THEATRE / And the sinner is . . .: With thanks to everyone who made it possible, Paul Taylor presents his personal choice of awards for 1992

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The Ivy Compton-Burnett Award for Creative Recycling

John Osborne was a strong contender in this category. Dejavu, his return (36 years on) to the characters, stage-pictures and ironing-board of Look Back in Anger, also gave the strong impression of being a pile of old Spectator columns tacked together to make a reactionary monologue for the ageing hero. Even the parlour game Jimmy forced his guests to play in the second act ('Who would you rather sleep with? Myra Hindley or Lord Longford?' etc, etc) turned out to have already had an airing under Osborne's byline in that magazine. Deja entendu, then, as well.

The award, however, goes to Alan Bennett for squeezing that extra bit of mileage out of his Talking Head monologue. Already much admired on television, radio, audio cassette, video and in book form, these plays (or rather a trio of them) took the boards this year, only to prove what we already knew intuitively: that they work best when experienced in solitude. Eagerly awaited now is the forthcoming Virtual Reality version of the plays, enabling us at long last to have a hands-on, participatory role. Two minutes with a virtual Ewbank and Doris's 'Cream Cracker Under the Settee' problem could be well, virtually eliminated.

The Arts Council Award for Missed Marketing Opportunity of the Year

This goes to the National Theatre which, if it had had its wits about it, would have sold off at a huge profit little souvenir tubs of the mud that was such a bold metaphor for something or other in Robert Lepage's all-wrestling Midsummer Night's Dream. Placed next to one's fragment of the Berlin Wall, a miry memento of this much-loved show could have been quite a conversation piece. Indeed, I know people who would still kill to get their mitts on mud that has slithered over Rupert Graves's backside, or to handle bacteria that once resided somewhere in Rudi Davies. It's tragic in these straitened times to think of such an easy source of revenue swirling down the drains.

The Henrik Ibsen Award for Promoting Understanding within Europe

This goes without hesitation to Benedicte Adrian and Ingrid Bjornov who penned Which Witch. Their 'operamusical' certainly gave you a whole new imaginative insight into why their fellow Norwegian, Ibsen, may have felt moved to spend 27 years of voluntary exile in Italy and Germany.

The Jeanette Winterson Award for Humility

No difficulty here, either. The award is bestowed on John Malkovich for his selfless portrayal (in Dusty Hughes's Slip of the Tongue) of a Czech dissident writer who managed to turn the tables on - by switching on and then bedding - a succession of young beauties sent to compromise him. Was he taking advantage of their shame? No, of course not, they found him utterly irresistible anyway. Malkovich's performance suggested that on this topic he was very much of the girls' persuasion.

The Joan Crawford Award for Closest Attention to Hygiene

This is the first year the award has been offered and it goes to a man for whom, spookily enough, it might have been expressly designed. You can say what you like about Nicholas Hytner's two National Theatre productions (Recruiting Officer; Carousel) in 1992, but you'd have to admit that his surfaces were spotless. In fact those dinky sets (18th-century Trumpton in one; a shaker version of Toytown in the other) had an aura of cleanliness that many a clinic or operating theatre would envy. It really pulls you into the world of a play to feel that, if push came to shove, you could eat your dinner off its streets or go into risk-free natural childbirth on them.

The Kingsley Amis Travelling Award

(Given for the year's most misconceived Shakespeare production by a foreign director using a mainly English cast)

Strong competition on this. It was clear from the outset - when the ghost shuffled on as an old dosser - that Robert Sturua's Hamlet (with Alan Rickman) was not going to get the measure of Shakespeare's play. On the other hand it wasn't arrogantly deaf to the tone and spirit of the piece like Lepage's mud- bath Dream at the National, where a newcomer would have been hard put to detect the play's humour or warmth.

The award (which can be used for travel anywhere but within the UK) goes, however, to the Romanian director Alexandru Darie for his manically multi- cultural production of Much Ado about Nothing at Oxford. As it was portrayed here, Shakespeare's Messina would have Babel looking ethnically cleansed. Yoruba war chants; Japanese wedding rites, African witch-doctor practices; a vociferously Irish Beatrice. Quite how these primitive nomads had acquired courtly conventions of speech was anyone's guess, or why, in Darie's changed ending, the buffoon-villain was suddenly allowed to present a serious threat. Mirthless pluralism went berserk to illustrate a platitudinous plea for world peace.

The Ali McGraw Award for Most Audience-Friendly Portrayal of Human Suffering

For a long time it seemed as though the musical version of Grand Hotel had this one in the bag - with the character of the little Jewish bookkeeper, Kringelein, who was not going to let an advanced terminal illness stop him from charlestoning his troubles away.

Then came the musical of Kiss of the Spider Woman. Although this takes place in one of the prisons of a vicious American dictatorship, the muscle-tone of the butch, beefcake prisoners and torture victims was an uplifting tribute to the power of mind over matter. They suffer appalling brutalities but they stay in shape. An inspiration to us all.

The Richard Gere Prize for Most Embarrassing Moment of Male Nudity

Jonathan Hyde in Richard Nelson's Columbus and the Discovery of Japan deserves an honorable mention. Once he realised he was starring in a flop, it must have been especially mortifying for the poor man to have to open the show each evening, stark naked in that stretched- out, man-is-the-measure-of-all-things posture. Ironic, too, given that Nelson's feeble play continued to leave him cruelly exposed, even when clothed.

A far more blush-fomenting moment, though, came in Hush at the Royal Court. This had a semi-symbolic character called Dog Boy, a mentally disturbed drifter who spent most of Act 2 in the raw, behaving like a dog. At one point, a female lifted up his blanket and said pointedly, 'It's not much to write home about, is it, when you come to look at it.' By 'it', she meant the bare, forked animal that is man. But it was clear from the audience's derisive roar of laughter that they thought she was referring to something much more specific. My own loins still shrivel in sympathy, when I recall the incident.

The Ernie Wise Award for Most Stilted Dialogue

Peter Shaffer, Tina (Painting Churches) Howe and (in rhyming couplets) David (La Bete) Hirson all lumbered their characters with maladroit mouthfuls this year. None so unspeakable, though, as the following: 'No husband. No' - this is the play's heroine explaining why she never married - 'My son is the product of a single night of love, if love it is when strangers collide in chaos'. Barbara Cartland? Mills & Boon? Wrong; it's that great scourge of the middlebrow, Howard Barker.

When not striking this novelettish note, the talk in his new play A Hard Heart had the stiff portentous feel of a cloth-eared translation from a foreign language. Here is the heroine asking for her son to be exempted from the army: 'Give me my - somewhat idle - son, an unimpressive fragment of our culture for whom I entertain these incomprehensible feelings of love I do not think he even reciprocates. Illogical but compelling.' If there were an award for total absence of sub-text, Barker would be in with a healthy chance there, too.

The Mrs Worthington Award for Discouraging New People from Entering the Profession

Giles Havergal's stage adaptation of Travels with My Aunt managed to conjure up Graham Greene's populous picaresque novel with just four men in suits. This was a most ingenious way of not only lowering the morale of all budding actresses but of also offering a vividly positive image of men in suits.

The Piltdown Award for the Year's Most Widely Propagated Myth

The National Theatre wins hands down for the tireless assiduity with which it put about the notion that Carousel has extraordinary psychological depth and a dark and disturbing underside. It's true that its heroine is in thrall to a man who's violent to her because he is confused and scared. But the musical is disturbing only in the sense that it evades a responsible or dramatically interesting treatment of this relationship, and then allows Love to redeem the suffering in a cloyingly fanciful way (involving ghostly visitations and a sickeningly sanitised view of small-town American life). In endless interviews we were told how Puccini had shown interest in tackling Molnar's story, as though this somehow elevates Rogers and Hammerstein's achievement. But Puccini, with his unhealthy interest in female masochism, would at least have probed the heroine's psyche. In Carousel she exists only as the pretext for a redemptive programme.

As for 'You'll Never Walk Alone' - when I was a child, it gave me nightmares of being handcuffed to an Irish nun for all eternity. The sentiment still strikes me as scary.

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