Tom and Steve

President Tom Sutcliffe and Stephen Sondheim holding his award at the Menier Chocolate Factory. © Catherine Cooper Events

The Critics Circle

Sondheim receives our Annual Award for Services to the Arts

He came, we saw, he conquered

William Russell

Published: 10/03/2012

     Our annual award for Services to the Arts was presented to Stephen Sondheim on Friday, March 9, 2012 by our President, Tom Sutcliffe, at a lunch held in the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, home to some of the most successful recent productions of his musicals. The celebrated A Little Night Music and Roadshow, the latest incarnation of a show which started off as Bounce, were the most recent, the latter production being the first time the show worked. Presenting the award Tom Sutcliffe said“History shows contemporary taste and the criticism that follows or forms it have little to do with genuine standards or artistic achievement. But an award based on a majority of votes from five warring tribes of prickly, opinionated writers on the arts represents something quite a bit different from the Oscars, Tonys and Baftas, and all the other back-patting, self-serving razzmatazz of the trade. It is great you are here, and welcome to our British Pantheon."

Proposing Sondheim's health, Mark Shenton, chair of the Drama Section, said British critics had played a special part in Sondheim's life. "At a platform interview at the National Theatre back in 1993, he replied to an audience member who asked about the warm reception to his work in the UK that British audiences were interested in language and American audiences were not. "The first good notices I ever got were for the British production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was slammed to death by the critics in New York," he had added.

 Sondheim says in Look I Made a Hat that he learnt not to read reviews of his own work, although he says, “the temptation is hard to resist, but learnt to resist you do" Mark said. Then he also adds, "Reading reviews of other people's work is another matter", and that "a good critic can persuade you to attend something you'd never have imagined going to. A good critic is an entertaining read. A good critic is hard to find. Then, again, to a certain degree, good critics are no longer necessary to find. The phrase 'everybody's a critic' has taken on a universal cast." It was  a pleasure to welcome Stephen Sondheim to be amongst some critical survivors, and to bestow more than just our words of approval but also an award showing our approval, he added.


 Cargin, Shenton, Friedman

Mark Shenton, chair of the Drama Section, Peter Cargin, Hon Treasurer, and Maria Friedman © Critics' Circle


In response the great man was succinct to say the least. he admired the award, an engraved rosebowl, said that at least it was not a statue and was something one could use - like to put cash in, that he had more fondness for the critical fraternity in London than in New York as he had received his first good reviews in London, and thanked the Circle for the honour done to him. After that Maria Friedman sang three songs in his honour - Mrs Lovett's pie song from Sweeny Todd, the touching Isn't He Something from Roadshow and finally Losing My Mind from Follies. The great man circulated, chatted, signed autographs - some critics have no shame - and all in all it was a huge success. She also raised the roof after inviting Charlie Spencer on stage as her foil for the pie song and held a large knife to his throat - the dream of many a thespian. And not just his throat either.


Friedman and SpencerMaria Friedman does to Charlie Spencer what many have wished. © Critics' Circle


There are more pictures in Picture Gallery Six which will be in our History Section soon.


Enquiries about the Critics' Circle should be made to the Hon Gen Sec Rick Jones by email or telephone 020 8698 2460.