Stoppard's 'Rock 'n' Roll' strikes right chord with the critics

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The Independent Culture

Sir Tom Stoppard's ambitious tale of Cambridge Marxism and Czechoslovakian revolution was a double winner at the theatre awards chosen by Britain's critics.

Rock 'n' Roll, which started life at the Royal Court, is now in the West End and is due to transfer to Broadway, was named best play and its star, Rufus Sewell, best actor in the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards 2006 yesterday. Accepting his honour at a ceremony in London, Sewell joked that he now realised that playing Czechoslovakians was the route to success as his previous critics' award, for best newcomer in Making It Better in 1992, was also for playing a Czech. He thanked Stoppard for writing his "amazing" role as an academic caught up in the velvet revolution and also to Trevor Nunn, the director, "for explaining it on the first day of rehearsals".

"I had the time of my life. It's a wonderful lesson that if you do the things you love, that's the way to go," he said.

Stoppard's mix of high-brow philosophising and popular music has proved a commercial as well as a critical success and the critics also chimed with popular taste in several other awards. Kathleen Turner, the Hollywood star, was named best actress for her ferocious performance as Martha in the revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the West End.

It was a role she lobbied hard to secure. Nica Burns, the show's producer, accepting it on her behalf, said: "She delivered a Martha that none of us could forget. Every night she gave 150 per cent."

In another vote that echoed public sympathies, the critics named Connie Fisher, the star of The Sound of Music musical who was chosen by a television reality show, as one of two most promising newcomers.

The critic Michael Billington, on the circle's behalf, admitted attending the opening night with scepticism but said: "When I saw Connie Fisher as Maria, I was not just astonished but bowled over." Thanking the critics, Fisher said: "When I joined the reality television queue, everyone thought I had gone mad."

She shared the newcomer award with Andrew Garfield, who starred in The Overwhelming at the National, and is now working with Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep on a film in Hollywood.

Tamsin Greig, the star of television comedies such as Green Wing and Black Books, became the first woman to win the best Shakespearean performance award, founded by the publisher Ion Trewin in memory of his parents.

Greig said that after reading one review that compared her Beatrice in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Much Ado About Nothing to the former MP Edwina Currie, she read no more. "But I'm absolutely honoured to be here."

Despite a highly successful theatrical year in the West End, it was a Scottish show that secured the best director's award. John Tiffany took the honour for Black Watch, Gregory Burke's acclaimed play about Scottish soldiers in Iraq which was a triumph for the new National Theatre of Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

In another vindication of the subsidised sector, the National Theatre's production of Caroline, or Change beat blockbusters including Spamalot, Evita and The Sound of Music to the best musical award. Tony Kushner, the writer, paid tribute to the "astounding people at the National who moved mountains" to make it not only possible but a success.

Nina Raine, daughter of the poet Craig Raine, was named most promising playwright for her play Rabbit. The Punchdrunk Faust Company won the best designer award for their promenade performance in a five-storey warehouse in Wapping.

The full list of awards

Best new play

Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard at the Royal Court/Duke of York's Theatre

The Peter Hepple award for best musical (new or revival)

Caroline, or Change by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori at the National Theatre

Best actor

Rufus Sewell in Rock 'n' Roll

Best actress

Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Apollo Theatre

Best director

John Tiffany for Black Watch, National Theatre of Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and touring

The John and Wendy Trewin award for best Shakespearean performance

Tamsin Greig in Much Ado About Nothing at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon- Avon/Novello Theatre, London

Most promising playwright

Nina Raine for Rabbit at the Old Red Lion Theatre/Trafalgar Studios, London

Best designer

Punchdrunk Faust Company at 21 Wapping Lane, London

Jack Tinker award for most promising newcomer other than a playwright

Awarded jointly to Andrew Garfield in Beautiful Thing (Sound Theatre, London), Burn/Chatroom/Citizenship and The Overwhelming (National Theatre) and to Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music (London Palladium)