On Sunday I took on the biggest assignment of my theatre writing career yet, as I headed to the Royal Albert Hall for the most anticipated date in the London theatre calendar: the Olivier Awards. Thanks to BroadwayWorld UK I was given access to the red carpet and press room, to gauge guests’ feelings about how the night was going to pan out – and gather as many winners’ reactions as humanly possible.
This is no ordinary assignment. For starters, the smart dress code applies to absolutely everyone – lucky that I had something in the wardrobe, as it was all confirmed quite late on. Having gone to the Oliviers previously I’d had the red carpet experience already (not available to this year’s ticketholders), but it’s a different kettle of fish being waved through by security and just wandering where you like before anyone arrives. And then there’s the wait… As I’d never done anything like this before I was rather nervous, so waiting for your first potential interviewee seems to take forever – luckily for me I just happened to know someone who was attending, so I had a nice comfortable first interview with ‘our’ John Dagleish before the madness began!
The red carpet was probably my favourite part of the whole day, as the weather was lovely and there was a lot of excitement from everyone. It also provided a great opportunity to have quick chats with a huge amount of people; before the day I had visions of me only being able to catch very few guests (unless I suddenly became very assertive), but we were all given lots of help and a steady stream was guided to our little pen. In the end I chatted Brecht with Haydn Gwynne, next year’s chances with An American in Paris stars Robbie Fairchild and Ashley Day, Strictly and On The Town with Danny Mac, consistent nominations with Emma Williams, Tennessee Williams with Brian J. Smith and chances of success with Rafe Spall – amongst many others.
Then it was into the press room… A bizarre feeling heading in via the door performers were also using, and almost bumping into Andrew Garfield in the process, before being installed in a room with a TV screen, water and sandwiches. And once the ceremony finally got going (guests took a while to get to their seats, then host Jason Manford’s introductory speech was just a bit too long) we had to spring into action; keeping an eye on what was going on whilst trying to get reaction interviews was a bit of a task. However, once everyone found their feet a bit, more of us grouped together to make sure we all got more quotes.
That way I had the chance to hear from Amber Riley, Jamie Parker, Jack Thorne and Kenneth Branagh – all good catches for my article. I even surprised myself by grabbing a brief opportunistic word with Billie Piper, which was oddly the most nervous I was all night (luckily she completely understood!). It was also wonderful to get to talk with Tim Minchin following Groundhog Day’s win, nine years since I saw him in his standup show in Durham.
As good as the day was, it was almost marred by some results (one in particular). There was only one award that I really cared about and had someone I needed to win: Best Actor in a Musical. To me, and the majority of the theatre community, no matter how good the other nominees were Charlie Stemp’s fairytale rise to West End leading man through sheer hard work absolutely deserved to be capped with an Olivier. It’s also scandalous that a show as well received by both critics and the public went away empty-handed. I don’t know why people were complaining on Twitter about Stiles & Drewe not being invited, as the only nominations were for acting performances rather than any of the creative team (don’t get me started on Andrew Wright again) – but Half a Sixpence not getting a win is definitely a boo-boo from the Oliviers panel.
I may not have seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet, but I have to say it was quite monotonous it winning nine of their eleven nominations – deserved or not. It’s nice that the creative team got their due individually, but just getting a nomination in a year of such high quality theatre is good enough, and so warrants a bit of variation in the winners. In fact I made my own predictions in that spirit; I could easily have ‘played safe’ and gone for Harry Potter in each category, but I showed a bit more imagination… Because of that I only had a 36% success rate! (Not including the opera and dance awards, of course.)
One I’d like to single out that was hard done by was The Glass Menagerie – not only did Michael Esper deserve an acting nomination to start with, but they should’ve won in lighting design and/or set design. Tom Hollander is also outstanding in Travesties, though I think I was quite optimistic to think he’d be chosen over both Harry Potter and Gandalf…
Overall though, despite genuinely wanting to leave the room after Best Actor in a Musical (instead I stood there looking incredulous in front of the Jesus Christ Superstar team), it was a brilliantly surreal experience that I’ll always remember. I only ever wanted to return as an audience member if a certain person (or a very special show) was nominated, so getting to go a bit more behind the scenes was the ideal way to go back. I’m now more prepared for doing that sort of event again in the future, and would definitely love to regularly be part of the Oliviers team after that.