And the winners were…looking back at the 2012 Olivier awards

So in the final analysis the 2012 Olivier awards ended ‘not with a bang but with a whimper’.  The relentless march of the Matildas’ continues apace, more than a match for T-2 in terms of remorselessly crushing all that stand in their way. The Evening Standard Awards pointed towards what was to come but the warnings weren’t heeded and on Sunday, at approximately five o’clock in the afternoon, the Matildas’ laid waste to another awards festival. The destruction, when it came, was all but total. 

Nominated in ten categories, the Matildas’ blitzed the competition in seven to break the RSC’s own record that has stood firm for over 30 years; back when Nicholas Nickleby made all bow before him. They took a clean sweep of almost all the major musical catagories, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best New Musical, Best Director & Best Theatre Choregrapher – the only break in the chain came with the surprising victory of Nigel Harman in Shrek: the Musical. It is thought his victory, as the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad, only come about as judges mistook his diminutive stature for the infamous fifth Matilda, and awarded him the prize accordingly.

The other musicals kneel before the newly crowned queens of the West End. The big loser of the evening being the box office smash hit Ghost: The Musical. As unappealing as the concept may sound, it has unsurprising and dispiritingly been ‘box-office dynamite’. However not so much of a hit with the judges; going home empty-handed despite nominations in 5 categories.

Two rather more depressing news items is that London Road also managed to lose out in each of  its 4 categories. Each time nominated against a Matilda, each time losing out. Crush, Kill, Destroy. The other woeful piece of news is the fact that Les Miserables managed to somehow win the BBC Radio 2 Audience Choice Award. Seriously, how many awards does it need to win? Hasn’t it had enough, haven’t people had enough? We are going to get it rammed down our throats later in the year, as Oscar-magnet Tom Hooper and hotel-destroying-magnate Russell Crowe have been handed the reigns to put it into every multiplex in the country. Can we not have a break, please?

The Open Air Theatre’s production of Crazy for You continuing its late-blossoming West End success story, managing to snag two awards in just three nominations and taking home for hotly contested Best Musical Revival – fending off stiff competition from Singing in the Rain, South Pacific and the Wizard of Oz.

In the non-musicals (or plays, as some like to style them) it was a much closer fight. With no overall winner, Frankenstein and Anna Christie both walked away with two, whilst Collaborators and Roadkill ended up with one apiece. In the battle of the celebs, Jude Law lost out again (following the Evening Standard Awards) to the Jonny & Benny show in Frankenstein. If this seemed strange, what seems almost perverse is that Frankenstein picked up Best Lighting Design but Underworld’s magnificent pulsating score failed to win Best Sound Design and Mark Tildesley failed to even get a nomination for his epic set that made full use of the Olivier’s vast open spaces.

Ruth Wilson picked up a richly deserved Best Actress gong for Anna Christie, in doing so she fended fending off a series of  ‘A-List’ stars in Kristin Scott-Thomas, Lesley Manville and Celia Imrie; all of whom gave solid performances in rather less solid plays. Still a much-deserved win and one that suggest a bright future is ahead of her (if she can be kept away from the bright lights of the silver screen).

And talking of bright futures – in some of the most heart-warming news of the evening, Sheridan Smith completed her double by walking off with Best Performance in a Supporting Role for her role in Flare Path. This follows her Best Actress win in Legally Blonde last year and marks a triumphant return to the stage and is proof that she is capable of doing serious alongside light and frothy.

Olivier Awards 2012…and the winners are…

Tomorrow night sees the stars of the stage descend upon the Royal Opera House for what is arguably the biggest night in England’s (or perhaps more contentiously given the list of nominees – London’s) theatre world: the Laurence Olivier Awards. It will be possible to watch the event live via the red button on the BBC, or listen to Radio 2, from 19:30.

As is often the case the list of nominees make for interesting reading and arguably casts a brighter light on the theatre scene than the list of those who actually win. Rather than going through the complete list of the  runners and riders, a quick glance across the categories does raise some interesting talking points.

8 Key Questions

  1. In what can only be seen as a damning indictment of the non-subsidised West End stomach for risk-taking, the only nominated new play that premièred outside of the subsidised sector was an adaptation of the most famous of all Ealing comedies. Whilst well-received by the critics, is it not possible for a playwright to be allowed to stage new work in the West End (special exemptions for famous Hollywood actor/writers not withstanding)?
  2. Is it a thin year dramatically? Even the revivals don’t seem to have their usual vim. Hopefully Anna Christie will be recognised for its fine work and it will be up against a strong revival of Rattigan’s Flare Path; a playwright very much in vogue.  However Noises Off seems to be a rather populist choice when you consider the fine year the Donmar had with the rarely performed and excellently executed ‘Inadmissable Evidence’ directly following Anna Christie.
  3. Will London Road be able to withstand the Matilda charge? It lost out to populism at the Evening Standard Awards, and whilst Matilda is a fine and deserving winner in its own right isn’t it time that London Road was recognised for the stunningly brave and unique production it is (and for those who missed it first time, it is coming back to the Olivier this summer – a portent perhaps?)
  4. Can the Sheridan Smith success story continue? Everyone’s favourite 2 Pints of Lager…breakout star is up for a fairly unique double; after picking up Best Musical Actress at the first time of asking for Legally Blonde, Ms Smith will be hoping to make it two in two years for her fine performance in Flare Path. However competition is tough in a category that also includes Mark Addy, Bryony Hannah and Johnny Flynn; all of whom should be regarded as excellent contenders in their own right.
  5. Just how many can Matilda win? The remarkable story continues and you don’t fancy anyone coming up against them. Best new musical to edge out London Road? Bertie Cavill is surely a lock-in for Best Actor Musical. Does anyone have the heart to deny the Matilda’s their moment as Best Actress Musical? Paul Kaye could be on shakier ground as he is up against Katherine Kingsley’s Lina Lamont – a scene-stealing role if  ever there was one. And after all that there is a raft of technical awards that someone has to win.
  6. The Best Actress/Best Actor awards seem totally up for grabs. Desperately hope that the double-header Cumberbatch/Lee Miller is overlooked as Frankenstein wasn’t that great.  My personal preference would be a Ruth Wilson/Jude Law double for Anna Christie. However Douglas Hodge in Inadmissible Evidence would be a worth winner.
  7. What is the point, I mean really, what is the point of the BBC Radio 2 Oliver Audience Award when you have to chose between Jersey Boys /  Wicked / Les Freakin  Mis and Billy Elliot? How about giving us a write-in winner?
  8. How much more alive does theatre feel when you look at the nominees in Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre? Mogadishu and Roadkill could have been strong contenders in the main categories but here they feel punted to the sidelines.

And finally good luck to all the nominees.

Laurence Oliver Awards 2012

Furious speculation and petulant snubs

The Evening Standards are almost upon us, so it is time to cast eyes over the shortlist. Harrumph over those missing from the list and make pointlessly futile predictions over who might be coming out on top. As usual we see the usual suspects vying for position.

This year the National leads the way with nine nominations, squeezing out the Royal Court with eight. Most disappointed must be the Donmar with just two nominations and a complete shut-out in both Best Actress and Best Actor catagories despite a number of barnstorming performances from Derek Jacobi, Jude Law and Ruth Wilson.

As usual the commercial sector is poorly represented and even in the musicals category they are squeezed by a National and a RSC production in London Road and Matilda respectively. However it is possible to see the faintest glimmer around the edges as Theatre Royal Haymarket managed to sneak a nomination for Sheridan Smith in Flare Path and a number of other nominations that never quite made it off the longlist. While it is far too early to say, it could be the start of a private theatre that plans to lead with serious, if understandably traditional and crowd-pleasing, drama.

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Best Actor

Bertie Carvel Matilda RSC Stratford and Cambridge Theatre
Benedict Cumberbatch Frankenstein National’s Olivier
Charles Edwards Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare’s Globe
Jonny Lee Miller Frankenstein National’s Olivier

Well the most interesting thing about this year’s Best Actor category is the double-header of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller being nominated for Frankenstein. It would have been cruel to have nominated one without the other but the question is whether they will pull votes away from each other and allow a sneaky victory for either Bertie Carvel or Charles Edwards to slip through in the ensuing mayhem. Either way looking at the shortlist it feels that it may have been a slightly weak year for male leads – with certainly no standout performance to stand alongside Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet of last year and the England-sized shadow of Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.

There are some notable omissions from the shortlist and James Corden in particular should perhaps feel most put-out by the lack of inclusion. He received universally rave reviews for One Man, Two Guvnors and the play had a host of 5* reviews and earned a nomination in its own right for Best Play. No space either for the Hollywood A-list of Spacey, Fiennes and Law; with Law perhaps producing the most transformative performance of them all in Anna Christie and re-establishing his right to be called a credible actor.

Will Win

Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein (successfully holding off the split vote)

Should Win

Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein

Should Have Been Nominated

James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors / Jude Law – Anna Christie

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Natasha Richardson award for Best Actress

Sheridan Smith Flare Path Theatre Royal Haymarket
Samantha Spiro Chicken Soup With Barley Royal Court
Kristin Scott Thomas Betrayal Comedy Theatre

The formidable Kristin Scott Thomas looms large over the Best Actress category; bringing a stately grandeur and the imperious air of a known winner to proceedings. A handsome, well-acted Pinter play has awards written all over it but it hasn’t caught the eye in any of the other catagories so it is possible that it doesn’t quite have the legs to deliver the prize to Kristin.

It is entirely possible that the mass of goodwill that Sheridan Smith generated in Legally Blonde may transfer over to her first major lead in a straight play. And we are in a Rattigan centenary year as well. So as the stars seem to align for one double S, it appears the other, Samantha Spiro may be leaving empty handed despite an immensely powerful performance in Chicken Soup with Barley.

In a double blow for Anna Christie and the Donmar, Ruth Wilson joined Jude Law in failing to make it off the shortlist. Looking at the plays, we have a Rattigan, a Wesker, a Pinter and no room for any Americans. Perhaps as uncertainty swirls all around there has been a reward for those choosing Britain’s great 20th century playwrights to reflect on the modern psychology of the nation.

Will Win

Sheridan Smith – Flare Path

Should Win

Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley

Should Have Been Nominated

Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie

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Best Play

The Heretic Richard Bean Royal Court
One Man, Two Guvnors Richard Bean National’s Lyttelton
Becky Shaw Gina Gionfriddo Almedia
Tribes Nina Raine Royal Court

Following my previous point about American plays, I suspect that we can count Becky Shaw out of the running. Undoubtably a strong play, I feel its previous history running off-Broadway may count against it in the final reckoning. Richard Bean can count himself unlucky to be nominated twice for Best Play but failed to even make it to the shortlist for Best Director. If people vote for the man rather than the play, we may see both The Heretic and One Many, Two Guvnors miss out on a split vote.

If this logic means Tribe picks up the award then justice may well have been done, as it would be just reward for a young writer’s elegant handling of the contentious topic of disability. Whilst not containing the full liberating freedom of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, it manages to free the topic from its normal parameters in order to confront the traditional Royal Court audience with a painful dose of reality. After last year’s win for the hugely successful Clydebourne Park, it appears the Royal Court may have found a rich vein of form in forcing its liberal supporters to reassess their underlying beliefs and prejudices.

Will Win

One Man, Two Guvnors – Richard Bean

Should Win

Tribes – Nina  Raine

Should Have Been Nominated

Wittenberg – David Davalos

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Ned Sherrin Award For Best Musical

Betty Blue Eyes
London Road
Matilda the musical

Not having seen any of these makes it difficult to comment. However it is hard to see past Matilda the musical sweeping all before it. Rapturous reviews at Stratford for the acting and singing, alongside Tim Minchin’s inspired lyricism; possibly one of the few individuals who would be able to capture Roald Dahl’s imagination. London Road is undoubtably a powerful piece of work but was it so good that you can convince voters to go for such a dour work in traditionally sunny category? Betty Blue Eyes? Reasonably reviews but will  people vote for something that is closing early? I think not.

Will Win

Matilda the musical

Should Win

Matilda the musical

Should Have Been Nominated

Nothing really stands out in what feels like a particularly weak year for musicals despite what the Evening Standard may say on the matter.

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Best Director

Rob Ashford Anna Christie Donmar
Dominic Cooke Chicken Soup with Barley Royal Court
Edward Hall Richard III & The Comedy of Errors Propeller At Hampstead
Mike Leigh Grief National’s Cotteslow

As much as I would love to see Edward Hall pick up a reward for the virtuoso vision that drives Propeller and their all-male Shakespeare productions, it feels like a very big ask for a company that doesn’t have the catchy celebrity names and longstanding reputations of the Donmar and the Royal Court. I think Mike Leigh can be ruled out as well, as loved as he may be this does not feel like a Mike Leigh year and Grief passed me by with little more than a whisper.

Coming down to Rob Ashford and Dominic Cooke we have two plays that highlight the differences in writing on either side of the Atlantic. O’Neill vs Wesker is a mouth-watering proposition. It is shaped up to be an extremely close run race that I supect will be decided by the fact that we appear to be in a period of re-evaluating Wesker,  Chicken Soup… at the Donmar and the The Kitchen at the Nationa. This extra name recognition and a seeming favouring of British playwrights should be enough to swing the judges towards Dominic Cooke.

A lot of big names have missed out. There is no space for Sam Mendes or Danny Boyle for their interepretations of Richard III and Frankenstein. It’s a shame to see Declan Donnellan has not made the cut for The Tempest, although Russian language plays are always going to be a tough sell.

Will Win

Dominic Cooke – Chicken South with Barley

Should Win

Edward Hall – Richard III & The Comedy of Errors

Should Have Been Nominated

Declan Donnellan – The Tempest

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Best Design

Bunny Christie Men Should Weep National’s Lyttelton
Lizzie Clachan Wastwater Royal Court
Adam Cork Sound designer of Anna Christie and King Lear Donmar
Mark Tildesley Frankenstein National’s Olivier

Not much to say on this other than if Mark Tildesley doesn’t win for Frankenstein then I shall eat my hat. The Olivier is a famously difficult to space to work with and while Danny Boyle’s production may have had its problems, the design was not one of them. Visually stunning and a replica steam train on stage; whatever beats it must be out of this world.

Will Win

Mark Tildesley – Frankenstein

Should Win

Mark Tildesley – Frankenstein

Should Have Been Nominated

Jon Bausor –  Lord of the Flies

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Charles Wintour Award For Most Promising Playwright

E.V. Crowe Kin Royal Court
Vivienne Franzmann Mogadishu Lyric Hammersmith
Penelope Skinner The Village Bike Royal Court

Not having seen any of these its hard to comment. However based purely on word of mouth I suspect that Vivienne Franzmann is out in front for Mogadishu. A deserving win could be on the cards for the Lyric Hammersmith that has championed new writing but has often been overlooked in favour of the reputation of the Royal Court.

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Milton Shulman Award For Outstanding Newcomer

Phoebe Fox For her performances In As You Like It (Rose, Kingston) and The Acid Test (Royal Court) and There Is A War (National’s Paintframe)
Malachi Kirby For his performance In Mogadishu (Lyric Hammersmith)
Kyle Soller For his performances In The Glass Menagerie (Young Vic), Government Inspector (Young Vic) and The Faith Machine (Royal Court)
David Wilson Barnes For his performance In Becky Shaw (Almeida)

In one of the more interesting developments across the nominations, we saw husband, Kyle Soller, up against his wife, Phoebe Fox, in the battle for Outstanding Newcomer. Out of the two my money is on Kyle Soller, if in part for an outstanding performance as Khlestakov in the Young Vic’s version of The Government Inspector and an extremely strong follow-up in The Glass Menagarie.

I feel Malachi Kirby will struggle to match this with just Mogasdishu behind him and there will be no justice in the world  if David Wilson Barnes walks off with the award – as any quick glance at his C.V suggests ‘newcomer’ maybe laying it on a bit thick.

Spotting a summer celebrity – 2011

 Five to watch

It’s that time of year again when those celebrities, or those unfortunate to have missed out on the chance to spend the next four months sitting in hotel lobbies desperately promoting a $200 million turkey to  hacks still willing to buy into the illusion that Pirates of the Caribbean represents a significant addition to cinema’s canon, remember that theatre represents their true calling along’.  We can forget for the moment that most will have disappeared back State-side, ready to add a new-found gravitas to an already embarrassingly padded C.V, just in time for the festival circuit and instead enjoy gawping at people we normally see in while chowing down on a bucket of popcorn the size of a small child.

5) Rupert Everett & Diana Rigg

Pygmalion – Garrick  Theatre, from the  25 May 2011

First off, sadly Diana Rigg is not due to play Eliza Doolittle, although that would be an officially awesome reworking of George Bernard’s Shaw classic. Instead she is down to play Mrs Higgins, while Rupert Everett reprises the role of Henry Higgins that he first played as part of the Chichester Festival.

GBS is having a slightly revival of late, with recent major productions of St Joan and Mrs Warren’s Profession gracing Londdon, after a long period of having been pushed into the shadows. I am sure the imperious Diana Rigg will be splendid but Everett is the more interesting choice; he, after all, is a man who never quite made it onto the Hollywood A-list (for reasons that may or may not have to do with him being openly gay) who will be playing a character who works to fundamentally change Eliza so that she is more socially acceptable. One wonders what Freud would have to say about that?

Celebrity enjoyment factor: C

4) Jude Law

Anna Christie – Donmar Warehouse, 04 August – 08 October 2011

Jude Law loses out in the battle of the Hamlets (see 2. below) but this is partly down to the fact that I don’t really know as much as I should about Eugene O’Neill and his plays. Wikipedia tells me that this one the Pulitzer Prize back in 1922 so I am guess it is going to be pretty good and Long Day’s Journey into the Night is generally regarded as an American classic.

The Donmar rarely puts on poor productions and Jude Law, even before Hamlet, is no mug on stage. Just as he was starting out in Hollywood (way, way before the Jude Law overload of 2004, which saw him opening 6 films in one year and the public getting more and more sick of the sight of him – the nadir probably being the execrable remake of Alfie) he left an indelible impression in the Young Vic’s production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. If this production is half as good as that then, following a reasonably strong Hamlet, we may be seeing the moulding of Law as a strong presence on the British stage.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: B-

3) Ralph Fiennes

The Tempest – Theatre Royal  Haymarket, 27 August – 29 October 2011 

Coming as part of Trevor Nunn’s impressive first season as artistic director of the Theatre Royal Haymarket (we have already seen a well reviewed, and star-heavy, Rattigan revival in Flare Path and we can look forward to Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead in early summer), The Tempest has drawn one of the few actors who seems at ease on stage as he is on camera. Ralph Fiennes, who has previously excelled as Julius Caesar and has been busy with his directoral debut, a modern-day version of Coriolanus, so is clearly no stranger to Shakepeare (even if many of his younger fans may recognise him more clearly as Voldemort in Harry Potter).

The only question-mark is his age. Not yet 50, Fiennes would seem to be a very young Prospero (even if Miranda is only supposed to 16); traditionally a part that actors take as they approach the end of their careers. The question is whether Fiennes has the gravitas of a man who was cast adrift when his daughter was just a baby. In lesser hands it may be more of a concern but looking at some of his career highlights to date – Quiz Show, Schindler’s List, The English Patient, The Reader – it is clear this is a man who understands and enjoys complex roles, and this should be an exciting proposition.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: B

2) David Tennant & Catherine Tate

Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndhams  Theatre, from May 16 2011

Admittedly this isn’t exactly Hollywood but this is about as close as we get in the UK. The Doctor and one of the most left-field choices of companion turning it around and going head to head in one of Shakespeare’s most ferocious and ferociously funny comedies. Tennant showed in Hamlet that he has a quick-silver tongue and Tate has demonstrated a motor-mouth on numerous occasions; even without the pre-history of Doctor Who behind them, this would be a Benedict and Beatrice worthy of note. 

My only gripe is the outrageously expensive ticket prices, god only knows whether they plan to somehow incorporate time travel into the show but with Stalls seats running at £61 and the Circle for £51 there had better be something splendid to justify the price. While it would be naive to expect reasonably priced tickets in the West End, it is profoundly depressing when a show which will clearly appeal to children and those who don’t always go to the theatre will cost a family of four over £200 for seats that are not right up in the gods (spending over 2 hours with that little leg room is enough to put people off Shakespeare for life). If people complain about the sustainability of theatre then productions like this, which seem to exclude new audiences through price alone, should take a large part of the blame.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: A-

1) Kevin Spacey

Richard III – Old Vic Theatre, from 18 June 2011 before an international tour

If you, like me, has been more than a little underwhelmed by Kevin Spacey’s period as artistic director for the Old Vic then hopefully here is the big project you have been waiting for.  It seems that there have been too many small scale American plays that haven’t resonated with audiences this side of the Atlantic and when Spacey has been on stage we have seen nothing of the tour de force performance that brought him international acclaim in The Iceman Cometh.

Well if anything calls for a tour de force then it must be Richard III. One of the great ‘acting’ roles, Richard III must leave actors salivating. A great plot of intrigue and murder, one of the first anti-heroes; a king who is both crippled in mind and body. From the off… ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’ this is a play crammed full of memorable lines and set-pieces. It can only be hoped that Spacey, under the direction of the reliable Mendes, who clearly knows how to work with film actors, really lets himself go and retakes the stage by storm.

Celebrity enjoyment factor: A