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'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022

After a virtual ceremony in 2020 and a pandemic-induced silence in 2021, The Stage Debut Awards have returned

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022 After a virtual ceremony in 2020 and a pandemic-induced silence in 2021, The Stage Debut Awards have finally returned in all their glitz and glamour the day before the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Stage veterans and shooting starlets gathered to celebrate their debuts and, after a nationwide minute of silence at eight sharp, Susan Wokoma kicked off the festivities.

The awards, set up by the paper in 2017, give a nod of approval to creatives across the country rather than merely highlight London's stages, virtually making them the most inclusive. BAFTA-winner Wokoma hosted the evening, while the trophies were handed out by the likes of Jamie Lloyd, Amanda Abbington, and Louise Redknapp, to name a few.

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022
Matt Henry and Elijah Ferreira

A woman of many talents, Wokoma can proudly add "host" to her list of credits. She did a marvellous job, introducing her peers with glowing excitement and precise humour. Shan Ako and Samuel Thomas - previous winners in 2020 and 2017 respectively - performed a brand new song written and composed by Jim Barne (also among the 2020 winners), while Frances Mayli McCann sang "How 'bout a Dance" and Natalie Paris briefly reprised her role as Six's Jane Seymour ending the night with "Heart of Stone". After a lavish dinner, names started to drop.

Olivier Award-winner Matt Henry announced Elijah Ferreira as the winner of Best Performer in a Musical for Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Leeds Playhouse. Henry, whose own debut was in The Lion King, recalls his time in the show fondly. He told us how he snuck out to audition unbeknownst to all while he was still in his second year of college. Like most of the winners on the night, Ferreira was overwhelmed hearing his name being called out.

"My first thought was, oh God!" he said, visibly grateful and humbled. "It feels a little daunting, but I don't want to override the pride and pleasure that comes with it, ultimately that's what it's about". Immediately after, Jack Holden collected Best Composer, Lyricist or Book Writer on behalf of John Patrick Elliott for Cruise at the Duchess Theatre, and Tyrell Williams was crowned Best Writer by Roy Williams for Red Pitch at the Bush Theatre.

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022
Georgia Bird

The latter Williams said that his one piece of advice for those who are just joining the industry would be to "Write what's in your heart, not what's in your head. Any first draft is about getting it onto paper, the real work starts with the second one. That's where you find the play".

Regarding his debut at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1996 with No Boys Cricket Club, he says he "Learnt how hard and how rewarding this job is". But teamwork is key, and that's where theatre is born, "We're nothing without collaboration". Tyrell Williams shares that he's more excited than anything, the award acting as reassurance that he's on the right path.

Next up, Jodie Comer was announced as Best West End Debut Performer for her work in Prima Facie. She was in good company, with names like Emilia Clarke and Sutton Foster also featuring in the line-up. Comer wasn't in attendance, but stage manager Georgia Bird was there to accept the award. Flustered and elated, she expressed her pride.

"I'm never really in the spotlight! I think it was so different for this show. Because it's a one-woman show, our relationship was so close. It was very important for Jodie to be able to know everything that was going on around her and the most important thing for me was that the team behind her who made the show happen every night was more like a sisterhood. I know that feeling is something she massively loved. It's incredible to be here on her behalf".

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022
TK Hay

Julia Cheng received Best Creative West End Debut for her splendid work as choreographer of Cabaret at the Playhouse theatre and the title of Best Designer went to TK Hay. Presented by multi-award-winner Anna Fleischle, Hay was commended for his set and costumes for An Adventure at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton.

Adorably humble and nervous, Hay was in utter disbelief. "It feels slightly daunting but my love of the job is what keeps me going". Fleischle believes there's a need to block out the superficiality of the industry to be able to be truthful to one's work, "You can enjoy these things, but you need to go back to being yourself, you need to keep your voice clear".

Monique Touko picked up the Best Director award for Malindadzimu at Hampstead Theatre. "Directing isn't just being creative, it's also people management" she said in regard to what she learned from this first production. Jamie Lloyd, who handed her the award, was in agreement. For many, their first jobs were as much of an education as their drama training, if not more, saying how they've learnt to trust their instincts first-hand.

"One piece of advice I'd give is to never give up" he said, "It can be tough and challenging, we all feel it in life. There's anxiety and frustration in this job, but nothing is permanent, everything is changing. All the negative stuff goes away eventually and there's always something around the corner. Never give up, keep moving!"

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022
Monique Touko and Jamie Lloyd

He continued "The biggest regret people have on their deathbed is that they didn't live the life they wanted to lead but led the life they thought was expected of them. That's devastating. I'm constantly reminding myself to follow my heart and not pay attention to what anyone else thinks of me. Stay steady. This said, it's easier said than done!"

Lloyd also - reticently - teased big things for the next two years, including the return of a project that didn't set sail due to the pandemic. Whether this is A Doll's House, which initially was due to feature Jessica Chastain as Nora, he didn't say. But one can still hope!

Elisabeth Gunawan of Unforgettable Girl at Voila! Europe Theatre Festival and the Ensemble of For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy at the ​​New Diorama and Royal Court shared the Best Performer in a Play award. Mark Akintimehin, Emmanuel Akwafo, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Darragh Hand, Aruna Jalloh, Kaine Lawrence were ecstatic to share the stage with Gunawan and the energy in the room was like nothing else before.

They agreed that the important thing isn't their win but what they created with their performances, the award is just the cherry on top. What they're bringing forward from their first production is the permission for them to be, they say, the joy and trust they found in themselves. "A lot of us have had to push ourselves beyond what we thought was possible". Well, it paid off. And when we asked what's next, we get the best answer: "This is only the beginning!".

'This is only the beginning!' West End Winners Announced for The Stage Debut Awards 2022
The Ensemble of For Black Boys...

With guests and nominees coming from all walks of life up and down Great Britain, there probably wasn't a better place to source inspiration and advice. Lizzie Annis (nominated for The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York's Theatre) revealed that she learnt invaluable lessons by being in the same room rehearsing with big names like Amy Adams (who also made her West End debut in the same production) and Paul Hilton. "Watching them all was a daily masterclass".

"I'm feeling really, really grateful to be here like I did at the Almeida. That was a bucket-list moment" said Joe Pitt, who was nominated alongside his cast mate Bella Maclean for Spring Awakening. Speaking of debuts in big shows, Paul Wilkins shared that his own was in Les Misérables, first as the second cover for the role of Marius and then playing the role for over two years. "These first jobs teach you some things you'd never learn in drama school. From certain techniques to the stamina it takes to do eight shows a week, but also certain life skills, like coping with whatever life throws at you".

The pandemic has certainly put many things into perspective. It endangered the livelihood of thousands of creatives, so the return of The Stage Debut Awards was a joyous reminder that we're now moving forward. As the industry heals, so does the ecosystem that brings new blood to it. We can't wait to see what the next year of theatre will deliver and who the next round of nominations will bring to our attention.

Photo Credit: Klaire Di Mattia

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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

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