A Night at the Theatre – Olivier Awards 2013

So the Olivier Awards have been and gone for another year, and as a result what have we have learnt the state of theatre – London theatre, sorry to anyone reading further afield but it is a very parochial affair – in 2013. Well their own website leads with ‘A curious night at the Olivier’s’, which rather sums it up for me. It was a list of winners that doesn’t reflect the experiences of this website’s year in theatre.

To look at those celebrating last night would be to imagine a rather staid and conservative theatre scene. However there has been a vitality and verve to theatre – witness the excitement over Punchdrunk announcements, A Curious Incident...winner of 7 Awardstickets to see Branagh’s Macbeth selling out in less than 10 minutes in Manchester or new plays by young playwrights that embraced quantum theory (Payne), neuroscience (Prebble) or a play that covers everything and nothing in eighty minutes (Butterworth) – that is broadly absent from the list of winners.

Perhaps this could have been guessed at by looking at a nominations list where Lucy Prebble’s The Effect was almost shut out and where the Best New Play category included just one play not reflecting on historical events or retooling an existing story for the stage.

One may argue that last year’s big winner – Matilda – is hardly a broadside against conservatism. However Matilda was the first time anything had walked home with seven awards and it was deservedly seen as a stunning achievement and that a brilliant production had been rewarded for managing the rare feat of capturing hearts, minds and wallets of critics and the public alike.

It does rather undermine the perceived value of the achievement if the next year we see another play walk-off with exactly the same number. Whilst critics have warmly received ‘A Curious Incident…’ and the public continue to throng through the doors, it does not seem to have reached the groundswell of public love and critical affirmation that marked the success of Matilda – which swept everything before it and which was the must-see performance from its very first outing in Stratford.

It is clear A Curious Incident… is good but is it seven awards good? Is it so good that we feel happy that the ‘A Dolls House’ at the Young Vic, ‘Constellations’, ‘This House’ and Complicite’s ‘Master and Margarita’ walk away with nothing? And when we talk about magnificent interpretations of novels, how did the adaptation of Bulgakov’s impossible Master and Margarita not even get a mention? The problem with placing so much attention on just three productions – A Curious Incident, The Audience and Sweeney Todd – is that it doesn’t even remotely capture the spectrum of success of what has been, in all honesty, a relatively mediocre year for theatre in London.

Another award for Helen Mirren, The Queen or possibly bothThe success of The Audience has more than a little of a smattering of one eye on the need to reward the private sector for at least trying a new play, and a more cynical person may suggest that the value of the international market may have had a role to play. Helen Mirren as Best Actress? She might have won it for her awards speech more than the actual part.

It was a pleasure to see Nicola Walker win for ‘A Curious Incident’, a stalwart of TV and of downtrodden wives and mothers everywhere, and without having seen the production it is hard to imagine a more perfect piece of casting for the mother of the 15-yr old lead. Equally commentary seems satisfied with the victory of Luke Treadaway in the role;  a part that is catnip for award judges, as it is basically the modern day answer to the ‘idiot savant’ – something that is a little bit out-of-kilter with modern understandings of mental health. As usual it was a strong year and personally a win for Rupert Everett would not have been amiss but Treadaway seems deserving of the accolades.

With an equally impressive set and technical team it suddenly becomes easier to count up those seven awards. However the Complicite team can feel short-changed not to have picked up a single technical award for their visually stunning take on Bulgakov’s masterpiece. As usual it is mind-boggling that Cheek By Jowl were not nominated for anything – despite the Barbican being a home from home.

Everyone on the Best New Play shortlist can feel hard done by for losing out to something that restaged an existing story – surely there are so many adaptations that this can be a separate category. And ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ Best Revival – a truly interminable evening that deserved nothing and for which the praise of critics from every quarter is something that is genuinely unfathomable, even the cast – Suchet, Metcalfe, Soller, all usually so excellent – were dire.

If this year’s Olivier Awards has proved anything to me, it is that this was not a stand-out year for British Theatre; that this reviewer has, Sweeney Todd excepted, has missed most major plays of the year; and that the Donmar needs to re-establish its identity with great haste. A lot of attention has come Josie Rourke’s way and so far the response has been muted at best – where is this year’s Inadmissible Evidence or Anna Christie?

The Full Awards List

What does the Guardian say…

What does the Telegraph say…

Olivier Awards: Runners and Riders and Early Fallers

Last week the nominations for the Olivier Awards were revealed and if its place at the end of the long awards season means it is an unlikely place to find many surprises, the shortlist does provide potential of scope for eyebrow raising omissions. Most people in theatre – who don’t work for the RSC – will be mightily relived that the Matilda juggernaut is no longer crush all of the competition. Looking across the nominations, it seems impossible that anything will come close to the level of dominance that Matilda achieved. The leading contender, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, has eight nominations  and could conceivably end up with five awards given the excellent technical work underpinning the show.

As usual the subsidised sector leads the nominations but the private sector is not totally unrepresented. However the lasting impression of the shortlist is the absence of controversy and also the absence of anything that really stands out. For the first time in a number of year there doesn’t seem to be a new play that blew everyone away or a revival that places an actor at the very top of their game.

Thinking back through the last few Best Actor winners, the Mark Rylance of Twelve Night does not appear comparable to the Mark Rylance of Jerusalem. James McAvoy is good but not near the level of Chiwetel Ejiofor in the 2008 Othello.  Rupert Everett appears to be getting rave reviews in The Judas Tree and good easily be the dark horse in the pack for a play that continues to build an unstoppable momentum.

This year’s round-up takes its cue from the Oscars and includes a number of special awards dedicated to certain fields. So without further ado we have:

3243292_ratio1x1_width42The Day-Lewis Award:

This special award is made of cast-iron and essentially means that whether or not the judges have actually seen the play in question, they are duty bound to give the award to this actor. It’s cast-iron qualities means that its long-lasting and on receipt of one, you are more likely to come home with another in the future. Not to be mistaken for the Tomei Award, which is made of stone and causes your career to sink equally fast.

1d1ea3a837e3cfcc607da792eb69bc38_normalThe Deakins Award:

The Deakins is given to those who suffer from unrecognised brilliance. The ability to from award show to award show and be cast over due to the fact you are so darn good that people already think that you have won one. Unfortunately as a result you have never won an award. This award is for you.

ben-affleck-2013-64x64The Ben Affleck WTF Award:

So just because you star and direct something that goes on to win Best Film means you will at least get nominated right? I mean, you even went to the effort of growing a dashing, auteur beard for the occasion. Wrong, sucker. I mean they loved absolutely everything about the show, well, apart from the way it was directed and the main star was pretty irritating as well.

*Note: Apologies for the terribly boring formatting below. WordPress is still completely inept at handling tables. Or more possible is the fact that I am equally inept at handling tables in WordPress. Why you can’t just past from Word it keep the formatting is beyond me. God knows where the lines are. I can see the lines and then they disappear. *Sigh* Technology Fail.

Best Actor
James McAvoy


Mark Rylance

Twelfth Night

Rafe Spall


Luke Treadaway

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Rupert Everett

The Judas Kiss

As noted this doesn’t feel as much as gold star category as it has done in previous years. It is hard to look beyond a Rylance / Everett shoot-out for the win. Rafe Spall is good with a very difficult text but not stretched, McAvoy is the weaker of the two Shakespeare and Treadaway may just be a little young to take it from such established titans.
The Day-Lewis Award: No lock-in here, but I fancy the almost unrecognisable Rupert Everett against the gender-bending but still strangely recognisable Mark Rylance.

The Deakins Award: Again nothing stands out, probably Rupert Everett.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: It is telling that I cannot think of a single person more deserving than these five. Maybe Christopher Ecclestone in Antigone but even that was slightly underwhelming

Best Actress
Helen Mirren

The Audience

Hattie Morahan

A Doll’s House

Billie Piper

The Effect

Kristin Scott Thomas

Old Times

If the men have not lived up to expectations then Michael Billington was able to find an almost entire shortlist of women who might have expected to be represented.It is hard to see (particularly after last years Cumberbatch / Lee-Miller double) how they could split Lia Williams and Kristin Scott-Thomas. However Hattie Morahan is so much of a lock for the Day-Lewis they might as well rename it the Morahan for next year.
The Day-Lewis Award: Hattie Morahan. That is all.

The Deakins Award: Since Kristin Scott-Thomas and Helen Mirren are already in the upper firmament of stars, they can hardly claim the Deakins. So again it must go to Morahan.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Lia Williams for sure. But also how there is no space for Harriet Walter in the Donmar’s Julius Caesar is absolutely outrageous – for me the stand-out female performance of the year without question. Also, given Rafe’s nomination, Sally Hawkins may feel a little hard done-by not to get a look in.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Paul ChahidiTwelfth Night

Richard McCabe

The Audience

Adrian Scarborough

Hedda Gabler

Kyle Soller

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

For this I campaign on an anyone but ‘Kyle’ ticket. Having given total support for his emergence after The Young Vic’s The Glass Menagerie a volte-face is in operation after watching this car crash of a show. Strangely beloved by critics, no-one I went with could comprehend why such a stiflingly long and boring production could have had everyone in such raptures.
The Day-Lewis Award: Richard McCabe – because we love a Peter Morgan play and Helen Mirren won’t win.

The Deakins Award: Paul Chahidi – if only that someone wins who isn’t Kyle Soller.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Reversing it for this award – Kyle Soller, really? (Fine actor, just not in this).

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Janie DeeNSFW

Anastasia Hille

The Effect

Cush Jumbo

Julius Caesar

Helen McCrory

The Last Of The Haussmans

Nicola Walker

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Having not seen any of these performances bar Cush Jumbo it is difficult to provide a fair judgement.  All were well received and again are, if anything, stronger than their male counterparts.
The Day-Lewis Award: In a strongly contested field Helen McCrory may edge it due to the intergenerational vote-grabbing of The Last Of The Haussmans .

The Deakins Award: Pass.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Linda Bassett in People. I thought as far as Supporting Parts are concerned this was the kind of scene-stealing performance in a populist play that is guaranteed a nomination. Surprised to see People miss out across the board.

MasterCard Best New Play 
ConstellationsThe AudienceThe Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-TimeThis House Well a win for Constellations would be a final feather in the cap for what has been an obscenely successful year for the 29-yr old playwright, Nick Payne.However this may prove a bridge to far and whilst I hope that an adaptation won’t win, I think the sheer complexity and vision of This House will see it through.
The Day-Lewis Award: This House. Not without flaws but you have to admire the vision.

The Deakins Award: Constellations. A play that shows a deeply complex topic can sell-out the West End.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: The Effect. Lucy Prebble’s follow-up to ENRON was one of the most anticipated of the year and sold-out almost instantly. Despite picking up two acting nominations, it has been snubbed for new play and best director. Ouch.

Best Director
Stephen DaldryThe Audience

Marianne Elliott

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

Jeremy Herrin

This House

Simon McBurney

The Master And Margarita

Stephen Daldry’s return to the stage can be met with a significant yawn; The Audience proving to be a rather bland affair given the previous vehicles that Peter Morgan has found for Dame Mirren.The other three are technically complex in varying ways. McBurney deserves great credit for bring Bulgakov’s masterpiece to the stage with some degree of coherence.Herrin’s This House is remarkable for the way it gels such difficult material and Marianne Elliott combines visuals with superb performances from the leads.
The Day-Lewis Award: Marianne Elliott. The only director to get both visual and acting nominations for the play.

The Deakins Award: Marianne Elliott. For the above reason.

The Ben Affleck WTF Award: Rupert Goold, like Lucy Prebble, must be feeling somewhat aggrieved by the nominations. Still he does get to be Artistic Director at the Almeida, so there’s always that.

Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Ball – Sweeney Todd
Alex Bourne – Kiss Me, Kate
Tom Chambers – Top Hat
Will Young – Cabaret
 Michael Ball has this locked in. He has won pretty much everything going and a better Mr Todd in a better production it is hard to imagine.
Best Actress in a Musical
Heather Headley – The Bodyguard
Imelda Staunton – Sweeney Todd
Summer Strallen – Top Hat
Hannah Waddingham – Kiss Me, Kate
Until seeing Kiss Me, Kate then I would have put the house on Imelda Staunton helping Sondheim sweep the board. However Hannah Waddingham’s performance is sunshine in an otherwise cloudy production and is most deserving of the win.
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Adam Garcia – Kiss Me, Kate
Debbie Kurup – The Bodyguard
Siân Phillips – Cabaret
Leigh Zimmerman – A Chorus Line
 Having only seen Adam Garcia, all I know about this is that Adam Garcia surely can’t win. There must have been something better. My money goes on A Chorus Line.
Best New Musical
Soul Sister
The Bodyguard
Top Hat
Christ, best new musical includes a remake of a woeful 1990’s film with one massive song, and (how is this anything but technically not a revival) of the 1935 classic with Fred ‘n Ginger.For that reason hopefully the flop Loserville will win it.
Best Revival
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Old Times
Twelfth Night
I suspect that Long Day’s Journey Into Night will win. It sends a cold shiver down my spine but I think it will. Any of the others are more deserving but lets face it Macbeth and Twelfth Night are revived every other bloody year.
Best Musical Revival
A Chorus Line
Kiss Me, Kate
Sweeney Todd
  Sweeney Todd. The Day-Lewis Award for certainty.
Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre
Caroline Horton for You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy at the Bush theatre
The production of Red Velvet at the Tricycle theatre
The season of new writing at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court theatre
Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd for You Me Bum Bum Train, presented by Theatre Royal Stratford East
The usual suspects are deservedly well-represented here. The Royal Court with its normal stellar seasons, the Bush gets a nod and its nice to see Jerwood recognised.Hopefully the Tricylce will win but I have a fear that You Me Bum Bum Train may get the prize and even worse fear that it may encourage others to follow in its footsteps.

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