could have ever happened in, is quite unbelievable. Dreams really can come true.”

In a repeat of the Evening Standard Awards, the critics bestowed the Best New Play award on Simon McBurney and Complicite for A Disappearing Number, which ran at the Barbican in September, 21-year-old Polly Stenham was named Most Promising Playwright for That Face, which played at the Royal Court, and the award for Best Designer went to Rae Smith and the Handspring Puppet Company for War Horse at the National, which runs until 14 February.

The annual Critics’ Circle Awards celebrate the critics’ personal choice of the best in theatre and are decided by the independent votes of Drama Section members. This year’s ceremony at the Prince of Wales was hosted by Critics’ Circle Chairman Charles Spencer, with fellow critics including Nicholas De Jongh (Evening Standard), Michael Billington (The Guardian) and Georgina Brown (Mail On Sunday) presenting awards. em>CB

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