Olivier Awards 2017 – nominees

Image credit: Olivier Awards

The nominees for this year’s Olivier Awards were announced via Facebook Live on Monday. Whilst many of the choices have been widely applauded, it seems to many theatregoers that there are some glaring omissions from the nominations. It’s no easy task to narrow down a year’s worth of theatre into the top four (I really struggled with my top 12 posts for last year, having seen 127 different shows), but that doesn’t mean the decisions aren’t beyond reproach.

I’d like to begin with The Kite Runner. Undeniably one of the most moving pieces of theatre I’ve ever witnessed; it’s classic storytelling that is a vital watch. Despite some of the bizarrely pernickety reviews it received on its opening at Wyndham’s, I fully expected it to at least receive a nomination for Best New Play – and hoped there would be an outside chance of Ben Turner being included in the Best Actor list. It is really sad that a wonderfully executed show with such an important message has been entirely left out. I also loved Barney George’s design, though it often seems that a set needs to be overly complex & mechanised to be in with a chance of getting recognition.

The cast of The Kite Runner
Photo credit: Robert Workman

Whilst I’m talking about sets, another wish of mine was for Miriam Buether to be nominated for her phenomenal set for Wild at Hampstead Theatre. It was one of the most innovative and unexpected pieces of set design I’ve ever seen – and the fact that it wasn’t executed at a big budget West End theatre made it all the more impressive.

And before you tell me that the Oliviers is for West End shows only, have a quick read of the eligibility criteria:

“Any new production that opened between 17 February 2016 and 21 February 2017 in a theatre represented in membership of Society of London Theatre is eligible for consideration for the Olivier Awards 2017 with Mastercard, provided it has at least 30 performances.”

Of course, all of the big West End theatres are SOLT Members, as are some of the bigger off West End venues (such as the National, Old Vic and the Barbican) – and some Affiliates pay a performance levy which makes them eligible for all awards other than Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, leaving a few Affiliates that can compete for that award. The Hampstead is one theatre that has opted to pay the levy, as is the Donmar Warehouse, and that leads me onto another omission: Josie Rourke in the Best Director category for Saint Joan.

Michael C. Hall, Michael Esper, Jamie Muscato and Maimuna Memon in Lazarus
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Given that In The Heights won a few awards last year at King’s Cross I presume that Lazarus was also eligible, which leaves me astounded that it hasn’t been recognised at all. Granted, there was a slightly mixed reception from critics, but even if you didn’t like it you couldn’t fail to appreciate what it had achieved. For me it was love at first sight, and I do now really wish I’d made more of an effort to see it before December. You could very easily include it in Best New Musical, Best Actor and Supporting Actor in a Musical (Michael C. Hall and Michael Esper), Outstanding Achievement in Music (it’s David frickin’ Bowie, hello?) and Jan Versweyveld’s lighting was some of the best I’ve ever seen, so a shoe-in for Best Lighting Design in my book. There should also be a new award created for video design, as Tal Yarden blew my mind in this show.

Instead it gets a big fat zero.

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It’s also quite disappointing that Emma Rice has had no recognition of her massively successful debut season as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe – she could easily be down for Best Director, A Midsummer Night’s Dream for me would be a contender for Best Revival, with Stu Barker’s compositions another possibility for Outstanding Achievement in Music. (If 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips had reached the required 30 performances, it would have been on my list for Best Entertainment and Family – though probably wishful thinking for the panel to have agreed with me there!)

I’ve been trying to avoid commenting on what has been nominated, partly because I haven’t seen as many of the nominees as I would’ve hoped, but there are a couple that I’m in two minds about. Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Musical both have a group nomination, for Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and The Girls, respectively. Part of me is thrilled about this, as it gives recognition to more people and the fact that a lead actor is nothing without their team around them – and yet… This is the case for quite a lot of shows, but an exception isn’t made for them. Instead, the winning actor or actress will invariably thank the rest of the company for their support. If they were all playing the same part (like the girls playing Iris in The Nether, who received a joint nomination in 2015) it would make sense, however they all play distinct parts. It almost calls for a Best Ensemble award, or similar, to help in these scenarios.

Having said that I didn’t want to comment on the actual nominees, I am now wondering about the eligibility criteria I mentioned earlier – does it mean a show must have had 30 performances by 21 February 2017? Because if so,  The Girls shouldn’t be on there at all… (I’m also unsure whether the word ‘opened’ is being used correctly, or just to refer to a show beginning previews – we are unbelievably inconsistent in our phraseology, compared with Broadway.)

Lucian Msamati in Amadeus
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

I could probably go on for days with what could have been, but there are just a couple more that need to be mentioned. The first is not one from my own experience (I regrettably have not been able to see Amadeus), but basically everyone who has seen it is perplexed about Lucian Msamati not getting a nod for his portrayal of Salieri. (Even Denise Gough, who was making the nominations announcement!) I have seen him in other things and he truly is an incredible actor, so this does seem like a real oversight.

And last but by no means least, Half a Sixpence. It has garnered some well-earned nominations for Ian Bartholomew (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), Emma Williams (Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical) and Charlie Stemp (Best Actor in a Musical) – but strangely nothing else. I cannot fathom how it is not up for Best New Musical or Best Theatre Choreographer. Andrew Wright has done some outstanding work, making the show a real visual treat – and testing out his leading man’s stamina with some high impact routines!

The cast of Half A Sixpence
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

One way to rectify this, looking back over my suggestions, is to increase the amount of nominees to five. Bizarrely, last year some categories had five nominees but it seems remarkably inconsistent.

What do you think? Have the judging panels got it right, or are there some changes you’d like to make? All we can do now is wait for the awards ceremony itself to see the final choices the judges have made…

The 2017 Olivier Awards will be held on 9 April at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets are available online for Mastercard holders, and the ceremony will be broadcast on TV, radio and online. Free wristbands will be issued from 11am for access to the red carpet public viewing area.


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