Critics’ Circle Awards: Why theatre still needs experts too

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Now in their 28th year, the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards take place tomorrow (Tuesday 31 January 2017) at the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre. The Awards, founded in 1989, are run by the Drama Section of The Critics’ Circle, which has existed since 1913 to protect and promote cultural criticism in the UK. Tomorrow’s ceremony is hosted by Drama section chair (and MyTheatreMates co-founder) Mark Shenton, who explains why they’re still so coveted.

People have been saying that the world has been dumbing down for a while now, but it doesn’t get much dumber than the new US President rejecting the need for daily intelligence briefings in his new role by recently declaring, “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years”.

It’s not the first time Donald Trump has made that claim about his supposed qualifications to make decisions over others, of course: in an election rally in July 2015, he reassured the gathered admirers: “I went to the Wharton School of Business. I’m, like, a really smart person.”

And during the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove famously declared:

“I think people in this country, have had enough of experts.”

The Daily Telegraph imagined him dismissing the training of doctors as a result: “The decent, ordinary patients of Britain have had enough of the medical elite lecturing them about how many tablets to take, and ordering them to open wide and say, ‘Ahhh.’… Quite frankly, it’s time to take back control of the operating theatre, and start performing our own keyhole surgery.”

It also imagined Gove rejecting training for pilots, saying, “Take a closer look at the facts, however, and you’ll observe a deeply concerning pattern. Almost every plane that has ever crashed was being flown by a qualified pilot. The logic is indisputable. Qualified pilots crash planes. Therefore, we would be far safer if we were flown by people who have never even set foot in a cockpit before.”

The absurdity of that position is plain. Yet nowadays everyone is a critic: whether someone has seen one show or a thousand, they have an opinion about them – and the means to broadcast them. But it is palpably false to say that all opinions are equal; and some people stand above the noise and clamour of the internet simply by the credibility that their opinions have earned.

While those who do not like the message may try to discredit the media as “dishonest” and “lying”, critics in the traditional and electronic outlets continue to be champions of standards in the arts – and are valued by readers and artists alike for providing their independent commentary and expertise.

It is in that context that the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards – voted for by the leading critics covering the theatre in the UK – are among the most prized of all those awarded eery year for achievement in the theatre.

We are grateful for the ongoing trust placed in us – and proud to reward the best we’ve seen.

Follow @CCTAwards on Twitter for live-tweeting of the event tomorrow from 11am. Winners’ acceptance speeches will also be streamed via Facebook Live. For more information on the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards and lists of previous winners, visit criticscircletheatreawards.com.

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Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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Mark Shenton on FacebookMark Shenton on RssMark Shenton on Twitter
Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton has been a full-time freelance London-based theatre critic and journalist since 2002, and is proud to have co-founded MyTheatreMates with Terri Paaddock. He has variously (and sometimes simultaneously) been chief theatre critic for the Sunday Express, The Stage, WhatsOnStage, What's On in London magazine and LondonTheatre.co.uk. He has taught at ArtsEd London in Chiswick on musical theatre history since 2012. He was until recently President of the Critics' Circle, and is also on the board of Mercury Musical Developments and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage, and on instagram at @ShentonStage. His personal website is www.shentonstage.com.

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