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You Never Forget Your First Time

Imelda Staunton, winner of the Best Musical Performance award, and presenter Dame Shirley Bassey pose in front of the Winners Boards at The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards in partnership with The Ivy at The Old Vic Theatre on November 22, 2015 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Imelda Staunton, winner of the Best Musical Performance award, and presenter Dame Shirley Bassey pose in front of the Winners Boards at The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards in partnership with The Ivy.
Pic Credit: Dave Benett

It’s been a few days and I still haven’t fully recovered from Sunday when I was privileged to attend the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Never having been to a major awards show before, I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I have to say all the glamour and glitz you see on the television cannot convey how wonderful the event really is.

Firstly, it’s black tie which, in my case, meant frantic phone calls between London and Blackburn and my parents couriering down my evening suit, only to find the jacket no longer fits – maybe carrying some holiday pounds for me and some friends. Finding a new jacket – short and round – was less hassle than I thought as was buying a pair of dress shoes. Of course, waiting for everything to arrive was nail biting – particularly as the shoes didn’t turn up until Saturday. Still Sunday night I was suited and booted and headed off to the Old Vic, invitation email in hand.

When I got there, it was pandemonium. As well as the celebs and others like me, the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards is attended by students from just about every major theatre school in london and there were a lot of very excited students also waiting to take their seats. Once inside I was having a quick drink and a chat with a fellow reviewer when Dame Shirley Bassey casually walked through the lobby. She may be 78, but she looked spectacular and seemed very spry for her age. So, champagne in hand, I took my seat in the front row of the Dress Circle and looked down at the stalls. All of the seats were gone and instead there were great big tables with the cream of the theatre world sitting finishing their meal. I spent the next few minutes ‘celeb watching’ who wouldn’t as the voice of Sir Ian Mckellen boomed out telling everyone to take their seats for the awards were about to start.

The lights went down and suddenly there was our host for the evening, Rob Brydon, on the stage welcoming us to the show. Here’s something you may not know about Mr Brydon, not only is he a very funny man, he does wicked, and very lifelike, impressions of Michael Caine, Terry Wogan and Alan Bennett. The evening started on an emotional level with Designer Christian Louboutin, who had come in from Paris that morning, who in a moving speech spoke about his love for home country France after the Paris attacks last week. “Being paralysed by this is not an option. I believe in love and freedom and also humanity winning over darkness. I love my country, my heart is still bleeding. I’d like to thank the people of England for being so demonstrative in their support.” Christian, along with Jessica Brown Findlay presented the first award of the evening – Best Design – to Anna Fleischle for Hangmen at the Royal Court.

Once the awards started, there seemed to be no stopping them and in a quick succession, David Moorst had won the Emerging Talent Award for his role in Violence and Son at the Royal Court and Jeremy Irvine with Gemma Chan had presented the Newcomer in a Musical award to Gemma Arterton for Made in Dagenham. I was sat there loving every minute. David gave a really sweet speech, thanking his mum – who was sat with him – and Gemma seemed genuinely surprised that she had won – despite the cheers from the audience when her name was read out. Following a lovely rendition of “Moon River” by Pixie Lott, we were back to the awards and after the V&A’s Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty won the Beyond Theatre award it was time for Dame Shirley to take to the stage and present the Best Performance in a Musical. In a year when there have been some amazing shows opening, there could be, for me and the majority of the audience, only one winner and as Imelda Staunton’s name was read out the entire audience including me stood up with her and cheered her up to the stage. Imelda gave a lovely speech and I secretly prayed that someone would take the opportunity to announce that Gypsy’s run had been extended.

Unfortunately, if the announcement happened I missed it but I got over it pretty quick as Vanessa Redgrave made her way to the stage to pick up her Editor’s Award from Ralph Fiennes and Joely Richardson to the second standing ovation of the night. Vanessa’s speech was really moving and more than one eye was being wiped by the end of it. Let’s be honest, I was the usual emotional wreck. Following the presentation of the award for Best Director to Robert Icke for his production of Oresteia at the Almeida and Trafalgar Studios. The lovely Elaine Paige came on stage and the entire audience was joined by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 for the award for Best Musical. This had been voted for by the listeners of Radio 2 – including yours truly – and Kinky Boots was duly awarded with their justly deserved prize. After Adly Guirgis was presented his award for Best Play Motherf***er with the Hat, the audience were treated to a barnstorming (and standing ovation getting) excerpt from Gypsy by the absolutely awesome Imelda Staunton. Seriously, could my evening get any better? Well, it turned out it could as I saw Nicole Kidman – in a truly stunning dress – receive the award for Best Actress and then the final award of the night was presented by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan. After a lovely comic piece, the two of them introduced the winner of the Lebedev Award to the man Imelda had earlier described as the Shakespeare of musical theatre – Stephen Sondheim. So that was me completely over-excited at this point. Three of my absolute heroes of theatre on the stage in front of me at the same time.

I’ve often wondered what it is that drives actors to go into such an unstable industry where despite years of training, you can spend you entire career not doing the job you love. But on Sunday, sitting in the Dress Circle I finally understood. For a couple of hours I really wanted to be sitting at one of those tables down in the auditorium, full of food and wine, and hoping that tonight was going to be my night to win one of those coveted statues. As I left the theatre having had a truly awesome night, I had a euphoric grin on my face that is still there three days later.

Terry Eastham

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