Just like last year, my initial reaction has been largely positive (unlike pretty much anything to do with this year’s WhatsOnStage Awards). It’s never going to be perfect, by any means, but some of my top priority shows have got some recognition – and there have even been a selection of lovely surprises too. That does make it hard not to cheer whilst listening in to the lunchtime announcement at my work desk, but I think I got away with it…
Let’s start with the numbers, as I love a good stat. New jukebox musical & Juliet leads the way (9), but is closely followed by the brilliant revival of Fiddler on the Roof (8), and long-awaited Broadway import Dear Evan Hansen (7). There are some plays with multiple nominations too, don’t worry! Death of a Salesman (5) and Rosmersholm (5) are the most nominated plays, followed by Present Laughter (4) and Cyrano de Bergerac (4) – all revivals, which makes my new writing spirit a bit sad. Several categories also have two nominations from the same show, which is becoming a bit of a pet hate of mine; the conspiracy theorist part of my brain would say that they’re trying to invite as few people as possible so they can get more corporate guests or sponsors in, but it’s probably more like a bit of a lack of imagination.
Dear Evan Hansen, for example, takes up two spots in both supporting award shortlists, meaning actors such as Laura Baldwin & David Hunter (Waitress), Joseph Millson (Mary Poppins), Debbie Kurup (Sweet Charity) and Samuel Holmes (Curtains) miss out. Present Laughter does the same in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play, which could easily have been filled by the likes of Aimee Lou Wood (Uncle Vanya). Whilst I can understand creatives getting multiple nominations in one category a bit more (there are only so many of them to go around), I really wish a production could only be nominated once per category.
Then come the nominations I wish had happened, but just didn’t quite make the cut… Death of England is perhaps my favourite production so far this year, and I’d particularly have loved Rafe Spall to have been on the Best Actor list – it’s the most extraordinary one-person show I’ve seen, and the demands on the actor playing Michael are suitably extreme. Claire Foy feels overlooked for Lungs, as does Leah Harvey for Small Island (a possible Best New Play contender, for me) and Giles Terera for Rosmersholm. The National’s version of Three Sisters snuck in as one of my favourite shows of 2019, and richly deserved a Best Revival of a Play nomination at the very least – and perhaps a joint nomination for the titular siblings (Sarah Miles, Natalie Simpson & Rachel Ofori). Fairview was a little divisive but it would have been interesting to throw that into the mix for Best New Play, Luke Thallon was superb in Present Laughter, and Lucie Jones has made the role of Jenna her own in Waitress. I’m also slightly surprised that Betrayal didn’t receive any nominations; I’d have happily seen Charlie Cox up for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play, and maybe a Best Revival nod.
I’m chuffed to bits that Emilia was eligible this year, following its West End run, and am definitely pleased to see it come away with three nominations – even if the Best Entertainment or Comedy Play is a bit of a weird category to lump it in. Clare Perkins should also be up for one of the acting awards as Emilia 3, no arguments. Another nice surprise was Amélie garnering three nominations; I’m especially happy that it’s up for Best Original Score or New Orchestrations, as the UK version is such an improvement on the Broadway yawnfest. In my mind it is absolutely the best in the shortlist, but as long as it doesn’t get beaten by & Juliet I won’t get angry about it.
Something else that made me happy was the inclusion of A Very Expensive Poison. Granted, it could also have recognised Tom Brooke and MyAnna Buring, but the two nominations it has got are richly deserved: Reece Shearsmith was perfectly cast (and made it into my Favourite Male Performances of 2019) and its sheer inventiveness meant it had to be nominated for Best New Play.
We can collectively be pleased that a couple of shows didn’t get any awards, which sounds harsh but… I had a horrible feeling some brown-nosers would nominate John Malkovich, despite a lacklustre performance, but Bitter Wheat has been long left behind – a bad idea from start to finish. I was also a bit concerned that Falsettos would sneak a nomination in somewhere, especially after gaining audience support to win a WhatsOnStage Award at the weekend, but this also didn’t quite make it. Check out Adam Lenson’s related tweets if you haven’t heard anything about the controversy surrounding this production; from a personal standpoint, I found it mostly quite dull and unstimulating – plus I was definitely distracted at the cast’s inability to sing in American accents, given that it’s a sung-through musical set in America.
I’m going to keep harping on about them adding a Best Video Design award on the off-chance it makes a difference, plus I have a couple of new requests this year: Best Casting and Best Music for a Play. Quite understandably musicals dominate the composition award, but music in plays is there more often than you might think and does just as important a job – and that way both plays & musicals would get the recognition they’re due. The BAFTAs introduced a casting award this year, and I don’t see why this isn’t an area that’s celebrated more on both screen & stage; a brilliant show can be ruined by poor casting, and conversely excellent casting can elevate a production – and while we might be able to bash out our dream casts for particular shows, actually getting that job done must be one hell of a process. More needs to be done for non-West End shows, too, as hundreds of productions whittled down to five for the Affiliate award is nonsensical to me.
What are your thoughts? And who do you want to win..?
The 2020 Olivier Awards will be held on 5 April at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets are available online for Mastercard holders, and the ceremony will be broadcast on TV, radio and online.