40 Years On: London Theatre Awards 1980

As part of Theatre Breaks’ 40th anniversary celebrations next year, we thought it would be rather fun to look back at the awards ceremonies of 1980 and see who and what was winning the coveted gongs in Theatreland the year that we started arranging theatre tickets and theatre packages to London.

The first thing to notice was that there were a lot fewer awards ceremonies in those days: just the Evening Standard and the Society of West End Theatre Awards (renamed the Oliviers in 1984!).

Also 1980 was a bit or a super year for plays and actors gracing the London stage.

The RSC proved they could do other things apart from Shakespeare with Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock David Edgars 8 hour epic stage adaptation of Charles Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby, and The Greeks, AND Three Sisters! all recipients of, at the very least, a nomination or two!

The National treated us to Amadeus and The Life of Galileo whilst the West End gave us everything from The Dresser to Oklahoma!

Roger Rees and David Threlfall in the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby Photograph: Donald Cooper/Rex Features

Meanwhile we were spoilt with performances from such great actors as Jonathan Pryce (Hamlet), Michael Gambon (The Life of Galileo) Judi Dench (Juno and the Paycock), Glenda Jackson (Rose), Julie Walters (Educating Rita), Joan Plowright (Enjoy), Simon Callow (Amadeus), Prunella Scales for (Make And Break), Frances De La Tour, (Duet for One) and two actors/roles that will personally live with me until the day I day: David Threlfall as Smike in Nicholas Nickleby and Paul Scofield as Salieri in Amadeus (although, for me, his performance was later to be eclipsed by Keith Davey’s haunting portrait of the man a few years later. Davey was a hugely gifted amateur performer whose talent was experienced by too few!)

Coincidentally, the year 1980, like 2015, saw productions of The Elephant Man, Harlequinade and Sweeney Todd (which won best musical that year)

London’s new musical productions couldn’t have reflected the breadth of the musical genre, at the time, better if it tried! Theatreland offered us Sweeney Todd (starring Denis Quilley and Sheila Hancock), They’re Playing our Song (starring Tom Conti and Gemma Craven), Pal Joey (starring Sian Philips and Denis Lawson) On The Twentieth Century (starring Julia McKenzie) and Tom Lehrer’s Tom Foolery.

Interestingly, both awards panels presented their special award to Sir Ralph Richardson, a truly great English actor.

So on with the awards.

The Society of West End Theatre Awards 1980

Musical of the Year
Sweeney Todd book by Hugh Wheeler adapted from C G Bond, music by Stephen Sondheim

Play of the Year
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar

Comedy of the Year
Educating Rita by Willy Russell

Director of the Year
Trevor Nunn & John Caird for Nicholas Nickleby, RSC at the Aldwych

Designer of the Year
John Napier and Dermot Hayes for Nicholas Nickleby, RSC at the Aldwych

Actor of the Year in a Revival
Jonathan Pryce for Hamlet at the Royal Court

Actress of the Year in a Revival
Judi Dench for Juno and the Paycock, RSC at the Aldwych

Actor of the Year in a New Play
Roger Rees for Nicholas Nickleby, RSC at the Aldwych

Actress of the Year in a New Play
Frances De La Tour for Duet For One

Actor of the Year in a Musical
Denis Quilley for Sweeney Todd

Actress of the Year in a Musical
Gemma Craven for They’re Playing Our Song

Comedy Performance of the Year
Beryl Reid for Born in the Gardens

Actor of the Year in a Supporting Role
David Threlfall for Nicholas Nickleby

Actress of the Year in a Supporting Role
Suzanne Bertish for Nicholas Nickleby

Outstanding Achievement in Opera
Cosi Fan Tutte – English National Opera

Most Promising Newcomer of the Year in Theatre
Edward Duke for the creation, adaptation and performance in Jeeves Takes Charge

Outstanding First Achievement of the Year in Opera or Ballet
Rosalind Plowright for English National Opera’s The Turn of the Screw

Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Ballet
Gloria – The Royal Ballet

Evening Standard Theatre Awards 1980

Best Musical
Sweeney Todd – book by Hugh Wheeler adapted from C G Bond, music by Stephen Sondheim

Best Play
The Dresser by Ronald Harwood

Best Comedy
Make and Break by Michael Frayn

Best Performance by an Actor
Tom Courtenay in The Dresser

Best Performance by an Actress (Joint Award)
Judi Dench in Juno and the Paycock
Frances de la Tour in Duet for One

The Sydney Edwards Award for Best Director
Trevor Nunn and John Caird for Nicholas Nickleby

Most Promising Playwright
Paul Kember for Not Quite Jerusalem

Next time we will look at the West End as a whole and take a snapshot of all of the productions that we were promoting when we first started, all that time ago!  No prizes for guessing that The Mousetrap will be one of them!

About Simon Harding

Simon Harding has grown up in and around London's Theatreland and has been working here ever since he left school: promoting its shows to anyone who will listen!

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