The Whingers Awards 2009 – the very worst and the not so bad

Tuesday 29 December 2009

With another year rapidly drawing to a close it is time for the Whingers to reflect and indulge themselves in a little more navel gazing – not our own navels, as that would be even duller than usual for you – but the innies and outies of the sometimes fluffy navels of London’s artistic directors, producers, players and theatres and award The Whingies to the most outstanding ones.

But first our own navels: 2009 has been a year of heady excitement for the Whingers. It was a year that saw them inadvertently whip up controversy and heated debate again and again and again.

It was also a year in which artistic differences reared their ugly heads threatening the very fabric of the West End Whingers, a tear in the polyester bed-sheet of their existence so delicate that a clumsily clipped toenail might have been all it took to rent it from headboard to toe straight down the middle.

The Whingers were courted by the British Broadcasting Company, libelled as “muckrakers” in the National Press, lampooned in song and Phil had his pithiest aphorism to date quoted (yet mainly without attribution) by national critics. There was an evening of confusion in which Phil was mistaken for Michael Grandage and the Whingers finally received an award for their artistic endeavours.

And we finally got the opportunity to choose between the Merlot and the Marlowe.

So, without further do, here are the results of the Kentish Town and Vauxhall juries:

Least Worst Play of the Year: Without much of a second thought, this goes to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. An incredible feat as this marathon of a play turned out to be twice the length of Mike Bartlett’s Cock which nudged into second place. Bartlett’s Cock was a well-formed, sturdy little thing and gave the Whingers almost as much to chew on as Jersusalem. In both cases the writing was supported by top notch performances, direction and design, making them also the best overall productions of a play. This double whammy means that the award for…

Artistic Powerhouse of the Year goes to the Royal Court which means that the award for…

Least Worst Artistic Director of the Year goes to Dominic Cooke.

Least Worst Actor of the Year: The Whingers very were impressed by performances from David Dawson in Comedians, Mark Rylance in both Jerusalem and Endgame, Tom Sturridge in Punk Rock and Robert Daws in Public Property. Phil has been angling for a mention for Jude Law in Hamlet but that’s only because he’s confusing “acting” with “looking good in a cardigan”. We’re not sure if Andrew Scott (Cock) should be in this category or the Least Worst Supporting Actor category. But anyway, even if he hadn’t drunk raw eggs live on stage at the beginning of every performance we would probably still give this most coveted of awards to Mark Rylance for Jerusalem.

Least Worst Actress of the Year: With Dame Judi out of the running despite her impressive display of panier wrangling in the disappointing Madame de Sade the Whingers’ coveted trophy was up for grabs. Rachael Weisz for Streetcar? Pamela Anderson for Aladdin? But in the end it has to come down to a battle of the comic titans: Alison Steadman for her by turns funny and touching Enjoy and Imelda Staunton’s Kath in Entertaining Mr Sloane. We may have to declare a tie. On the other hand if we give it to Staunton it may hasten her Damehood. Or put the kybosh on it. One or the other. Or make no difference whatsoever.

Least Worst Director of the Year: Michael Grandage can do no wrong in Phil’s eyes since he was mistaken for the Donmar’s AD. But James MacDonald did things with Cock the Whingers didn’t think possible: he made the Whingers believe that theatre-in-the-round can almost work. Who’d have thought?

Least Worst Musical of the Year: It was something of a bumper crop this year: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Forbidden Broadway, Hello Dolly! and Sweet Charity were all strong contenders and then just when we thought it was safe to make a decision along came most unexpectedly joyful Legally Blonde. We had expected to be utterly underwhelmed by it but instead of that we ended up on our feet applauding and cheering. Most unusual. In retrospect we wonder if producer Sonia Friedman might not have spiked our drinks with something.

Worst Musical of the Year: A wonderfully strong category this year: Too Close To The Sun, Annie Get Your Gun, Spring Awakening, but like the last category, a last minute entry – Sandi Toksvig’s Christmas Cracker – which while not strictly a musical – deserves special mention. After due consideration, Too Close To The Sun provided too much entertainment to warrant Worst Musical. It’s tempting to give it to Spring Awakening simply because it’s guaranteed to generate a wave of indignation from its teenage fan base. However, Annie Get Your Gun was such a crime against musical theatre that the Young Vic production wins hands down.

Worst Play of the Year: Candidates include Well, Complicit and England People Very Nice but there are too many to choose between really so the award goes to “most of them”.

Most Impressive Performance with a Potential Legal Action: If only Andrew had been there to see it; he lives for moments like these. The wonderful Finbar Lynch took a tumble off the stage in the less than wonderful The Fastest Clock in the Universe. The play was stopped but the old “show must go” on adage quickly rolled into action. Lynch returned to warm applause. Marvellous stuff.

Least Worst Supporting Actor/Actress: Nominations include Simon Paisley Day in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Miriam Margolyes for Endgame and Andrew Scott for Cock with a nod to Richard Bremmer for his performance in Sloane. Scott gets it because he didn’t get Least Worst Actor.

Least Worst Performance in a Musical: Very, very difficult.  We marvelled at Tony Sheldon in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mark Umbers for his three roles in Sweet Charity, Samantha Spiro for her spirited Dolly! and Sheridan Smith for her Elle in Legally Blonde. Can we call it a four-way tie?

Most Welcome Understudy of the Year:

Production Most Likely to Lead to Swine Flu: Three Days of Rain

Most Impressive Tucking Away of Genitalia: What a year for the Royal Court! And we’re not talking about Mike Bartlett’s impressive Cock for once. With on-stage vomiting out of vogue on ’09 the Whingers were subjected to many unusual sights on stage. Mark Ravenhill subjected the Treadaway Twins to all sorts of ignominies in Over There not least having Luke Treadaway strip naked and do a nifty genital-tuck to play his own brother’s lover (got that?).

Most Impressive Display of Genitalia: Of course you’re all waiting for us to say Mike Bartlett’s penetrating Cock, but we won’t and can’t because the cast keep their kit on throughout. And it wasn’t even in the underwhelmingly flaccid Naked Boys Singing! No, the surprise display of ’09 (topping Ruthie Henshall’s ’08 honkers) was Imelda Mary Philomena Bernadette Staunton OBE flaunting her escutcheon in the hilarious Entertaining Mr Sloane. There was much debate surrounding Dame Imelda’s appearance “all in the rude”: was she or wasn’t she wearing a body stocking under that see-through négligée?

Best Looking Director of the Year: Who else? Michael Grandage of course! Andrew may disagree on this one but Phil’s insisted the Whingers introduce this new category. Since glimpsing his doppelgänger (no Mike Bartlett-style entendre intended) at Red, Phil can attest that Grandage is not only supremely talented but also a very handsome fellow indeed.

The Who Would Have Thought It? award for unexpected delights: Nominations include: Private Lives at the otherwise cursed Hampstead Theatre. Untitled at the Finborough, More Light at the Arcola, Kursk at the Young Vic and Public Property at the Trafalgar Studios. Unable to decide.

Bertie Carvel in Rope at the AlmeidaMost Discussed Performance: Bertie Carvel for Rope in which he conscientiously portrayed Rupert Cadell as described by the playwright thus: “He brings his words out not only as though he is infinitely weary of all things, but also as though articulation is causing him some definite physical pain which he is trying to circumvent by keeping his head and body perfectly still. His sentences are often involved, but nearly always syntactically complete. His affectation almost verges on effeminacy, and can be very irritating, but he has a very disarming habit, every now and again, of retrieving the whole thing with an extraordinary frank, open and genial smile.”

Back in July we predicted that the 2009 Award for an Outstanding Display of Spunk would go to the unfortunate yet plucky cast of the Ernest Hemingway musical Too Close To The Sun (aka Ernie Get Your Gun) and so it proved to be.

Best On-Stage Self-Gratification Scene: Hard. It’s a toss-up between Over There and Spring Awakening.

Technological Breakthrough of the Year: Richard Dreyfuss’s ear-piece for Complicit which will be a boon to actors who – as though working for three hours a day were not cushy enough already – won’t have to learn their lines in the future.

Theatrical Event of the Year: Too Close To The Sun or Spring Cleaning: The third Annual West End Whingers Party. Thing is, we don’t remember much about the latter while the former is forever burned into our hippocampi, like a long regretted teenage tattoo.

Least Worst Pigeon Mimicry: All those in the cast of Steven Berkov‘s surprisingly thrilling On the Waterfront who were forced to impersonate pigeons. The cast had obviously spent many hours in Trafalgar Square honing their impersonations to perfection. A definitive coo de théâtre.

Theatrical trend of the year: Early in the year it looked as though it would be boxes of Rice Crispies featuring the “adopt a monkey” offer seen in both Helen Smith’s play in Miniaturists 18 and Mark Ravenhill’s Over There. But that turned out to be a mere flash in the pan and the new on-stage vomiting is undoubtedly limping. Kevin Spacey displayed a fine limp in Inherit the Wind, while David Troughton appeared to have a real one, and there are two currently on display in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, not to mention Bertie Carvel‘s hobble in Rope.

Most disappointing use of £18,715,431: The Royal National Theatre managed to underwhelm us on almost every occasion that we patronised it:  Dido, Queen of Carthage, England People Very Nice, Death and the King’s Horseman, PhedreNation etc etc. And we didn’t even see Mother Courage. To be fair though, as someone pointed out of the Guardian theatre blog, Burnt By The Sun was “an example of what the National Theatre do best – big expansive productions with lots of open-plan houses on revolves surrounded by fir trees”.

Alan Bennett Play of the Year: Enjoy, not The Habit of Art.

Trickery Most Tricky to put into a Category Award: Despite Dame Imelda’s Miss Pole struggling to learn a trick from a book in Bonnetford declaring magic to be, “just the rearrangement of the alphabet”, the Whingers found their easy-to-boggle minds satisfactorily boggled by Derren Brown’s Enigma. And just because there were no other contenders in this specialist field it renders Mr Brown’s rearrangement of the alphabet no less a deserving winner.

Tool of the Year: Andrew wanted to award this to Phil (and again, and sadly, not in a Carry On Mike Bartlett way) but in the end the Whingers agreed on their own Gay-O-Meter. This, you may recall was devised to support Andrew’s CLOG (Campaign for Less Over-representation of Gays) initiative by helping playwrights judge just how gay the world inside their play is.

Gibberish of the Year: This year we have decided not to admit the content of National Theatre programmes for this award which has made life a lot simpler. Nevertheless, it is a tie shared by Shawshank Redemption for “Dreams are what the future is made of… Hope will take you there” and practically every lyric in Spring Awakening, but particularly “Fondle the pearl of your distant dreams”.

Audience Member of the Year: Disappointingly, we came nowhere but then this was a hotly contended category. There was the dress circle audience member who vomited onto people in the stalls during Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the punter who urinated on actor Lyndon Edwards in A Little Night Music and, of course, the Amy Winehouse panto incident at Milton Keynes.

Sadly we were not at any of these performances so we have to nominate the man in seat B13 at Prick Up Your Ears in Richmond: The auditorium had darkened, the curtain had gone up, Kenneth Halliwell (Matt Lucas) was sitting on a bed on stage and an elderly man wandered to the front of the stalls and tried to locate his seat. Either the latecomer didn’t realise the play had started or he simply didn’t care because his less than sotto voce utterances (“Where’s B 13?”, “It’s dark, I can’t see.”) forced Lucas to extemporise for several minutes, garnering rounds of applause from the audience. The Whingers were so impressed they considered coming in late from the interval if that was all they needed to do to get an audience roaring with laughter. It is almost certainly the only way they will ever generate such enthusiastic applause. But sadly they would have been upstaged by Mr B 13 who remained standing talking to people in the row behind him as  the curtain went up on act 2. Eventually he seated himself and proceeded to open (noisily, naturally) his packet of crisps, tucking into them until a woman in row A shushed him.

Pap Shot of the Year:

No contest.


11 Responses to “The Whingers Awards 2009 – the very worst and the not so bad”

  1. Phil K Says:

    Congrats Mr B13, a worthy winner indeed

  2. Keith Says:

    Hey, excellent summary of 2009. Love your commentary and reviews. What are you looking forward to in 2010? Happy New Year.

  3. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    We look forward to very little, having said that May can’t come fast enough to see if Debbie Reynolds is indeed live and fabulous.


  4. […] and institutes are celebrating what 2009 held for theatre listing the best of the best, and even the worse of the worse… I’m looking beyond all of this. We’ve already seen several Hot Tips appearing […]


  5. […] and institutes are celebrating what 2009 held for theatre listing the best of the best, and even the worse of the worse… I’m looking beyond all of this. We’ve already seen several Hot Tips appearing […]

  6. A Clown Says:

    I take it you’ve forgiven the Royal Court for the Wallace Shawn season then, in particular Grasses of a Thousand Colours! And so pleased to see Ernie getting recognition.

  7. ms.marple investigates Says:

    A cheeky little list with overtones of levity and a hint of scorn. I’m disappointed, however, that you didn’t include the newly inaugurated award for the Promotion of Warm Regard and Mutual Wellbeing between theatre folk and their audience, which must of course go to St Ian of the Hart of Darkness. Hopefully, as the new season gets underway, CLOG will gather momentum and we can rely on your support for its’ sister organisation, the Committee for Under-used Non-male Theatricals, otherwise known as – oh dear, back to the drawing board…

  8. AndyMorgam Says:

    A great awards show, but what I am thinking that there should be awards for politicians where they should be awarded on the basis of their lies and corruptions. Guess who will be nominated.

  9. Andy Says:

    In defence of the National Theatre, we saw War Horse last year and it was absolutely amazing!! We also enjoyed the backstage tours they do – probably the best theatre tour we’ve ever been on. This is our review…

    http://www.free-city-guides.com/london/national-theatre/


  10. […] and institutes are celebrating what 2009 held for theatre listing the best of the best, and even the worse of the worse… I’m looking beyond all of this. We’ve already seen several Hot Tips appearing […]


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