The Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards took a hiatus during the lockdowns of 2021, but returned on 3 April 2022 with a ceremony at the Ham Yard Hotel, honouring work made in the calendar year 2021.

The decision not to hold an awards, even virtually, in 2021 had been a difficult one, but in the end the overwhelming view of the members was that it would be wrong to celebrate or define parameters of excellence at a time when our friends in the industry were undergoing an existential trauma. Nonetheless, we wanted to acknowledge that many people had nonetheless managed extraordinary creative work in new forms during the lockdown periods, which is why this year we also included five commendations for organisations and individuals who went above and beyond to keep theatre alive during lockdown.

Samuel Creasey (Most Promising Newcomer) Zadie Smith (Most Promising Playwright), Emma Keith and David Sabel (Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown), Igor Memic (Most Promising Playwright), Ben Daniels (Best Actor), Joanna Down and Harriet Mackie (Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown), Alastair Whatley (Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown), Rebecca Frecknall (Best Director), Nica Burns (Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown), James Graham (Best New Play), Cush Jumbo (Best Shakespearean Performance), Tom Littler, (Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown), Stuart Thompson (Most Promising Newcomer) and Rupert Goold (Best Musical) with Kate Maltby (Chair, Drama Section, Critics’ Circle) at The Critics Circle Theatre Awards at The Ham Yard Hotel, London on 03 April 2022

It was clearly a year for musicals – Cabaret and Spring Awakening garnered the most awards, with Cabaret winning Best Director (Rebecca Frecknall), Best Director (Tom Scutt) and Best Actress (Jessie Buckley), but Spring Awakening pipping it to the post for Best Musical, as well as winning Stuart Thompson one of the day’s two shared ‘Most Promising Newcomer Awards’.

Rupert Goold accepts the award for Best Musical for ‘Spring Awakening’ with Amara Okereke, Laurie Kynaston, Lynne Page, Stuart Thompson at The Critics Circle Theatre Awards at The Ham Yard Hotel, London on 03 April 2022

Veteran novelist Zadie Smith also won her first drama award, as her debut play ‘The Wife of Willesden’ made her eligible for the Most Promising Playwright award. She shared it with Igor Memic, who was recognised for his memory play Old Bridge and gave a moving speech about the impact of war on his Bosnian family, urging us to ‘make space’ for the children of Odese and Mariopul to tell their own stories in theatre. Completing our set of playwrights was James Graham, awarded the Michael Billington Award for Best New Play for the Headlong/Young Vic production of Best of Enemies – an award presented by the Critics’ Circle’s own Michael Billington in person.

James Graham with Michael Billington award for Best New Play ‘Best of Enemies’ , Zadie Smith with her award for ‘Most Promising Playwright’ for The Wife of Willesden and Igor Memic with his award for ‘Most Promising Playwright’ for Old Bridge at The Critics Circle Theatre Awards at The Ham Yard Hotel, London on 03 April 2022

Cush Jumbo took the Trewin Award for Best Shakespearian Performance for Hamlet and Ben Daniels won Best Actor for The Normal Heart. In an exact tie with Stuart Thompson, Samuel Creasey was also awarded a Most Promising Newcomer award, for his role in The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.

We awarded Commendations for Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown to Jermyn Street Theatre, Original Theatre Company, the National Theatre (particularly citing its NT Live screenings, the development of NT at Home, and the artistic excellence of Romeo & Juliet), OLD VIC: IN CAMERA. We also awarded an individual Commendation to Nica Burns, with the following citation;

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, most people in British theatre spent sleepless nights trying to work out how to save their own livelihoods. Our final Commendation today goes to someone who has made it her mission, from Day One, to invest in the survival of the rest of the industry, not merely the interests of her own businesses.

Few people would have thought this the time to finance a ‘Rising Stars’ festival, but this person went ahead and gave 24 young producers their West End debuts, backing newcomers in the midst of a financial crisis. She was a pioneer of the creative thinking needed to stage socially distanced theatre, with trials across the world for her productions of Everyone’s Talking About Jamie. She’s been unafraid to put pressure on government in public and indefatigable in lobbying in private.

So, for her commitment to our industry, and her investment in the next generation

This Commendation for Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown goes to Nica Burns.

We were delighted that Joanne Davidson worked with us to take the beautiful photographs you see on this page.