Women win big prizes at first gender-neutral theater awards

Jodie Comer attends the 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards at the Prince Of Wales Theater - Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Jodie Comer attends the 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards at the Prince Of Wales Theater – Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

The first gender-neutral awards for British theater have led to a clean slate for women.

At the WhatsOnStage Awards, Jodie Comer was named Best Performer in a Play for her West End debut in Prima Facie.

Her competition included David Tennant for Good, Rafe Spall for To Kill A Mockingbird and Jonathan Bailey for Cock.

Gwyneth Keyworth won Best Supporting Performer in a Play for To Kill A Mockingbird, while Courtney Bowman and Lauren Drew triumphed in the musicals categories, winning Best Performer and Best Supporting Performer respectively.

This is the first year that the prices, which are determined by theatergoers, are gender neutral. The organizers took a step in the right direction last year by renaming the categories to “male identification” and “female identification”.

“We are proud to be the first theater awards to introduce gender-neutral performance categories to honor our world-leading stage talent,” said the organizers.

The success for female artists is the opposite of what happened with this year’s Brit Awards nominations, where the male and female categories have also been scrapped. The decision led to an all-male shortlist for Artist of the Year.

In Prima Facie, a play for one woman, Comer plays a lawyer who specializes in defending men who are accused of sexual assault, but are assaulted themselves.

The show sold out at the Harold Pinter Theater before being shown in cinemas as part of the NT Live season, costing nearly £2 million in its first five days. The production will premiere on Broadway in April.

Prima Facie was also named Best New Play at the awards.

The other winning productions were Cock at the Ambassadors Theater (Best Play Revival), Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical at the Arts Theater (Best New Musical), Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in the Young Vic (Best Musical Revival), Six at the Vaudeville Theater (Best West End Show), Billy Elliot the Musical at Leicester’s Curve theater (Best Regional Production) and But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical at the Turbine Theater (best off-West End production).

My Neighbor Totoro at the Barbican led the field with five awards, for best direction, set design, lighting design, sound design and musical direction.

Producer and theater owner Nica Burns was honored with the Services to Theater award in recognition of her “outstanding career and unwavering commitment to the health of the theater industry.”

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