Blythe Duff wins Scots theatre Oscar for ‘Ciara’

SHE made her name as the tough Glasgow detective Jackie Reid in the long-running TV crime series Taggart.

Blythe Duff takes a break from rehearsals for Ciara in Glasgow. Picture: Hemedia

But now one of Scotland’s leading actresses is celebrating a win at the annual Scottish theatre Oscars for her role as the daughter of a feared gangster in the city.

Blythe Duff wowed critics with her one-woman performance in Ciara at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh last summer.

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Now she has been named best actress and Edinburgh-born playwright David Harrower’s script has won best new play for the show at the prestigious Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS).

Stage and screen star Bill Paterson was guest of honour at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow to present the awards, where artist and playwright John Byrne also launched a major new award to honour new Scottish stage talent.

Ciara, which sees Duff as a Glasgow art gallery owner about trying to pick up her life following the recent death of her underworld figure father, was revived at the end of last year following an initial run at the Edinburgh Festival, when it won a coveted Scotsman Fringe First Award. Lanarkshire-born Duff, 51, has now the best actress award at the CATS for the last two years in a row.

The other major winner at the awards ceremony was a new production of the 19th century Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment, a co-production between the Royal Lyceum and Citizens theatres.

It was named best new production, while Dominic Hill, the artistic director at “the Citz”, was honoured as best director for the show. Adam Best won the best actor award while the 10-strong cast claimed the best ensemble prize.

The CATS awards, which were launched 10 years ago to help boost the profile of home-grown theatre in Scotland, are organised by Scotland’s leading theatre critics, including The Scotsman’s Joyce McMillan, who is the co-chair of the judging panel.

She said: “This year has once again seen some magnificent theatre produced in Scotland, from work created specially for children and young people, to innovative versions of classic texts and ground-breaking new plays.

“Although this has made the judging incredibly difficult, it is a challenge that the critics are delighted to have, and we would like to congratulate all our nominees and winners on some truly inspiring work.”

McMillan’s Fringe review of Ciara for The Scotsman praised Duff’s performance for its “magnificent passion, wit and quiet glamour.”

She wrote at the time: “There’s something about gender here, and something about Glasgow; but also something about civilisation and law itself, its fragility, its myths, its endless vulnerability.”

The judging panel said Harrower’s play - which sees Duff alone on stage for its entire duration - was “a showcase for Scottish writing at its best: a localised love letter to Scotland (particularly Glasgow) with rich language, a captivating plot and an equal balance of the dramatic and the comedic.”

The CATS judges hailed Hill’s “exceptional” directorial work on Crime and Punishment and lavished praise on “the thrilling central performance by Adam Best as a Hamlet-like performance as Raskolnikov, supported by a vigorous 10-strong ensemble.”

One of the stars of Crime and Punishment, Jessica Hardwick, who recently graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, picked up a new award to recognise young theatre talent that John Byrne has instigated in memory of Billy McColl, one of the stars of his iconic play The Slab Boys, who passed away earlier this year.

Meanwhile a new stage show inspired by the cult Scottish poet, songwriter and musician Ivor Cutler, and launched eight years after his death, won the best music and sound award at the CATS for the National Theatre of Scotland and Glasgow’s Vanishing Point theatre company.

Another NTS show, Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which was inspired by James Hogg’s classic 1824 novel and was staged at the Tramway in Glasgow and Summerhall in Edinburgh, won the best stage design prize.

The long-running Imaginate festival, which showcases performing arts for children and young people, won the outstanding achievement award at the CATS to mark its 25th year.

Full list of CATS winners

Best male performance: Adam Best, for Crime and Punishment.

Best female performance: Blythe Duff for Ciara

Best ensemble: Crime and Punishment.

Best director: Dominic Hill for Crime and Punishment.

Best design: Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Best music and sound: The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler.

Best technical presentation: Dragon.

Best production for children and young people: Huff.

Best new play: Ciara.

Best production: Crime and Punishment.

Outstanding achievement: Imaginate.