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Scottish Premiere of Escaped Alone is big winner as CATS comes of age

Images: Andy Arnold at the 2015 CATS and the cast of Escaped Alone which was the big winner this year.

The Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland “came of age” today as the 2024 ceremony was held at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The cream of Scottish theatre came together to celebrate another year of inspiring work produced in Scotland.


“When we launched the CATS Awards back in 2003, our aim was simply to celebrate the best of theatre made in Scotland, and to give an extra measure of recognition to a wide range of shows that Scotland’s critics felt were among the most impressive and exciting of the year,” says CATS co-convenor, Joyce McMillan. “We’re delighted that since then - and despite many changes affecting both theatre itself and the reviewing business - the CATS Awards, and the annual party to celebrate them, have become a vital part of the Scottish theatre landscape, helping to tell the story of Scottish theatre in ways that endure beyond the run of a play, and a brief series of reviews.


“As writers about theatre, we know that the fragile structures of funding which support theatre production here in Scotland are under threat, in ways we have not seen in two generations; but we hope and trust that by continuing to celebrate theatre made here in Scotland, we can both encourage the wonderful artists and organisations who make the work, and help to raise awareness of the vital role our theatre community plays, in enabling Scotland to remember and reimagine its own stories, and to tell them - and all the great stories of the world - in its own voice” she adds.


The event began with the presentation of a CATS WHISKERS to Andy Arnold in recognition of his exceptional contribution to theatre in Scotland.


"Andy Arnold has made an extraordinary contribution to theatre in Scotland over the last 40 years, particularly through his work with The Arches Theatre Company and at the Tron Theatre,” says CATS co-convenor, Mark Brown. “He imprinted his own style and personality on classics of international theatre including The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Brian Friel's Translations and James Joyce's epic Ulysses. He has also championed work by new writers such as Eilidh Loan and Isobel McArthur."


“Andy has also been a tireless advocate for the importance of theatre in particular and the arts in general especially at a time when funding for the sector is under such intense pressure.”


On receiving the award Arnold said: "If your passion in life is to make theatre, then to have your own space to do it in is an absolute dream.” That’s the situation I’ve found myself in these past forty odd years – making my own work in three inspirational buildings: Theatre Workshop, The Arches, and The Tron - and providing space for other theatre makers to do likewise. It’s been a joy. This award is the icing on the cake."


Joanna Bowman’s production emerged as perhaps

 the most essential 50 minutes of theatre in Scotland this year


The big winner on the day was a new Tron Theatre Company production of Caryl Churchill’s 21st-century masterpiece Escaped Alone. The remarkable contributions of the four actors Blythe Duff, Ann Kidd, Irene McDougall and Joanna Tope were recognised in the Best Ensemble Award; Joanna Bowman was named Best Director, and it scooped the top award, Best Production.


“In Andy Arnold’s Tron tradition of presenting Scottish premieres of great recent plays from the UK and Ireland, this year’s Scottish premiere of Escaped Alone was a magnificent Tron production,” says Scotsman Theatre critic and CATS co-convenor, Joyce McMillan. “It featured an outstanding cast with unforgettable lighting and sound. Joanna Bowman’s production emerged as perhaps the most essential 50 minutes of theatre in Scotland this year.”


“The four-strong cast - Irene MacDougall, Joanna Tope, Anne Kidd, and Outstanding Performance nominee Blythe Duff - captured the undeniable skill and prestige of our theatres,” says Dominic Corr of Corr Blimey! “Not a word was wasted from a cast who naturally work from one another to enhance their performances, synergising and building the slick and scrupulously crafted script into a mighty crescendo of intimate and global catastrophe which shows emerging talents just how it’s done.”


“Joanna Bowman’s revival of Caryl Churchill’s 2016 tour-de-force powerfully caught the unnerving mix of back garden small talk and apocalyptic horror in this extraordinary one-act play,” adds Times theatre critic, Allan Radcliffe. “Bowman’s direction was taut, stripped back and unflashy, generously placing emphasis not only on the brilliance of the ensemble, but also the intricacies of the writing.


One of the two Outstanding Performance awards went to Gill Robertson for the plethora of roles she played in Catherine Wheels’ Lightning Ridge, a production that was also recognised as the Best Production for Children and Young People.


“Gill Robertson’s performance in Lightning Ridge was remarkable—a barnstorming piece of storytelling that had an equal balance of humour and empathy,” says CATS co-convenor Michael Cox. “Robertson not only told the story well but conjured a huge cast of characters—all brought to vivid life within the imagination of the audience through her wonderful use of words and physicality.”


“In Lightning Ridge Catherine Wheels re-visited Pobby and Dingan, Ben Rice’s novella for young people in what is a remarkably involved piece of storytelling about imagination, loss and the nature of community,” says Thom Dibdin of All Edinburgh Theatre. “It is a thoroughly considered piece of storytelling. There again, it needs to be - it carries a twist that grown-ups might see coming from quite a long way off, and be braced for, but for which young people will not necessarily pick up all the warning signs.”


The other Best Performance award went to Paul McCole who cut his comedy teeth in the Limmie Show. He played the role of Dion in The Sheriff of Kalamaki, for which Douglas Maxwell won the Best New Play award (A Play, A Pie and A Pint).


In this brilliantly-wrought piece – set in the Greek island resort of Kalamaki, and written for A Play, A Pie and A Pint – Douglas Maxwell combines superb characterisation, deep pathos and dark humour to create a compelling, hilarious and sobering drama about socially marginalised Scots and the fag-end of the international tourism industry,” says Mark Brown of the Sunday National and Daily Telegraph.  “In the process, he also creates a resonating play about brotherhood, fragile masculinity and, in devastating terms, the climate crisis. That he does so without the merest smidgen of polemic or editorialising is testament to the intelligence and humanity of his writing.”


“Paul McCole has a lot to do as Dion in the Sheriff of Kalamaki. He is gallus and vulnerable at the same time, his Glaswegian charisma hiding quiet desperation,” adds Anna Burnside of Across the Arts and Corr Blimey! “He squeezed a good deal of nuance and emotion into an hour-long performance.”


Another production that was recognised in two categories was Ragnarok by Tortoise in a Nutshell. The production picked up Best Music and Sound and Best Technical Presentation. Best Design was won by the Royal Lyceum’s Anna Karenina.


The 2024 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland were presented by author and TV broadcaster Damian Barr.  Barr is perhaps best known for Maggie and Me, his acclaimed memoir of growing up in small-town Scotland during the Thatcher years which he recently adapted for the stage with James Ley. He was also creator and host of the Literary Salon and presenter of arts shows including BBC Radio 4 Front Row and The Big Scottish Book Club for BBC Scotland.


The 2024 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland are generously supported by:

STV Studios (Outstanding Performance awards), Equity (Best Ensemble), BECTU (Best Technical Presentation), Nick Hern Books (Best New Play), BB Hair Collective (Best Design), Gilded Balloon (Best Production for Children and Young People), and also by BBC Scotland Radio Drama. With special thanks to the Ambassador Theatre Group for hosting the event at the Theatre Royal Glasgow.


We are excited to be hosting this year’s Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland at Theatre Royal, Glasgow for the first time,” says Theatre Director, James Haworth. “As the city’s oldest theatre, the venue has played a leading role in Scotland’s cultural life, presenting homegrown talent as well as showcasing famed international productions. We look forward to welcoming Scotland’s theatre critics, bringing them together with nominees and guests to celebrate the Scottish theatre sector and the brilliant people behind the terrific work staged across the country this year.


Follow CATS on: X @catsawards / Instagram @catsawards /

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