Actor Rupert Everett – currently starring as Oscar Wilde in the critically acclaimed The Judas Kiss – has won the fifth annual Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography, as announced at a ceremony this morning. Upon receiving the award, for his second memoir Vanished Years, Everett said “it couldn’t be a greater award to win.”
Also nominated were Simon Callow for Charles Dickens and The Great Theatre of the World; Arthur Laurents for The Rest of The Story; Michael Pennington for Sweet William; Sue Prideaux for Strindberg, A Life; and Kate Bassett for In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller.
The prize is named in honour of deceased theatre critic and author Sheridan Morley, who wrote more than 30 books during his lifetime, including major biographies of Noel Coward and John Gielgud. Actress Isla Blair, one of the judges, praised Morley as someone who “really loved actors.” Aptly, this year’s shortlist was whittled down from more than 30 entries.
The ceremony was hosted at famed theatrical haunt The Garrick Club by the critic and broadcaster Ruth Leon, Morley’s widow and the prize’s founding trustee. Leon jokingly described the atmosphere of the canapÃ©-laden event as “something between a Jewish wedding and a formal dinner.”
(Eternally youthful critic, actress and producer Blanche Marvin kindly took pity on Exeunt’s budget-constrained correspondent at this point, and proceeded to amass said canapÃ©s for consumption during the proceedings.)
The shortlist and winning title were selected by a jury comprising Blair, director Braham Murray and critic and journalist Mark Shenton. Calling Vanished Years “achingly funny and also deeply moving,” Blair went on to observe: “Rupert deprecates no one with his acerbic wit more than himself.”
Speaking to Exeunt afterwards, Mark Shenton paid tribute to Sheridan Morley as “a man who cared passionately about the theatre. This award cares passionately about the people who write books about the theatre, so it’s a perfect marriage.”
He revealed: “We had an awful lot to choose from and what was great was that they were very much firsthand accounts of the theatre, or an actor writing about the theatre, like Simon Callow. So there was such a range.”
Vanished Years was “outright hilarious but also really moving and surprising,” Shenton said. “These were the qualities that marked Rupert Everett out as the winner. We were all divided over the five titles individually, but the one book that united us was his.”
The Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography is supported by the Garrick Club of which Sheridan Morley was a lifelong member and by donations from the public, his friends and colleagues. It is administered by Oberon Books.