Benet Catty Productions

Olivier Awards 2018 Round-Up

Apr 1, 2018

Royal Albert Hall

The recent Olivier Awards, presented in an impressively-produced ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall (highlights of which can be found on YouTube), is a good opportunity to survey what has been perhaps the strongest year in the London theatre scene for over a decade.

The big winner of the year was Hamilton, as it should have been. Hamilton, as reported here in the spring, is unarguably the best musical of the 21st Century and deserves to be on any list of the greatest musicals ever, such is the density of plot and characterization, the ambition of its dramatic telling, and the innovation of its musical treatment. It is the most nominated show in the history of the Olivier Awards, with thirteen nominations of which it won seven. It added awards for Best Musical, Choreographer, Lighting, Sound, Music, Leading Actor (Giles Terera as Aaron Burr, the Judas to Hamilton’s Jesus), and Supporting Actor (Michael Jibson as George III) to its numerous Broadway awards, the Grammy for its cast album, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Hamilton was against a lot of other tremendous musical productions which, in other years, could have expected a sweep of prizes. Girl from the North Country, the Conor McPherson musical play weaving in largely-obscure songs by Bob Dylan, won awards for Sheila Atim and Shirley Henderson. An American in Paris, the classiest show in London last year, was rightly awarded for its dazzling set design by Bob Crowley and 59 Productions. Follies, the National’s triumphant revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical, won best musical revival and best costumes, in both cases beating the dazzling showbiz celebration that is 42nd Street, which equally deserved the choreography award, and remains one of the most glamorous night out, now starring Lulu.

No prizes, sadly, for Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, the popular British musical based on the true story of a teenage transvestite, which has made the career of its star John McCrea. Nothing, either, for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, by all accounts a much better production here than the Broadway original but which couldn’t beat the stiff competition from other quarters.

The straight play categories were also hotly contested, although straight plays have had a more mixed year, to my mind, than musicals. Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman won Best Play and Best Director for Sam Mendes, whose marshalling of a huge cast reminded us of his theatrical skills after so much time in recent years focusing on blowing things up for James Bond. Laura Donnelly also won for Best Supporting Actress. The original London cast are soon to open on Broadway.

Both of James Graham’s London plays were nominated for awards this year, with Labour of Love (which starred Tamsin Greig) winning him his first Olivier. Ink, his play about the beginnings of The Sun newspaper, was stuck uncomfortably between popular entertainment and serious art but none the less won Bertie Carvel his second Olivier (having been the original Trunchbull in Matilda) for his performance as Rupert Murdoch. Graham’s new play Quiz, about the coughing major scandal on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, is now running in London.

As well as Follies, the National Theatre also scored two other huge hits this year. Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of the classic 70s film; and Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s 2-part 8-hour epic which is a strong contender for the greatest play of the last half century. Network, extravagantly over-produced by Ivo Van Hove was event theatre, complete with video wall, constant under-scoring, audience members eating dinner on stage and various presentational magic tricks. It was wonderful entertainment, but amidst all the gimmicks it was Bryan Cranston’s face which made the evening special and which won him the Olivier for Best Actor. Angels, now on Broadway, was a more mixed picture than expected: the stronger part one was under-designed and over-acted by some of the cast; the second play finding the style and scale more successfully. Nathan Lane, the Broadway star, was the dazzler performance although it’s Andrew Garfield’s performance in the key role of Prior Walter that wowed the critics and Denise Gough’s that won the Olivier. The production won best revival.

It’s hard to imagine a theatrical year with more high-quality high-appeal shows opening in such quick succession. Many top shows – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for instance – went home with no awards at all, such was the competition.

With many of the big hits (Hamilton, Jamie, The Ferryman) still running alongside the big hit of last year (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and the perennial icons of Phantom and Les Miserables, anyone wanting to treat themselves to a show every month would have no trouble finding something special every time. And that’s rarely been as possible as now.

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