At Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on Sunday 11th June, the 15th annual Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) ceremony took place to great anticipation. There may be muddled news and lots of mixed feelings on the political front, but there was plenty to celebrate in the world of Scottish theatre where, from a total of 163 eligible productions, the winners were announced and Edinburgh venues were well represented.
The Royal Lyceum Theatre won awards for three different shows. Winning her first ever Best Director Award, acclaimed playwright Zinnie Harris, who won the CATS Award for Best New Play for This Restless House in 2016, picked up the award for her directorial work on A Number, that was one of three productions from Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre to be recognised.
Two Royal Lyceum productions picked up prizes with Best Technical going to the wondrously sumptuous Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Best Music and Sound going to Karine Polwart (composer and musical director), Pippa Murphy (sound designer), Ben Seal (live sound) and Mark Whyles (live sound) for the exquisite and beautifully performed Wind Resistance.
From 33 eligible shows, the joyful piece of equine craziness that is Black Beauty, from Red Bridge and Traverse Theatre Company, took the award for Best Production for Children and Young People, as well as Best Design by Shona Reppe, highlighting the calibre of the work being produced in Scotland for young people.
Dundee Rep’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman has topped this year’s awards by scooping the pool with Best Ensemble, Best Male Performance (Billy Mack) and the supreme award, Best Production.
This year’s Best Female Performance Award went to Nicole Cooper for her gender-bending performance in the Bard in the Botanics’ Coriolanus, that is part of Bard in the Botanics on-going commitment to taking women out of the roles of wives and daughters, and seeing them as rulers, leaders, politicians and fighters. Neil Cooper, Herald theatre critic, spoke of the important role of Scottish Drama Training Network who sponsor this award.
For the second time Kieran Hurley has won Best New Play Award, his time for his contemporary monologue Heads Up, gaining the prize against the competition of 84 eligible shows, and repeating his win of this ward in 2012 with BEATS.
Award sponsors for 2017 are BECTU, Equity, Scottish Drama Training Network, STV and Young Scot and general sponsors are the Mackintosh Foundation, BBC Scotland Radio Drama and The List were thanked by CATS co-convenor Mark Fisher who said, “We would once again like to thank the sponsors for their generous support. They make it possible for us to take this moment to celebrate publicly the quality and diversity of theatre being produced in Scotland.”
This year’s awards were presented by a witty and debonair Gavin Mitchell, best known as Still Game’s Boabby the Barman, who will take the stage again as Rick in Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut at Glasgow's Oran Mor next month. Gavin’s affable personality went a long way to making this already special day even more so. Roll on next season!
The CATS judging panel for 2017 was made up of: Mary Brennan (The Herald), Irene Brown (edinburghguide.com), Mark Brown (The Sunday Herald and the Daily Telegraph), Anna Burnside (Daily Record), Paul F Cockburn (Broadway Baby), Neil Cooper (The Herald), Michael Cox (Across the Arts), Thom Dibdin (The Stage and AllEdinburghTheatre.com), Mark Fisher (The Guardian), Joyce McMillan (The Scotsman), David Pollock (The Independent), Allan Radcliffe (The Times), Amy Taylor (The Public Reviews and TVBomb), Gareth K Vile (The List) and Joy Watters (Across the Arts).
2017 CATS Winners
BEST MALE PERFORMANCE, sponsored by STV
Billy Mack (Willy Loman), Death of a Salesman, Dundee Rep Ensemble
“Billy Mack's performance as Willy Loman was unforgettable. He movingly ran the gamut of Willy's emotions, raging against what life has done to him, bursting into unfounded optimism and finally, heartbreakingly, the realisation that it has all been for nothing.” Joy Watters, Across the Arts
BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE, sponsored by the Scottish Drama Training Network
Nicole Cooper (Coriolanus), Coriolanus, Bard in the Botanics
“As Coriolanus in Bard in the Botanics' stripped-back production of Shakespeare's war-time classic, Nicole Cooper took on a role usually associated with unhinged machismo and stomped her way through the Kibble Palace with a whirlwind-like ferocity. This not only gave the play a fresh edge of femininity in a still contemporary work, but pointed to a major actor, who can tackle big roles with a mix of fearlessness and sensitivity.” Neil Cooper, The Herald
BEST ENSEMBLE, sponsored by Equity
Death of a Salesman, Dundee Rep Ensemble
“The best productions of Death of a Salesman put Willy Loman in context, and that's what the ensemble do here. His sons, wife, neighbour and uncle all prop up Willy's pain and amplify his situation. The cast worked together to do this selflessly and brilliantly.” Anna Burnside, Daily Record
Zinnie Harris, A Number, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in partnership with Edinburgh International Science Festival
“Zinnie Harris's production of Caryl Churchill's futuristic drama about cloning reflected brilliantly the careful, sharp-yet-nuanced structure of the play itself. Like a great, modernist concerto, her direction combined enthralling dissonance with a deep emotional and psychological connection.” Mark Brown, Sunday Herald/The Telegraph
Shona Reppe (designer) and Simon Wilkinson (lighting designer), Black Beauty, Red Bridge and Traverse Theatre Company
“Designer Shona Reppe brought a punctilious, modeller's eye to the details of her wonderful horse-box set, enveloped in Simon Wilkinson's clever lighting, for Black Beauty. This was more than decoration, however, but itself a cleverly versatile stage for the performers to bring all their storytelling abilities, whether as a puppeteer's booth, New Town party house or farmhouse nursery. When boots can turn into horses and a pink rubber glove into a cow, you know that here magic can be made.” Thom Dibdin, The Stage
BEST MUSIC AND SOUND
Pippa Murphy (sound designer), Karine Polwart (composer and musical director), Ben Seal (live sound) and Mark Whyles (live sound), Wind Resistance, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh in association with Edinburgh International Festival
“It goes without saying that Karine Polwart's live score for Wind Resistance was exquisite. The four times winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards is no stranger to acclaim. But what made this show more special still was the audio work done by her whole team. Not only did we enjoy the purity of her singing voice, accompanied by tenor guitar, finger piano and live vocal loops, but also the expert mixing of Ben Seal and Mark Whyles and the superb immersive sound design of Pippa Murphy.” Mark Fisher, The Guardian
BEST TECHNICAL PRESENTATION, sponsored by BECTU
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
“The ‘wonder’ in Wonderland simply wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the stellar technical execution of the Royal Lyceum’s Christmas production. Whether it was making Alice fly, allowing the complicated design to flawlessly unfold or ensuring the tea party didn’t literally crash into the audience, the technical team were the unsung heroes behind a brilliant and entertaining production.” Michael Cox, Across the Arts
BEST PRODUCTION FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE, sponsored by Young Scot
Black Beauty, Red Bridge and Traverse Theatre Company
“Anna Sewell’s classic story about animal welfare gets an inspired make-over in this production about the lives and hard-luck times of two brothers who perform as a pantomime horse. Hugely funny, but also genuinely moving in bringing the essential themes of Black Beauty – kindness, courage, respect for others – to young audiences.” Mary Brennan, The Herald
BEST NEW PLAY
Kieran Hurley, Heads Up, Show and Tell and Kieran Hurley
“The combination of lyrical power and sensitive characterisation ensures that Kieran Hurley's Heads Up goes beyond the rhetorical reflection on the end of times and becomes a bold example of the contemporary monologue. Heartfelt and intelligent, it is a worthy winner that is both brutal and compassionate”. Gareth Vile, The List
Death of a Salesman, Dundee Rep Ensemble
“Dundee Rep used all the resources of its fine ensemble company to produce a beautiful, memorable and heart-breaking production of Death of a Salesman. The Rep used superb design and sound to set one of the 20th century’s greatest plays in its full historical context, while always remaining fully focused on the profound and enduring human tragedy at the heart of the story.” Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman