The Week Ahead: Maggie Smith returns to the stage, and the Olivier winners you can still see
Last night saw the presentation of this year's Laurence Olivier Awards at the Royal Albert Hall - an event whose prestige has incrementally increased over the years since it reached a nadir with a weekday lunchtime ceremony in a West End theatre followed by a reception in a restaurant next door, and subsequently was presented over dinner in a hotel banqueting hall.
But ever since it moved to the Royal Opera House and now the Royal Albert Hall for the last three rounds, it has found a venue that matches the intended scaled prestige of the event... and TV coverage, which had actually stopped happening, was brought back (albeit not live, but on a delay for broadcast later in the evening).
But it's still, in the end, about who gets to win - and last night there were few quibbles, at least from me, about who emerged the victors. In a column here last week, I predicted the likely winners in 15 categories, and I was wrong only for best new musical and outstanding achievement in music (though I declined to make a definitive choice on two more categories, for best entertainment and family, and best actress in musical).
That meant that the upset I'd predicted for the British-born Six the Musical prevailing over bigger Broadway imports didn't happen (but Six still emerged a winner in commercial terms: their number on the night was the most rousing of all, and would definitely help it sell tickets).
Still, 11 out of 15 isn't bad, and I was thrilled to be right about the multiple wins for The Inheritance and Company (four each) and Summer and Smoke (two awards), and delighted for the success of Come from Away (it had mostly lost out in its Tony year on Broadway to Dear Evan Hansen). I was also sincerely delighted for the win of Sharon D Clarke as best actress in a musical for Caroline, or Change, which I described as "one of the greatest acting performances I've ever seen in a musical".
However, it's also striking how few of the winners are actually still running and therefore possible to see: only Come from Away (winning four awards, including best new musical), Home, I'm Darling (named best new comedy, which closes this coming weekend), Kobna Holbrook Smith (best actor in a musical for Tina - the Tina Turner Musical) and Monica Dolan (best actress in a supporting role for All About Eve).
The Week in Theatre
- A slow week in London has one stand-out opening: the return of Maggie Smith to the London stage, for the first time in 12 years (she last starred in Edward Albee's The Lady from Dubuque at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2007). Now 84, her return is even more boldly in a one-woman play A German Life, based on the real life testimony of Brunhilde Pomsel, who once worked for Joseph Goebbels. It opens at the Bridge Theatre on Friday (12th April).
- Now previewing are new productions of two theatre classics: Chekhov's Three Sisters in a new production directed by Rebecca Frecknall and starring Patsy Ferran (at the Almeida, prior to opening on 16th April), whose last collaboration at the Almeida on Summer and Smoke was named best revival and saw Ferran named best bctress at this year's Olivier Awards; and the 1966 Broadway musical Sweet Charity (at the Donmar Warehouse, prior to opening on April 17).
Top shows to see this week
On Broadway, this heartfelt musical about the power of kindness was nominated for seven Tony Awards but only won a single one for director Christopher Ashley, but it lost out otherwise to Dear Evan Hansen. But Dear Evan Hansen doesn't open in the West End till later this year (tickets went on public sale today), so the coast was clear for Come from Away to sweep at this year's Olivier Awards and it did -- winning awards for best new musical, outstanding achievement in music, best theatre choreographer and best sound design. Here's my five-star review.
Last year's Oliviers were dominated by Hamilton, winning seven of the 13 awards it had been nominated for. It's still a must-see, a game-changer for contemporary musicals. In my five-star review, I wrote, "Now the show has arrived in London - its first appearance on non-US territory - and it's even more thrilling than I - already an avid fan who has seen it four times in New York - could hope for... Hamilton captures the heartbeat and heartbreak of a nation trying to find itself - and relates it directly to a pursuit it is still engaged in trying to define anew today, maybe especially today, in the age of the 45th President Donald Trump."
Six was originally a student musical born on the Edinburgh fringe - yet it became a serious contender for the Olivier Awards against its much bigger budget Broadway imports. Part of the thrill of it is its dynamic newness and utter vivacity: its heartening to see that there is room for shows like it to be discovered and thrive.
Laura Wade's play just won the Laurence Olivier Award for best new comedy, and this is the last week to see it - it closes on April 13. Read my four-star review here.
This London transfer for Bruce Norris's play, co-produced with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, is a blisteringly provocative play. Running to April 27 only, it dares to put a human (and compassionate) face on convicted paedophiles. As I wrote in my four-star review here "They have committed one of society's ultimate taboos - and the play is genuinely upsetting. As questions of justice and empathy swirl around, it simultaneously grips and appals. It makes you constantly re-examine your own assumptions and prejudices. It dares to make these perpetrators intensely human, not just monsters."
Another American issue-based play transferred to London, Joshua Harmon's play about privileged students seeking priority admission to elite universities has gained a massive jolt of topicality owing to the recent revelation that Broadway and TV actor Felicity Huffman has been accused of paying for her daughter to gain admission to a college. In my four-star review, I wrote, "This is a frequently furious debate play that swirls around issues of entitlement, white privilege and positive discrimination, and director Daniel Aukin's production keeps the tensions, arguments and counter-arguments flowing rapidly for an unbroken 1 hour 45 minutes."