Oliviers 2016

Image credit: Olivier Awards website

London theatre’s most presitigious awards ceremony takes place a little earlier this year, exactly a month today. The nominations were announced at the beginning of the week by none other than Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton and, well, they’ve caught my attention. Unfortunately not for the best reasons.

After the annoying predictability of the WhatsOnStage/Hamlet Awards (I got 12 out of 19 right), I’d hoped for some wrongs to be made right. Less of a focus on the frankly not great Hamlet production, and a bit more variety.

On the whole, it could be worse… But there really are some glaring omissions and odd inclusions. The musicals field, in particular, feels slightly less strong this time round – probably thanks to the eligibility criteria (a “new production which opened between 26 February 2015 & 16 February 2016”). Understandably there has to be some kind of cut-off point, as you’d end up with critically acclaimed long-running shows dominating proceedings every time. However, I personally think it would be a benefit to unexpected hits if shows were eligible for two years rather than just one – having an Olivier nomination is a huge boon to any production, providing extra exposure & interest. If there’s a sizeable cast change after a year of a brand new production it seems fair to give them a shot at an award (other than the outside chance of reaching the Audience Award shortlist). Obviously I am a little biased whenever Sunny Afternoon is potentially involved, but it makes it worse when average shows such as Bend It Like Beckham garner multiple nominations – simply because they’re new and have little competition.

Anyway, that’s not my big gripe – more something to chew over.

I’ve not seen every single show that’s been nominated, and can’t possibly comment on the opera & dance sections, but I have seen quite a few so I consider myself to be in a pretty good position to pass an opinion on the list.

Oppenheimer was one of my big hits of 2015, so the exclusion of John Heffernan and the play itself from the nominees is absolutely astonishing. Catherine Steadman was brilliant, rightly finding herself in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category – but up against Judi Dench? You get the feeling there’s only one winner there. And Heffernan missing out to Kenneth Branagh is utterly preposterous. The former was in a different league to most I saw last year, yet has got so little recognition. Branagh, on the other hand, has been overpraised by his luvvy chums. If it comes down to Branagh vs Cumberbatch for the panel (I really hope it doesn’t) then the latter should win, as he did actually give a very good performance – but with any luck it will be one of their rivals instead!

Hangmen was another favourite of mine, having seen it at the Royal Court in September (and finally at Wyndham’s this week). Where is Johnny Flynn on the Best Actor in a Supporting Role list? Seriously. Michael Pennington was good, but barely in The Winter’s Tale, and I’ve heard very mixed things about David Suchet & Mark Gatiss in their productions. There has been nothing but praise for Flynn’s marvellous performance, but he is left out in the cold.

It was a pleasant surprise to see The Lorax getting nominated in the Best Entertainment & Family category – it was a lovely show, entertaining for all ages, and really cleverly done. I’m still holding out my hopes for it to have some further life later this year.

Farinelli and the King is wholly deserving of all of its nominations. Other than Mark Rylance in the Best Actor category, I’m really hoping it can triumph in the Outstanding Achievement in Music list. Not only were the pieces beautifully performed onstage, but it was a stunning choice of arias that were included. After Ray Davies’ win in 2015, it would be rather lovely for classical music to be recognised this time.

I didn’t see Gypsy in the theatre – but I started watching it on iPlayer over Christmas and, well, I couldn’t see all the fuss. Obviously it’s better in the theatre, and I should have watched all of it (I ran out of time because, of course, I was constantly out at the theatre), but I didn’t really like the songs – and the performers didn’t really live up to all of the hype. For me, anyway.

A revival that I absolutely adore is Guys and Dolls, so I’m thrilled with all of its nominations – Sophie Thompson gives one of my favourite performances of the year, and the choreography is breathtaking.

As soon as I first saw Kinky Boots I knew it would be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s awards, and it really has come up trumps so far. I’d like to think that it should win in at least half of its categories, though my real favourite has to be Matt Henry in the Best Actor in a Musical list. He is so charismatic and soulful it would almost be criminal for him to be ignored!

At the risk of this becoming far too long… I think this is where I will stop, for now. It will be an interesting evening, that’s for sure – but not one I will be attending this time. I doubt anything will be able to top last year! Though if I get my wish and Sunny Afternoon gets shortlisted for the Audience Award, I will of course be around to support my new lovelies as much as I can.

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