THE winners of the annual Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) have been announced. Prevented by the Covid-19 pandemic from celebrating the nominated shows with their traditional awards ceremony, the judges released the list of victors to the media on Thursday.

The awards, judged this year by eight of Scotland’s drama critics, considered all professional theatre shows produced in Scotland between the summer of 2019 and the closure of theatres by the pandemic last March. The biggest winner, picking up the prizes for Best New Play, Best Male Performance and Best Production, was the one-man show The Signalman, produced by the lunchtime theatre A Play, a Pie and a Pint at Glasgow venue Òran Mór.

Written by playwright Peter Arnott and played by Tom McGovern, the drama considers the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster through the tortured memories of railway signalman Thomas Barclay. Arnott said he was “delighted” by the awards and “especially pleased” for McGovern, who originated the piece with him.

Gratified though he is by his show’s haul of awards, Arnott, who has been a stalwart of the Scottish theatre scene for many years, offered a warning to the country’s theatre community. The interruption of theatre by Covid-19, has, he suggests, exposed underlying weaknesses in the ways in which live drama is funded and organised.

“I think we’re in much deeper trouble than we know and that Covid is just the start of it”, he said. “I have the uneasy feeling that people are acting as if someone is just going to throw a switch to put all the lights back on, and as if we can just pick up where we left off. I don’t know anything for certain, but I do know that it’s not going to be like that.”

Back in June, Arnott wrote an online manifesto for the recovery of Scottish theatre entitled Stages of Recovery: A Suggested Programme for Scottish Theatre 2020-2021. His latest proposals for re-invigorating the theatre sector include direct public ownership of the country’s theatres and a ministry of the arts.

Elsewhere in the 2020 CATS awards, there were two awards for Atlantis Banal: Beneath The Surface, a madcap piece about contemporary visual art. Created by acclaimed children’s theatre-maker Shona Reppe and produced by celebrated children’s theatre company Catherine Wheels, the show was awarded Best Production for Children and Young People and Best Design (which it won jointly with the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh’s staging of Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel Solaris).

There were also two awards for Thank You Very Much, a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Manchester International Festival. The play, in which disabled performers explore society’s vexed notions of normality “through the lens of the competitive world of tribute artists”, was awarded Best Ensemble and Best Music and Sound.

There were prizes for Pitlochry Festival Theatre director Elizabeth Newman (Best Director for her staging of Brian Friel’s play Faith Healer) and Anna Russell-Martin (Best Female Performance for the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Panopticon).

Joyce McMillan, co-convener of the awards, said: “There will be no online awards ceremony because we love the live experience, and will celebrate this work at a live ceremony and party just as soon as that is possible.

“In the meantime, though, we hope the celebration of these wonderful shows from 2019–20 will remind us of the sheer richness of Scotland’s theatre scene [and] of what we stand to lose if we don’t support our

theatre-makers through this crisis.”