2017 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle

8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical

Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T’Shan Williams, The Life


8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

2016 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
It couldn’t really be anyone else could it. Mary Stuart was my play of the year and the stellar combination of Stevenson and Williams was a huge part in that, a pair of extraordinary performances (or should that be a quartet…) that burst with life from the circular stage of the Almeida. I’ve seen it twice and I’m definitely thinking about going again.

Honourable mention: Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
As murderous sisters Claire and Solange, I simply adored this pairing and am a little surprised they – and the production – haven’t received more love in the end-of-year lists and awards season. Fiercely uncompromising with every sweep of the broom, I couldn’t split them if I tried either.

Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

8-10
Kirsty Bushell/Ruth Wilson, Hedda Gabler/Hedda Gabler, Lesley Manville, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Billie Piper, Yerma

Best Actress in a Musical

Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens
One of the first shows I saw in 2016 and from the moment Russell opened the second act with the hysterical ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’, I knew that this category was a lockdown. Her casting in as Michelle Fowler in Eastenders came as a surprise and I can’t help but be gutted that we’ve lost her to the world of television but hopefully it won’t be too long before she’s gracing our stages once more. STAUNCH!

Honourable mention: Clare Burt, Flowers for Mrs Harris
Whereas the likes of Amber Riley gets notices for belting the house down, there’s an entirely different skill-set being masterfully used by the likes of Burt that is equally emotionally devastating. A performance full of gorgeous restraint and natural charm that hopefully we’ll get to see again.

Samantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I’m Getting My Act Together…

8-10
Beverley Knight, The Bodyguard; Anoushka Lucas, Jesus Christ Superstar; Scarlett Strallen, She Loves Me

2015 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Lia Williams, Oresteia
Could it have been anyone else? Finally given the opportunity to present Klytemnestra’s story from the beginning, from the advent of her ferocious rage that is too often taken for granted, Williams gave us a strikingly modern politician’s wife and mother who couldn’t sit idly by if she tried. With live video giving her nowhere to hide, it was us to shrank away from the intensity of her emotions.

Honourable mention: Letitia Wright, Eclipsed
I’m not one to play favourites but short of inventing a new category of Best Ensemble, there was little else I could do for this most favourite drama. The expression on Wright’s face at the end still haunts me to this very day, clearly an actress to watch for the great things she’s bound to deliver.

Thusitha Jayasundera, My Eyes Went Dark
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, hang
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nell Gwynn
Lara Rossi, Octagon

7-10
Kate Fleetwood, Medea (Almeida); Ophelia Lovibond, The Effect; Chris Nietvelt, Glazen Speelgoed; Gemma Whelan, Radiant Vermin

Best Actress in a Musical

Natalie Dew, Bend It Like Beckham
Redefining the triple threat to singing, acting and scoring, Dew proved to be an effortlessly charming leading player in this film adaptation. Guileless, appealing and wonderfully warm, her performance was quite the surprise and a welcome anchor for a show that is still holding on to its place in the West End.

Honourable mention: Katie Brayben, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical
Cassidy Janson may have stepped into her shoes now but there was real joy for me in watching Brayben graduate to this leading role, having admired her work for a long time. And if the show itself isn’t the strongest in the West End, the sheer conviction of her performance level ensured it worked.

Tracie Bennett, Mrs Henderson Presents
Jennifer Harding, The Clockmaker’s Daughter
Debbie Kurup, Anything Goes
Kelly Price, Little Shop of Horrors

7-10
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Jenna Russell, Songs For A New World; Zizi Strallen, Mary Poppins; Lauren Ward, Bat Boy

2014 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Gillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire
In what proved to be a banner year for brilliant female performances, narrowing this category down to 10 proved nigh on impossible (indeed, the 10 is actually a 11 and I can’t tell you how it killed me to miss Helen McCrory who was just on the cusp). But after much consideration, it is Gillian Anderson’s Blanche DuBois who takes the prize. Star casting it may have been but resulting in a performance of the highest wattage, Anderson’s modern-day leading lady was captivating from the moment she tottered onto the revolving stage and kept us transfixed until the bitter, bitter end as she broke everyone’s heart with the most devastating of exits.

Honourable mention: Halina Reijn/Chris Nietvelt, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
When rounding up a year’s worth of theatre, it can be difficult to avoid focusing on the shows seen more recently but even though Maria Stuart was one of the last things I saw this December, I left the theatre in Amsterdam utterly convinced I’d seen one of the best productions of the year and in Halina Reijn’s Mary and Chris Nietvelt’s Elizabeth, two of the fiercest, most impassioned portrayals on women on the stage. Wrestling with the duties of statehood, the practicalities of being a woman in a man’s world, the very nature of power itself, these two actors inhabited the very substance of Schiller’s text and brought it to extraordinary life.

Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People

7-10
Lisa Diveney, Donkey Heart; Sophie Gråbøl, The James Plays; Marieke Heebink, Medea (Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Sinéad Matthews, Pests

Best Actress in a Musical

Imelda Staunton, Gypsy
We knew this was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone dared dream it would be this good. Destined to be one of the hottest tickets in town when the London transfer opens at the Savoy, better experienced than written about!

Honourable mention: Gemma Arterton, Made In Dagenham
One of the most sweet-natured performances lies at the heart of one of the most sweet-natured shows currently in the West End and I think it is fair to say that Gemma Arterton surprised many of us by anchoring Made in Dagenham to such delightful success. A mother, a machinist, an unexpected feminist hero, she’s a wonderfully warm presence and one that I hope can help the show to continue to succeed.

Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls

7-10
Madalena Alberto, Evita; Clare Foster, Guys and Dolls; Nicola Hughes, Porgy and Bess; Siobhan McCarthy, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)

2013 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Marianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen Corner
As Jean-Baptiste took her bow at the end of The Amen Corner, I found myself in that wonderful state of involuntarily rising to my feet – it doesn’t happen very often at all but it is a mark of the kind of acting that strikes deep into my soul. As she blazed across the stage in all her unshakeable fervour and blinkered righteousness, this marked a much-welcomed return to the theatre for this most excellent of actresses and I sincerely hope we get to see her back on the boards sooner rather than later.

Honourable mention: Michelle Terry, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
We always knew Terry would make an excellent Titania but the real surprise came with the huge impact she managed to make as Hippolyta, making the character register in every scene in which she appeared and anchoring the production with a clear sense of just how much the path of true love never runs smooth no matter one’s status.

Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron

7-10
Hayley Atwell, The Pride; Jessica Barden, Armstrong’s War; Doña Croll, All My Sons; Dervla Kirwan, The Weir

Best Actress in a Musical

Rosalie Craig, The Light Princess
One of those performances that has to be seen to be believed, Craig demonstrated core strength like no other performer on the London stage as the princess Althea, unwavering in a show of immense physicality supported by a team of human puppeteers to help her to float. Add to that a flawless vocal and a pitch-perfect portrayal of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her place in the world and you have the kind of memorable amazingness that will linger long in the mind.

Honourable mention: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
If nothing else, Erivo deserves plaudits for a literally show-stopping performance, having to deal with the practicalities of the mid-song ovations that often greeted her. Whereas they may not have been welcome in these quarters, Erivo’s ascendance to leading lady status certainly was.

Zrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music

7-10
Julie Atherton, The Hired Man; Sarah Galbraith, Chess; Joanna Riding, The Pajama Game; Scarlett Strallen, Candide

2012 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Kate O’Flynn, Lungs
So much quality in this category this year and in some ways, this could have been shared between O’Flynn and Sally Hawkins as their performances shared a similar outstanding quality. But I think O’Flynn edged it slightly in Duncan MacMillan’s new play for Paines Plough, seamlessly negotiating time-jumps, huge emotional leaps and complex theorising in a devastating portrayal of the life of a relationship. 

Honourable mention: Laurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
There was evidently a slight sense of hyperbole as I left the Apollo theatre – “I might go as far to say that Laurie Metcalf’s extraordinary performance as Mary Tyrone is one of the greatest feats of acting I think I’ve ever seen” – since she’s come second. But it was still a remarkable thing to watch, staggering in its naturalism and heart-breaking in its fatalistic tragedy.

Hattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, The Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations

7-10

Lydia Wilson, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore; Linda Bassett, In Basildon; Billie Piper, The Effect; Monica Dolan, Chalet Lines

Best Actress in a Musical


Carly Bawden, My Fair Lady
Often I will know right then and there that someone will get one of these awards and as we got to the end of I Could Have Danced All Night, I knew that Bawden had this in the bag. An utterly gorgeous rendition of the song, “an understated exhalation of wonderment” that was truly special and made me want to sit right through it again right away. Fingers crossed for a London transfer.

Honourable mention: Janie Dee, Hello, Dolly!
In the face of previous perfomers who’ve taken on Dolly Levi and made me love her like no other, it was no mean feat for Janie Dee to take on the role and manage to do something else yet equally lovable. A greater note of melancholy rather than uproariousness made Dee infinitely moving and utterly compelling to watch.

Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along

7-10

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mack and Mabel; Gloria Onitiri, The Bodyguard; Rosalie Craig, Finding Neverland; Hannah Waddingham, Kiss Me Kate

2011 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Before this year, Eve Best was one of those names I’d heard a lot, seen a lot whilst peeing at the Almeida but never really engaged with as I’d never seen on her onstage before. How that has changed with the kind of performance as Beatrice that had the entire Globe eating out of her hand. Warm, funny, spiky, romantic, independent and so incredibly open, I can’t imagine there was a person who didn’t fall in love with her as a result.

Honourable mention: Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie

It takes something to wrest my attention away from as fine a specimen as the beefed-up Jude Law was in Anna Christie, but Ruth Wilson’s titular Anna did just that with a perfectly realised portrayal of a woman caught between the feisty independence she’s needed to survive thus far in a harsh world and the change that comes about as a result of close human contact that opens her up to new possibilities. If not already there, she really is close to being one of the most exceptional actors we have.

Rosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke,
Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey,
The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull

7-10
Cush Jumbo, As You Like It (Royal Exchange); Anna Chancellor, Last of the Duchess; Amanda Root, The Deep Blue Sea; Claire Price, The Pride

Best Actress in a Musical

Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd

I am generally of the opinion that Imelda Staunton can do no wrong, but this was no walk-in victory as it was a tough category. But her Mrs Lovett, soon to make its bow in the West End, really is one of those exceptional performances that will live long in the memory. The comedy in the role suits her strengths well, A Little Priest has never been funnier but having made us pretty fall in love with her, the shift into malevolent darkness then cuts incredibly, terrifyingly deep and is all the more powerfully compelling for it.

Honourable mention: Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, Matilda

Shared six ways as incredibly, there are six girls with the enormous, precocious talent to carry off the demanding lead role in Matilda and I don’t think I have heard a bad word about any of them which is some impressive feat. Josie Griffiths in Stratford and Kerry Ingram in London are the two I’ve seen (thus far) and both blew me away with their assured stage presence, their maturity of performance and the all-round talent they possess.

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein,
Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper,
Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain

7-10
Louisa Lydell, Ragtime; Sarah Lancashire, Betty Blue Eyes; Jenna Russell, The Day We Sang; Clare Foster, Crazy for You

2010 Best Actress in a Play & in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Michelle Terry, Tribes
Michelle Terry and Nancy Carroll have swapped between these two places so many times since I started this decision-making but ultimately Terry edged by virtue of her performances elsewhere this year. Bringing an intelligently thought-through depth to a paper-thin character in London Assurance and flexing the acting muscles in Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire were both great turns, but it was in Nina Raine’s Tribes that she just blew me away with a richly nuanced and deeply emotional interpretation of her character and revealing herself to be a beautifully natural signer (not as easy as it sounds). The poise with which she tolerated the madness of the dinner table at her boyfriend’s table and the grace with which she defended her choices and explained the frustrations of someone going deaf and all that they lose just broke my heart with its simple elegance and touched me very deeply. Not sure what Terry’s next move is, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Honourable Mention

Nancy Carroll, After the Dance
As mentioned, this was my most closely contested category this year between these two, but Carroll’s performance in After the Dance really was a thing of wonder. The way in which she sketched Joan’s journey through the complex feelings for husband David was simply heartbreaking and the depth of emotion she evoked with her back to the audience at the end of Act II was just sensational.

Zoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park

7-10

Daniela Denby-Ashe, Love Love Love; Lucy Cohu, Broken Glass; Linda Bassett, The Road To Mecca; Kim Cattrall, Private Lives/Antony & Cleopatra

Best Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, End of the Rainbow
Quite simply one of the most jaw-dropping experiences on stage for quite some time. Bennett doesn’t so much perform the role of Judy Garland as inhabit her in End of the Rainbow, unafraid to show the depths of her addiction and the tragic effect it had on her stage act, as well as the stellar performances that brought her such renown. Bennett plays both the acting and singing scenes with such conviction that the weaknesses in the play are just overcome by the force of her performance. And what better ending than a practically unanimous and instantaneous standing ovation which was received with such humility that one just wanted to go up there and hug her. Just outstanding, and still playing at the Trafalgar Studios so make a trip if you haven’t planned one already.

Honourable Mention

Emma Williams, Love Story
Never having had the pleasure of seeing Emma Williams perform on stage, I can’t think of a better introduction than the gorgeous Love Story in which she captures hearts as the ballsy no-nonsense heroine Jenny whose untimely end brings forth both tears and well deserved standing ovations. She has such a lovely voice that is so well suited to Howard Goodall’s music that from the moment I left the Duchess theatre I have been eagerly anticipating the cast recording. You can still catch Williams in Love Story now.

Cora Bissett, Midsummer [a play with songs]
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde The Musical
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!

7-10

Cassidy Janson, Avenue Q; Rebecca Hutchinson, Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi; Lisa Baird, Just So; Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Flashdance The Musical

2009 Best Actress in a Play/in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Rachel Weisz, Streetcar Named Desire
In a year full of strong female performances, not least just at the Donmar Warehouse, Rachel Weisz’s Blanche Dubois took this well-established character and gave it a whole new spin, but one which worked perfectly. Using Weisz’s (allegedly fading) looks to the full, this was a Blanche whose lonely desperation was heartbreaking to watch, yet to the end full of a grace that couldn’t be dimmed.

Honourable mentions
Phoebe Nicholls/Lisa Dillon, When The Rain Stops Falling
Chris Nietvelt, The Roman Tragedies

I’m cheating here as I found this my hardest category to decide. Nicholls and Dillon were superb playing older/younger versions of the same character, with beautifully nuanced performances which reflected each other subtly and were incredibly moving.
And I had to include Chris Nietvelt as her Cleopatra (and indeed her hysterical cameo as the newsreader in Coriolanus) was a tour de force in intense acting, transcending linguistic barriers and revealing the beating heart of the Egyptian queen.

Imelda Staunton, Entertaining Mr Sloane
Juliet Stevenson, Duet For One
Anna Chancellor, The Observer

Best Actress in a Musical

Samantha Spiro, Hello, Dolly!
Bursting with an infectious vitality and as cheery a disposition you’ll find this side of the rainbow, Samantha Spiro’s titular Dolly shone with such brilliance that I didn’t mind the cold and wet at the Open Air Theatre and would happily have sat through it all again no matter how unseasonably chilly it was.

Honourable mention
Julie Atherton,
The Last Five Years
Echoing the Ginger Rogers quote about how she did everything Fred did but backwards and in heels, Julie Atherton had the harder job in two-hander The Last Five Years, having to tell the story of the troubled relationship in reverse, but she is such a skilled performer she had the audience in tears and caring deeply for her pain within 5 minutes. I look forward to the day when she gets the huge recognition she deserves, she really is one of the most accomplished actresses in Britain at the moment.

Melanie Chisholm, Blood Brothers
Donna King, Frank’s Closet
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Tamzin Outhwaite, Sweet Charity