Tay Bridge disaster play claims top honours in Scottish theatre Oscars

A solo show about the signalman on duty on the night of the Tay Bridge disaster, a play about a troubled teenager's experiences of Scotland's care system and drama set in aboard a space station orbiting a new planet are the big winners in the Oscars of the Scottish theatre world this year.

Peter Arnott's play The Signalman, which starred Tom McGovern, is a triple awards winner this year. Picture: Leslie Black
Peter Arnott's play The Signalman, which starred Tom McGovern, is a triple awards winner this year. Picture: Leslie Black

Winners the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland have been announced despite the shutdown of venues across the country since March.

Productions going as far back as May 2019 were eligible for the awards, which were launched 17 years ago.

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Peter Arnott's monologue The Signalman, which saw Tom McGovern play the haunted railway worker Thomas Barclay reflecting on his fateful role in the 1879 tragedy 40 years later, won three of the major Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland.

Anna Russell-Martin was honoured for her starring role in The Panopticon. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

The Signalman, which was premiered as part of the lunchtime theatre season A Play, a Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor in Glasgow, claimed the prizes for best new play and best production, while McGovern was honoured for best male performance.

Another Arnott play, Tay Bridge, which was based on the real lives of some of the passengers who perished and was performed at Dundee Rep to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the tragedy, was nominated for best ensemble in the “CATS” awards.

The honour for best female perfomance went to Anna Russell-Martin, star of The Panopticon, the National Theatre of Scotland’s adaptation at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh of Jenni Fagan’s best-selling novel, which was inspired by her own personal experiences of the care system in Scotland. Russell-Martin has been honoured months after being honoured at the Venice Film Festival for her role in The Shift, a short film set in a Glasgow supermarket.

Solaris, an eerie psychological thriller based on the classic 1961 sci-fi novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem, which was staged at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh last September, was honoured for best technical presentation and best-designer, being named joint winner of the latter award with the Catherine Wheels touring show Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface.

Hugo Weaving, Polly Frame & Keegan Joyce double award-winner Solaris. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

The best ensemble award went to the cast of Thank You Very Much, a collaboration between the National Theatre of Scotland and the performer and theatre-maker Claire Cunningham, while the show was also honoured for best music and sound.

Elizabeth Newman, the artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre, was named best director for its show Faith Healer, which also saw Line of Duty and Happy Valley star George Costigan nominated in the best male actor category.

Joyce McMillan, theatre critic at The Scotsman and co-chair of the awards judging panel, said: “This is is a tremendously difficult time for everyone in theatre, both for those running our theatres, and for

the huge range of freelance workers – from actor and writers to designers and musicians – who create much of what we see on stage.

George Costigan in the Pitlochry Festival Theatre show Faith Healer. Picture: Douglas McBride

"Yet for all the difficulties, the judges remained aware of the tremendous year of work, that was just coming to an end when the theatres closed down in March.

"We decided to work online to agree our shortlist and winners for the year, so as to give richly deserved recognition to the theatre-makers in Scotland who were producing such wonderful work, before Covid intervened.”

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Pitlochry Festival Theatre artistic director Elizabeth Newman was named best director for the show Faith Healer.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director

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