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Lucy Prebble wins inaugural Michael Billington award for best new play | Stage


A Very Expensive Poison, Lucy Prebble’s ambitious drama about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, has won the Michael Billington award for best new play at the Critics’ Circle theatre awards. The prize, newly renamed to honour the Guardian’s former chief theatre critic, was handed out at a ceremony on Tuesday in London. The Old Vic production, which Billington admired for its “kaleidoscopic variety of tone”, was based on Guardian journalist Luke Harding’s book of the same name and also earned Tom Scutt the award for best designer.

Jasmine Lee-Jones was named 2019’s most promising playwright for Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, staged at the Royal Court, which Billington’s successor Arifa Akbar praised for its “sense of real danger and psychological darkness”. Jamie Lloyd won the award for best director for three of his productions: Cyrano de Bergerac, Evita and Betrayal, which rounded off his successful season of Harold Pinter plays in the West End.

The prize for best musical went to the Olivier award-winning Come from Away, which revisits the effects on a small Newfoundland community when passenger aeroplanes were forced to land there due to the September 11 attacks. Another smash hit musical, Dear Evan Hansen, brought its star Sam Tutty the prize for most promising newcomer. Tutty plays the eponymous teenager in the show, whose life spirals out of control when he lies about being friends with a boy who has killed himself.

Andrew Scott was named best actor for his performance as the louche former matinee idol Garry Essendine in a revival of Noël Coward’s 1939 comedy Present Laughter at the Old Vic. The best actress award was shared between Sharon D Clarke for her performance as Lina Loman in Death of a Salesman, a Young Vic production that transferred to the West End, and Juliet Stevenson for The Doctor at the Almeida. Stevenson will reprise her role, as a medic caught up in a scandal, when The Doctor opens at the Duke of York’s theatre in April. The award for last year’s best Shakespearean performance went to Hammed Animashaun, who played a joyful Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge.

The special award for services to theatre went to the lighting designer Paule Constable who has worked extensively in theatre, dance and opera and lit major National Theatre successes such as Angels in America, Nine Night, War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Critics’ Circle theatre awards were founded in 1989 and there are more than 100 members of its drama section. Critics independently cast their votes for the awards categories based on personal choice, free of any panel discussion.

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