Mark Shenton Reviews the 2015 Olivier Awards
YOUNG VIC, HAMPSTEAD, ALMEIDA AND DONMAR WAREHOUSE LEAD THE OLIVIERS TRIUMPH
The Laurence Olivier Awards are, in a sense, the commercial theatre's pat on its own back: they are organised, promoted and voted for by the members of the Society of London Theatre, the trade body that represents London's theatre owners and producers. But the commercial theatre's co-dependence - you could call it nearly total reliance - on smaller theatres around London was plain to see: productions originated at the Young Vic, Hampstead, Almeida and Donmar Warehouse dominated the winners list, with Broadway shows transferred to the West End producing a clutch more. Even a show that originated at the fringe Old Red Lion before being expanded into a full-length play won an Olivier when The Play That Goes Wrong was named Best New Comedy.
Leading the pack was Hampstead's production of Sunny Afternoon, the musical based on the life and musical repertoire of Ray Davies and the Kinks which was developed in partnership with commercial producer Sonia Friedman and took 4 major awards, including Best New Musical (and was the sole British musical in the shortlist; Made in Dagenham unaccountably failed to be nominated). The Young Vic's production of A View from the Bridge, which transferred to Wyndham's where it has just closed (on April 11), took three awards, repeating its Critics' Circle wins for director Ivo van Hove and best actor Mark Strong, as well as being named Best Revival. It was a worthy winner - probably the most talked about production of the year, a visionary production that made you look at a play you thought you knew with completely fresh eyes.
Collecting the award for Revival, the Young Vic's artistic director David Lan wittily alluded to the fact that people sometimes tell him he's running the best theatre in London, but he's content to be running the best theatre in Waterloo.
That can't have pleased Kevin Spacey, who was sitting in the Royal Opera House stalls (before taking to the stage at the end and leading a finale sing-along of Bridge Over Troubled Water with Beverley Knight and a huge choir from ArtsEd, the performing arts school in West London). But Spacey got his own recognition, when he was also presented with a Special Award to acknowledge his ten years at the helm of the Old Vic which he steps down from this year, and is about to be replaced by Matthew Warchus (whose name he temporarily couldn't recall in one of the night's more bizarre fluffs).
Other memorable moments in the awards saw playwright Mike Bartlett take to the stage twice, with his plays King Charles III and Bull being named Best New Play and Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre for their transfers from the Almeida and Sheffield respectively to Wyndham's and the Young Vic's Maria Studio. An immediate by-product of the Olivier win: before the evening was out, the New York Times was reporting the Broadway intentions of King Charles III. Who says awards don't count?
The Donmar Warehouse saw its revival of City of Angels named Best Musical Revival against stiff competition from Miss Saigon (which also lost out first time around to lose the Best New Musical category to Return to the Forbidden Planet back in 1989), the Open Air's Porgy & Bess (which easily got my own vote for musical revival of the year) and the popular return of Cats (though since there was hardly anything different between this production and the original it was more a recreation than a fully-imagined new take on the show).
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey
But easily the most affectionate award of the night was to Angela Lansbury, now approaching 90, who returned to the London stage last year for the first time in nearly 40 years in Blithe Spirit (reprising the role of Madame Arcati that she'd previously played on Broadway) and was rewarded by her first-ever Olivier to go beside her array of Tony's. Broadway was also represented by Olivier wins for the musical transfers of Beautiful (winning Oliviers for both its female stars, Katie Brayben and Lorna Want) and Memphis (choreographer Sergio Trujillo and sound designer Gareth Owen). Meanwhile, Wolf Hall - that we've just sent to Broadway, where it opened last week at the Winter Garden Theatre - took two awards, for supporting actor Nathaniel Parker (who plays Henry VIII) and costume designer Christopher Oram.
Finally, there were welcome wins for veteran actress Penelope Wilton, named Best Actress for Taken at Midnight, and burlesque revue La Soiree, taking its second Olivier to be named Best Entertainment again.
Now it's time to start handicapping the Tony Awards, for which nominations are being announced on April 28, with the awards themselves to follow at Radio City Music Hall on June 7. There is sure to be a strong British representation: as well as Wolf Hall, also transferred this year are Helen Mirren in The Audience (about to return to the West End, this time with Kristin Scott Thomas as the Queen), Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in Skylight and the National's production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (also still running in the West End at the Gielgud).