Tonic Awards

Celebrating the Achievements of Women in Theatre
Monday 19 March 2018
May Fair Theatre, London

The Tonic Awards celebrate the achievements of women who are changing the face of our theatre industry, and the projects and productions that are redefining the role of women in the performing arts. We created the Awards so that the amazing contributions of women to theatre can be highlighted publicly – not just the doom and gloom stories about under-representation – and so that younger women in particular have visible role models to aspire to.

The second annual Tonic Awards took place on Monday 19 March 2018 at the May Fair Theatre within the May Fair Hotel. It was hosted by broadcaster and journalist Jenni Murray DBE.

The 2018 Awards are generously supported by Boom Ents, Dewynters, JHI, May Fair Hotel, Nick Hern Books and WhatsOnStage, and our headline sponsor White Light.

Logo kindly designed by Deywynters.

The 2018 Recipients

EMMA DE SOUZA, presented by Caro Newling.

Twenty years ago Emma De Souza started Kids Week in the West End with the Society of London Theatre. The premise of Kids Week was to have families experience theatre at an affordable price. For every full paying adult, a child goes free with two additional children going at half price. For many children, it is their first introduction to seeing a London show. Over the years it has reached more than 1.4 million children and their families. It has fostered new generations of theatre audiences, and made a family trip to the theatre a possibility where it might otherwise have been inaccessible.

CLEAN BREAK THEATRE COMPANY, presented by Jennifer Joseph.

Clean Break was set up in 1979 by Jenny Hicks and Jacqueline Holborough, who believed theatre could bring hidden stories of women with experience of the criminal justice system to a wider audience. Since its inception, Clean Break have staged dozens of new plays on the theme of women and the criminal justice system. In doing so, they have given professional opportunities to generation after generation of women writers, directors, actors, designers and technicians. They have also told stories that may otherwise have remained untold, and given voice to women whose experiences are all too often silenced by society. In addition, through their engagement programmes, courses and advocacy, the impact they have had on the lives of individual women has been immense.

WAKING THE FEMINISTS, presented by Ursula Rani Sarma.

In October 2015, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin announced its 2016 Waking the Nation season, marking the centenary of the Easter Uprising. In a programme of ten productions, only one was written by a woman, continuing a long-standing pattern of underrepresentation of women on major Irish stages. The announcement acted as a touch paper and an online response began. #WakingTheFeminists went viral internationally and received support from major public figures. In the space of just a year, #WakingTheFeminists engaged in an ultimately productive conversation, not just with the Abbey Theatre, but with the wider Irish theatre community, and as a consequence have instigated positive change in theatres across the country. Irish theatre does not look like it did before the campaign.

ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE, presented by Maxine Peake.

The Royal Exchange Theatre opened its doors over forty years ago, and has been a hub of storytelling for Manchester and the rest of the UK since. In recent years, its shown a demonstrable commitment to producing and programming work about women, and within that, the diversity of women’s experiences. Each season has had a healthy representation of female creatives at the helm, including writers and directors. None of this came with a declaration of intention. The theatre simply did it. Those larger theatres who fear the introduction of more work foregrounding the experience of women will lead to a drop in their box office receipts, need only look to the Exchange to see that’s simply not true. The organisation is in rude health and its stages operate as beacons of enlightened, exciting and nuanced programming.


STEFFI HOLTZ AND GINA ABOLINS, presented by Vicki Featherstone.

Preceding the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein scandal which precipitated #MeToo, Steffi Holtz and Gina Abolins had already made the brave decision to speak up about inappropriate behaviour in their own workplace, in spite of the repercussions it could have had for them personally and professionally. In doing this, they set an important example, in particular for those working behind the scenes and in less high profile or senior positions within theatre. The Tonic Awards can’t possibly recognise all those women who have demonstrated bravery and resilience, but did want to recognise Gina and Steffi tonight as just two such examples.

KULLY THIARAI, presented by Charlotte Bennett.

As the inaugural Artistic Director of Cast, the new Doncaster venue which opened in 2014, Kully’s passion for enriching a local community through the performing arts spaces really came into its own. Under her leadership Cast was established as ‘a cultural living room’ for Doncaster, a space that belonged to the people of the community and not to those who ran it. Now in post as Artistic Director at National Theatre Wales, Kully’s work goes out to the community, as much as it welcomes them in, whether that’s creating work on beaches, up mountains, in city centres or down the local pub. Kully puts the community and the audience first in everything she’s behind, whilst never compromising on the empathy and ambition of the work. She exemplifies the idea that great art and socially-engaged art can and do go hand-in-hand.

LYN GARDNER, presented by Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Lyn Gardner’s work as a theatre critic and journalist has always had a refreshingly wide reach. Whether she’s covering London’s West End or Fringe Theatre, children’s theatre or exceptional work in regional theatre, her love for live performance and for new voices in theatre has always shone through her writing. When it was announced that her blog posts for The Guardian were being discontinued, there was widespread outrage in the theatre world. She was soon scooped up by The Stage who appointed her Associate Editor and reinstated her theatre blog in a new home. Her insights are thoughtful, fair and always nuanced at a time when it can feel that conversations are shrinking with the limited space allocated to theatre journalism in the media. She has also added her voice in support of diversity on and off stage, and in the body of critical writing a show receives.

CARYL CHURCHILL, presented by Moira Buffini.

From her first professional production, Caryl Churchill has ripped up the rulebook, if it ever existed, on playwriting. She first garnered serious national and international attention with Cloud Nine, which won an Obie Award in 1982, as did her seminal play Top Girls the following year. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in major revivals of Caryl’s work, but her influence is still felt in her blistering new plays. In 2015, her latest play, Escaped Alone, premiered at the Royal Court, and returned the following season for a sold-out and acclaimed second run. Caryl’s work has moved away from traditional structured, consistently dared to defy form, and inventively explored the female experience. She has also led the way for new generations of female playwrights, breaking down walls within the industry and acting as an inspiration for countless women who cite her influence on their own careers and work.

KATIE MITCHELL, presented by Lucy Kerbel.

Katie Mitchell’s distinctive style and fearless approach have raised more than a few eyebrows. From new plays to revivals to classical texts to epic operas to genre-busting video pieces to outstanding theatre for children, the Katie Mitchell treatment has brought some of the most memorable and innovative theatre to stages across Britain and Europe. Her consistent re-imaginings of what feminist theatre productions can be and say has recently included a devastating and extraordinary premiere of Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court, and a production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House that turned the traditional operatic portrayal of heroines on its head. Katie has broken down many barriers in the industry, and in the process been a role model to generations of directors who have come after her, proactively supporting and mentoring younger female artists.

Watch highlights from the 2018 Tonic Awards

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The 2017 Recipients

The recipients at the inaugural Tonic Awards in 2017 were: Rosemary Squire DBE, the all-female Shakespeare trilogy (Donmar Warehouse and beyond), Emma Rice, Anna Newell, Indu Rubasingham MBE, Dawn Walton, Jenny Sealey MBE, Paule Constable and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre).