The 2017 Ian Charleson Awards nominees announced – time for an update?

Nominees have been announced for the 2017 Ian Charleson Awards:

Ellie Bamber for Hilde in The Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse
Daniel Ezra for Sebastian in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Tamara Lawrance for Viola in Twelfth Night, National Theatre
Rebecca Lee for Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Watermill, Newbury
James Corrigan for Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare Royal Shakespeare Company
Ned Derrington for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe
Sope Dirisu for Coriolanus in Coriolanus, Royal Shakespeare Company
Arthur Hughes for Lucius in Julius Caesar, Crucible, Sheffield
Douggie McMeekin for Snug in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Natalie Simpson for Duchess Rosaura in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse
Hannah Morrish for Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Company

The focus of the award is on roles in classical theatre – yours Ibsens, your Chehkovs, your overwhelming number of Shakespeares – but you do wonder whether there’s something about the kudos automatically granted here. Though there is diversity in the names selected here, the very notion of ‘classical’ as determined by the theatrical establishment seems to work against its actual ecology, at least as it relates to modern Britain.

I mean to not at all dishonour the legacy of Ian Charleson, but I do wonder whether the awards that bear his name recognise the bias that its limitations impose. If the Quentin Letts farrago shows us anything, it shows us how entrenched some of these attitudes are. But it also serves as a reminder that actors of colour (and women to some of the same extent) are ill-served by the ‘canon’.

I’m all for celebrating and highlighting the work of great young actors but I want all of them to be included. And yes, that makes the scope considerably wider but surely its time to acknowledge that there’re amazing actors who have never performed Shakespeare, and might never do Chekhov, but who are more than worthy of the kind of recognition offered here. 

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