Olivier Awards 2020

Sir Ian McKellen & Sharon D. Clarke
Image credit: Aemelia Taylor (SOLT)

Whilst I have enjoyed my break from almost full-time theatregoing over the past few months, one of the cancelled events I was really gutted to miss out on was the Olivier Awards. You may remember that I was part of the dynamic duo covering the 2019 ceremony for BWW (and had previously gone solo for the 2017 awards); I was really looking forward to improving upon my work from the year before – and was excited about the array of nominees I’d have the chance to rub shoulders with as well. But it wasn’t to be! For last night’s ‘virtual’ awards ceremony I was put in charge of BroadwayWorld UK’s live blog (plus I made a bingo card and set up some polls for Twitter!), which meant I definitely paid more attention than I probably would have done otherwise – and it definitely made me more excited about it than I was before I started doing my prep. Partly because my memory of nominated shows was thin at best (I think I worked out that I’d only seen one of the winning shows this year – any others I did see would have been in 2019), and partly because I have more variety in my life now so theatre isn’t the be-all & end-all.

That did change when Emilia went on something of a charge! I obviously had my fingers crossed, but didn’t want to get my hopes up – so it winning three out of three was the loveliest surprise imaginable, and one that almost made me forget that other people in the house were probably sleeping. I still find it weird that it was nominated in Best Entertainment or Comedy rather than Best New Play, but I’m definitely not going to knock it. I had hoped that Amélie and Waitress might sneak a win somewhere or other, but that would have been a bonus rather than something I really thought would happen (as much as I loved both of them).

What should have taken a prize somewhere is A Very Expensive Poison. Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play was a pretty tight category, so I could understand Reece Shearsmith not winning there (I’d actually predicted my badge buddy, Arinzé Kene), but there was no other play like it over 2019-20 so it absolutely should have won Best New Play. I didn’t get a chance to see Leopoldstadt so can’t comment directly on it, though from cynical circles there will be a question mark over whether it won just because it will probably be Tom Stoppard’s final new work… Discuss that amongst yourselves!

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Photo credit: Aemelia Taylor (SOLT)

I did get a little bit grouchy at one point – partly due to tiredness, partly due to a run of winners that I was a bit apathetic about – but I was pretty thrilled that in the end there wasn’t one show that ran away with it and dominated the whole night, even though Dear Evan Hansen seems to be grabbing all the headlines. Yes, it was repetitive hearing & Juliet mentioned eight times, and Dear Evan Hansen unfairly taking up two slots in both Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Musical (change the rules, please!), but by having Emilia up there with them on three wins apiece it did feel like a slightly more even spread – and it’s always excellent to see a play hold its own against the musicals.

It was very pleasing to see The Worst Witch win in the Best Family Show category (tweaked from previous years’ Best Entertainment & Family), and I was also glad to see Fiddler on the Roof sneak a win at the end for Best Musical Revival – that was such a memorable show, and it should really have been nominated for Best Set Design as well.

Improvements are still needed, however. The Show Must Go Online has almost single-handedly proven that casting directors need to be recognised at the biggest theatre awards in the UK (BAFTA has introduced awards in both their film & TV ceremonies), and there needs to be more than one award open to Affiliate Theatres; so many productions get narrowed down to one winner, when there is far more variety across the the Fringe than there is in the West End. I’ll once again shout BEST VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN for anyone at the Oliviers who’s still listening.

My predictions? Not so good. I committed them to paper and didn’t allow myself to change my mind once I’d written it down (very strict), attempting to channel the judges’ decision-making process rather than saying who I wanted to win. That method gave me seven correct guesses – I might just ignore the judge factor another time and go on instinct! I’m also not sure my bingo particularly worked, although I was chuffed at Sir Ian McKellen inadvertently falling into my ‘Shakespeare quote’ trap. Genuinely surprised that there wasn’t some sort of Phantom of the Opera mask joke, though. Possibly the time factor squeezed that kind of thing out a bit, as for the most part it went at a furious pace – really not good for those of us who were live blogging or tweeting the show…

No Olivier Awards to come next year, as there probably won’t be any eligible productions at all, but there is talk of some sort of celebration of theatre in 2020 in lieu of an awards ceremony, so watch this space! And fingers crossed things can return to something like normal ready for the Oliviers 2022.

Sam Tutty
Photo credit: Aemelia Taylor (SOLT)

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