Annual Awards 2020
Celebrating excellence in the Creative Arts and Society, as selected by the Connected Cultures editorial board.
2020 has been an especially challenging year. There have been some dark times. Closed venues. Empty streets. Lives without active engagement. Thankfully, often from a remote source but with far reaching effects, there have also been many illuminating performances in the world of the Creative Arts. There have also been many essential acts promoting and delivering social justice, through the tireless efforts of individuals and communities defying increasingly challenging circumstances.
In this third, annual, virtual, award ceremony, we reflect on another year of brilliant performances and contributions.
All that glisters is not gold, true. But weighing up 2020, there has been so much to value.
The awards are presented as follows and, as ever, we commence with the stage:
Winner: The Upstart Crow
This was a tough choice. To award or not to award? Live theatre is the form of artistic culture that I have missed most during 2020. Normally I would be able to choose from a bunch of Shakespeares at the RSC, a dalliance in the pit at The Globe, a Barbican special, a new twist on an old favourite at the National, a showcase for the stars in the West End and a few out-of-towners.
There have been lots of plays streamed in 2020, but there’s nothing quite like a live performance and a packed house. Ben Elton got his comic timing spot on as always, getting David Mitchell to wow us all on stage as that nice Mr. Shakespeare, along with Gemma Whelan as the would-be female actor Kate. Mark Heap switched from his TV role as Robert Green to Dr. John Hall and was equally creepy and brilliant treading the boards. Thanks to all the cast, the production team and the Gielgud Theatre.
Perchance to dream: Live Shakespeare in the West End
Dr. John Hall (Mark Heap) showing us how to overhear unseen (photo: Johan Persson)
See the CC review of The Upstart Crow here
Waiting in the wings:
I wish I could be celebrating the RSC's War of the Roses; three plays rolled into two. Grandstand seats booked, postponed, rescheduled, re-booked and postponed again. Roll on 2022.
Sadly, the Nuffield Theatre Group became insolvent before the £1.57bn emergency Culture fund was made available. The Nuffield is the one theatre where I’ve performed on stage, in a walk-on/walk-off role. We have some history together, but, alas, no future now.
Alas, poor Nuffield
Winner: Reynard the Fox - retold by Anne Louise Avery
This is the fabulous story of an especially cunning fox who has no morals, few friends, a fancy lady or three, and is always hungry. He often lies, mostly to defend himself in court against accusations of horrendous crimes; charges which are often true, depending on how you look at the animal kingdom. Still, he likes his food freshly killed, and he does have to provide for his wife and cubs.
The language in this story is completely wonderful. Anne Louise has beautifully re-worded a medieval text, adapting it for modern readers but maintaining the archaic charm. The story was first set out in print in English by William Caxton.
See the CC review of Reynard the Fox here:
Runner up: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
For finding a novel way to explore Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Also for winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. Some happiness here then, but ultimately, in this virtual award ceremony, close but no cigar.
Tragic spelling or interchangeable letters?
Runner up: The Perfect Nine by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
I can't improve on the inner blurb: this book conveys "a glorious epic about the founding of Kenya's Gĩkũyũ people and the ideals of beauty, courage and unity." As the author explained in a fascinating conversation with his fellow academic/writer son, Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ, the story is actually about ten daughters, not nine. This simply adds to the perfection. A CC review will follow in the new year.
3. Contemporary Art
Winner: Ritika Kumari
Ritika specialises in watercolours, for me the most challenging of mediums to control. Her portfolio in 2020 has been spectacular, with the natural world featuring frequently. Highlights for me include a strikingly beautiful hydrangea, a majestic peacock, perfectly poised, and an intriguing pair of swans in a scene suggesting both serenity and turmoil.
Her finely structured horse seems to invent a post-neo-cubist-semi-abstract style. I’m also particularly fond of a pair of whistling kettles, both of which reveal antiquated charm and extraordinary subtlety in the capture of light and reflection. To provide more modern fare, the artist offers up a fun plate of chocolate ring doughnuts!
All images above painted in watercolours by Ritika Kumari
There is exceptional control and vision, here, and yet Ritika’s art maintains an organic beauty that is simply a joy to behold. I can’t wait to see what appears on her canvases in 2021.
Runner up: Lucille Clerc is a French artist who captures green spaces and architectural delights in pen and ink drawings. Lucille is equally at home in London and Paris, with Kew Gardens, the Palace of Versailles and Ellizabethan England providing great inspiration. Her illustrations are charming and magical, often revelling in the interface between nature and the urban realm.
Blue Cabbage by Lucille Clerc
Runner up: Lina Iris Viktor
For Some Are Born To Endless Night: Dark Matter at the Autograph Centre, Shoreditch. The abundance of twenty-four carat gold on a black background was an irresistible attraction, with performance art / self-portraits set alongside the mysticism. Immersive and intense.
See the CC review of Lina Iris Viktor's exhibition here
Winner: Small Axe: Mangrove - written and directed by Steve McQueen
Just when it seemed the film world was a write-off in 2020, along came Small Axe, a series of five films written and directed by Steve McQueen. A burst of nostalgia for settlers in Britain from the Caribbean. Bittersweet. Torturous. A reminder of the pain suffered by the victims of racism. A heap of shame upon white Britain, and not just past generations. The truth must be acknowledged.
“If you are the big tree,
We are the small axe.”
(Bob Marley and the Wailers)
The cast of Mangrove, especially, is superb. Malachi Kirby stands and is so convincing as a young Darcus Howe. How I miss Darcus’s razor-sharp intellect, his wondrous voice and his determination to get his point across. Letitia Wright is also brilliant as Altheia Jones-Lecointe. Shaun Parkes makes a very fine Frank Crichlow (owner of the Mangrove restaurant). And Sam Spruell plays the terrifying, ignorant, racist PC Frank Pulley.
Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) defending himself and his fellow victims
PC Pulley (Sam Spruell): a racist, violent thug in uniform
The story is heart-breaking, repeatedly. The events seemingly unbearable, though they were somehow borne in reality by all who were affected. The heroic performance in court is captured with a true sense of the danger faced by the defendants. There is not exactly a happy ending. How could there be? We have a long way to go yet. But the legal defence at the Old Bailey was a genuine triumph, and this film is a marvellous tribute to the courage and the resilience of a community that refused to give in.
L - R: Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Letitia Wright) and Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) in the dock at the Old Bailey
Winner: The Luminaries
A superb, six-part dramatization of genuinely modern classic. One of the few Booker prize winners of genuine class in the last ten years. A 900 pager, to boot. The BBC gambled by taking out the crucial character of Walter Moody, who appears on the first page and throughout, delaying his entry on screen until the fifth episode. That was confusing but it worked. The star of the novel is, after all, the unfortunate Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson), taken advantage of by many, and the woman who everyone needs. Eva Green was brilliantly wicked as Lydia Wells. More could have been made of the New Zealand setting, but the costumes, drama and suspense made for compulsive viewing.
Leading lights: L-R: Francis Carver (Martin Csokas), Anna Wetherall (Eve Hewson), Lydia Wells (Eva Green), Emery Staines (Himesh Patel) and Crosbie Wells (Ewen Leslie)
See the CC review of The Luminaries here
The third series of Star Trek Discovery begins by taking us 900 years into the future with the daring Michael Burnham falling out of the sky in her angel suit. Lost, no longer at ease in a uniform, and disobedient as ever, Michael is simply magnificent. As are her braids. And did I mention her arresting eyes?
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Cleveland Booker (David Ajala)
Captain Suru (Doug Jones)
(You might recognise Doug better as the River Monster in The Shape of Water)
Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Regal and terrifying.
Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp)
A Kevin de Bruyne style genius around whom everything revolves when the crew advances quickest and best
Season 1 of Picard showed great promise, but really only came to life when Seven of Nine reminded us who we’d really been missing, storming through with all phasers blazing. Brent Spiner briefly reprised the role of Data, making us all cry when he finally asked to be switched off for good. A second series is on the way, but I kind of wish it wasn’t. Sorry to say, Jean-Luc, but this is no universe for old men.
Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). Still hoping for that hour on the holodeck with you!
Winner: English National Ballet
For leading the way in brightening up our remote cultural lives with the #WednesdayWatchParty, early on in the lockdown days. The ENB presented an uplifting and varied programme from the recent archives, including Broken Wings (with Tamara Rojo starring as Frida Kohlo), Dust, Song of the Earth, Fantastic Beings, and the classic La Sylphide (or should I call this ‘the Scottish Ballet’?). With the ENB, streaming was easy and reliable, even in 1080HD. My soul was yearning for this culture, and I was happy to support the cause.
Tamara Rojo, Jeffrey Cirio and Joseph Caley in Song of the Earth
(photo: Laurent Liotardo)
Akram Khan's Dust (photo: Bill Cooper)
See the CC Review of Broken Wings here
Artistic Director Tamara Rojo (2019 winner of the CC Award for Cultural Connectivity), also played a leading role in demanding financial support from national Government, and was a prominent member of the Cultural Renewal Task Force. It seemed to take forever for Oliver Dowden to respond, but eventually, the grants came.
A special mention here for Rosie Gerhard and the British Ballet Now and Then team, for their brilliant writing on ballet through the ages. Their must-read features set the present in context, bring the past alive, and make an appreciation of ballet so much more accessible.
Tamara Rojo (photo: TR's Instagram feed)
Winner: Naomi Osaka
For winning the US Open for the second time, having previously won the title in 2018, with the Australian Open title in between in 2019. This time Naomi triumphed in an almost empty Arthur Ashe stadium, coming from a set down against Victoria Azarenka to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. An impressive performance in uninspiring conditions.
A surprisingly small trophy for a massive achievement
More important, in social terms, was her protest against US police killings of black victims, with a different victim’s name appearing on each of her seven masks, one for each round in the tournament. When asked by a rather foolish interviewer:
“Seven matches, seven masks, seven names; what was the message you wanted to send?”
Naomi replied calmly and with barely a hint of sarcasm:
"Well, what was the message that you got? That was more the question."
Say his name
Off court, commemorating another name, another victim of white hatred out of court
Jason Holder and the West Indies
For being bold enough to come and play a test series in England in June, when all around was gloomy.
Standing tall. Captain Holder leading the team to victory in the first test. A late start to the season with bats, balls and bubbles.
Manchester City, for a third Carabao Cup title in a row, and the fifth in seven years. The only major English football trophy won with a crowd in attendance in 2020. And I was there.
8. Leadership (Political or Social)
Winner: Sadiq Khan
Twelve months ago, in the 2019/20 New Year’s celebrations, Sadiq Khan announced to the whole world that London was open. This sounded optimistic, given that the prospects of social, economic and cultural engagement looked bleak due to Brexit.
Then, unbelievably, it all got even worse. In March 2020 we were all locked down. Sort of. Time for some genuine leadership, and not just for the capital. Sadiq Khan is a London-centric mayor, true, but he goes beyond this. As a Labour, British Muslim mayor, he is committed to equality and justice for all. In return, Khan has been subject to a torrent of abuse from political opponents. Admirably, the Mayor has stood strong, calling out dishonesty, stating facts, maintaining genuine opposition to National Government hostility and bullying.
More widely, Khan has frequently been the victim of terrible insults of a racial and religious nature. His response has been to ignore personal abuse and to stand up for everyone who is targeted and victimised. He demands that everyone be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of their religion, race or any other social construct.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
Whether London is open or closed, the city has a leader who cares and listens. A mayor who promotes opportunities for sustainable, positive change.
For tearing apart the usurper in the White House with her lip-synching of his ridiculous words, and her fabulous facial expressions. For hastening the end of all that selfishness, hatred, insularity and ego. Sarah's facial expressions are scarily Trumpian. No faking at all. When she doubles up as a Whitehouse aide she is as baffled as the rest of us. Everything's fine now, finally.
Sarah Cooper: famous for a voice we never want to hear again
The Bristolians who brought down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol City Centre.
Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees, for keeping calm and maintaining perspective when inwardly he must have been dancing.
See the CC feature: Collective Action here
9. Social Justice and 10. Cultural Connectivity
Winner: Marcus Rashford
Not Daniel but Marcus. No wizard. Just human, and humane. Marcus is unlikely ever to get a Connected Cultures award for sporting excellence, since however brilliant a footballer he may be for England, he plays for the red rags when at home. Simply the wrong club in Manchester. But, here we have a social justice champion who deserves the highest praise for his contribution to society and for improving the lives of young people especially.
A starring role for England
This double award is for standing up for the disadvantaged. For demanding a response when Government was both unresponsive and irresponsible. For obliging the Government to make a U-turn in the 2020 school summer holidays. And then another U-turn in October, to continue on the course of the original U-turn which the Tories has snaked back round from in the meantime. The politicians, the hard right Conservatives and all those who fall in line with them, should be ashamed of themselves.
This has been an extraordinary year of deprivation and isolation. Rashford has shown magnificent leadership in a country where, sadly, we are misled in so many ways. There are terrible divisions in society, but Rashford has helped remind us that we can connect as a society when we choose to be unselfish, when we put others first, when we work together for the greater good. For the many, not the few.
A humanitarian role for England
Alas for some, on the pitch not even Rashford could prevent his provincial team from slipping out of the Champions League and into the Europa League. Even superheroes have their limitations.
© Eddie Hewitt 2020
See the Connected Cultures 2019 Annual Awards here
See the Connected Cultures 2018 Annual Awards here