wed 20/08/2014

2012 Olivier Awards: comedy sidelined as Matilda enters the record books | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

2012 Olivier Awards: comedy sidelined as Matilda enters the record books

Seven awards for the RSC's Roald Dahl musical but none for the NT's One Man, Two Guvnors

Kerry Ingram in Matilda the Musical: 'an absolute honour to finish with an Olivier Award'Manuel Harlan

Matilda, the Royal Shakespeare Company-spawned musical about an extraordinary young girl, managed the extraordinary feat Sunday of snaring a record seven trophies at last night’s 36th Laurence Olivier Awards. Its rampaging hold over the black-tie ceremony at the Royal Opera House came at the expense of such comic hopefuls as One Man, Two Guvnors and The Ladykillers, which had 10 nominations between them and emerged with no awards. Nor did the twice-nominated Noises Off.

The lack of recognition for One Man must be particularly hard for its creators coming on the eve of the Richard Bean play’s opening this Wednesday on Broadway, a street that loves prizes and knows how to trumpet them. But the hefty haul managed by Matilda will stand that show in even better stead when it reaches New York next spring.

Closer to home, its various recipients were clear audience favourites during a ceremony marked by technical snafus and odd glitches but also by waves of affection for the tyke-intensive musical whose award-winning director, Matthew Warchus, accepted his prize via live hook-up from New York. Praising the girls who share the title role as "four little miracles", he was echoed later by the musical’s composer, Tim Minchin, who called them "four little twerps" before lauding the subsidised model of producing that made Matilda possible – despite, Minchin added, "what the Daily Mail likes to say." (He didn't elaborate on that broadside.)  

Other multiple wins were achieved by the National Theatre’s sell-out production of Frankenstein, which won for its two leading men Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch (pictured right, photo by Catherine Ashmore) and for Bruno Poet's lighting. Miller did yeoman duty collecting all three awards, since neither Cumberbatch nor Poet was there in person. The Donmar’s superlative Anna Christie, starring Jude Law, took the revival prize as well as the actress prize for Ruth Wilson in the title role, marking Wilson’s second Olivier for an American classic at the Donmar. (The first came for playing Stella in the summer, 2009, revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.) 

Giving thanks to Rob Ashford, her director on both Donmar plays, Wilson said, “You always cast a harem of gorgeous hunky men for me to act opposite” – an assessment borne out by the fact that Wilson and Law have become romantically involved. On the relationship front, Elaine Paige appeared near the end of the night to give a lifetime achievement award to her onetime partner, lyricist Tim Rice, calling her collaborator on Evita and Chess a man of great height, charm, and, of course a huge “...”; her sentence went unfinished, though she did then mumble a sotto voce "not bad" to laughs from those who heard it.

Spreading 25 awards around a comparatively limited number of productions, especially in a city as alive with theatre as London, the Oliviers did allow Nigel Harman the supporting performance in a musical trophy for Shrek the Musical and the equivalent supporting performance in a play award to Sheridan Smith (pictured left) for the Terence Rattigan revival Flare Path, Smith’s second consecutive Olivier. (She won the musical actress prize last year for Legally Blonde.) Crazy For You won the musical revival prize, marking the third year in a row that category has gone to shows that originated in the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park; Hello, Dolly! and Into the Woods were the others.

The ceremony itself was compered for the second year running by Sweeney Todd co-stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, who will likely be in front of the audience once again next year, this time as Olivier winners for those same performances. A running gag focused on Staunton shushing Ball every time he tried to get in a plug for Sweeney, only to have Staunton herself name the musical’s title and playhouse (the Adelphi) just as events were winding down. The first time these awards have been held at the Opera House, the Oliviers gave both opera prizes to the English National Opera, whose boss, John Berry, must have taken great pleasure in saying from that particular stage that “I really do think ENO is the most exciting opera house in the world at the moment”.

Excitement on the surprise front came from one Nicholas Hytner-directed National Theatre production trumping another when best play went not to the heavily favoured One Man, Two Guvnors but instead to Collaborators, the John Hodge drama about the relationship between Stalin and Bulgakov (pictured right, Alex Jennings and Simon Russell Beale; photo by Johan Persson). A second well-received National entry, London Road, was blanked along with One Man, though several of the Matilda team let slip during and after the event that they had expected that verbatim musical to take the top prize in their place.

With the Oliviers aping Broadway’s Tonys more and more, entertainment came mostly in the form of numbers from the nominated shows, three of the four leads from Singin’ in the Rain raising the roof with “Good Morning”, just as the four pint-sized Matildas did as they shared duties on the deliciously self-defining “Naughty”, from the Roald Dahl-inspired musical about a girl at odds with her loutish family who finds love and understanding elsewhere.

At the after-party, the quartet of Matildas were exulting in trophies that seemed almost as big as they are while acknowledging that for two of the four girls, their time in the show is now over: both Kerry Ingram and Sophia Kiely gave their last performances in the show recently. “It’s an absolute honour to finish with an Olivier Award,” said Ingram, who turns 13 next month. Said 12-year-old Kiely: “I feel very sad that I’m leaving but it’s good to get an education.” As for her Olivier? “I think I’ll treasure it forever.”

Complete list of winners overleaf

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