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Olivier Awards 2015: Young Vic triumph heralds the era of the giant-killer | reviews, news & interviews

Olivier Awards 2015: Young Vic triumph heralds the era of the giant-killer

Olivier Awards 2015: Young Vic triumph heralds the era of the giant-killer

Risky projects and smaller subsidised theatres reign supreme

Young blood: 'A View From the Bridge' scored big for the Young Vic Jan Versweyveld

The Young Vic’s victory parade came as no surprise after a bumper year, but, in an impressive night for studio and publicly funded theatre, the egalitarian 2015 Oliviers also showered affection upon the Hampstead, Donmar, RSC, Chichester, Royal Court and Almeida. Many of their pioneering productions have already made it into the West End, proving – once and for all – that creative risk and profitmaking need not be mutually exclusive.

Belgian director Ivo van Hove was rewarded for his revolutionary take on A View From the Bridge, as was visibly stunned leading actor Mark Strong, and the Young Vic took its tally to four with Best Revival and Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre wins for View and Mike Bartlett’s Bull respectively. Van Hove paid tribute to David Lan, under whose stewardship the theatre has realised Laurence Olivier’s vision as “an experimental workshop”, while also attracting audience-friendly big names. This year, it totally eclipsed its eminent South Bank neighbours – the National and Old Vic came away empty-handed. Meanwhile, Cinderella story The Play That Goes Wrong rose from diminutive pub theatre the Old Red Lion to Best New Comedy winner.

Sunny Afternoon, Hampstead TheatreThere was underdog triumph in the musicals categories as well, with a surprising four awards for the Hampstead’s Kinks celebration Sunny Afternoon (pictured right) – the most of any production. The home-grown show beat American imports Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Memphis to the top prize, and also scored wins for Ray Davies’s tunes and newcomer musical performers John Dagleish and George Maguire. Credit should go to super-producer Sonia Friedman, who backed the show’s West End run. Though unable to match last year’s record haul, Friedman’s determination to bring a variety of shows to a wider audience was rewarded, with wins for Es Devlin’s innovative The Nether set and audacious verse drama King Charles III – the night’s second prize for prolific Bartlett.

Memphis did bag gongs for choreography and sound design, and Beautiful for leading lady Katie Brayben and supporting actress Lorna Want, the latter pair completing a quartet of exciting new talent. In contrast, the theatre performance awards recognised outstanding veterans: Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies’ Nathaniel Parker, Taken At Midnight’s Penelope Wilton – chosen over starrier rivals Gillian Anderson and Kristin Scott Thomas – and an historic first Olivier for 89-year-old Angela Lansbury, who returned to the London stage in Blithe Spirit after a 40-year absence. “Theatre is the life and thank God I’m still in it,” she proclaimed, after receiving a heartfelt standing ovation.

City of Angels, Donmar WarehouseIn one of several questionable decisions, ITV relegated Lansbury to its "Other winners" summary, which also contained a tragically brief glimpse of retiring ballet legend Sylvie Guillem’s parting speech; Akram Khan’s tribute was cut altogether. Josie Rourke’s City of Angels at Donmar Warehouse (pictured left, by Johan Persson) triumphed over Miss Saigon and Cats in the Best Musical Revival category, but City’s was the only one of the multiple musical performances excised for broadcast, denying viewers the opportunity to enjoy a boldly different offering and City vital exposure that might contribute to a successful West End transfer.

While winners were kept to a strict 40-second speech limit, there was an interminable piece of cross-promotion for This Morning’s Eamonn Holmes, who handed Wicked its second audience award at a glacial pace. That trying interlude aside, genial Lenny Henry presided over an unusually slick ceremony, though it’s something of a bitter irony that the leading advocate for diversity in the arts hosted in a year notable for its Oscars-like whiteness. “That’s diversity in theatre – that chick’s green!” Henry commented dryly as Emma Hatton collected Wicked’s trophy.

Kevin Spacey and Dame Judi DenchDespite its much-publicised business woes, English National Opera is still a force to be reckoned with, taking prizes for The Mastersingers of Nuremberg and Richard Jones’s direction. There was a split decision in dance production, with Peeping Tom’s 32 Rue Vandenbranden and Mat Ek’s Juliet And Romeo for Royal Swedish Ballet sharing joint honours, while extraordinarily versatile Crystal Pite’s choreography was rightly named outstanding achievement.

The evening closed in somewhat bizarre fashion with the special award for Kevin Spacey recognising his 10-year tenure at the Old Vic. Following an in-joke-heavy intro from Dame Judi Dench (pictured right with Spacey, by Pamela Raith), Spacey swiftly handed on the baton to successor Matthew Warchus before launching into a skin-crawlingly self-indulgent rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – complete with harmonica. Where’s Simon Cowell’s buzzer when you need it?

Oddities aside, the 2015 Olivier Awards showcased our current theatreland’s exciting breadth and unflagging creative ambition. Crucially, this past year has proven that cutting-edge projects have commercial, as well as critical, value – it’s just a shame ITV, in its notably conservative edited highlights, had limited interest in reflecting it.

Overleaf: the full list of winners

BEST ACTOR: Mark Strong for A View from the Bridge (Young Vic and Wyndham’s Theatre)

BEST ACTRESS: Penelope Wilton for Taken At Midnight (Chichester Festival Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Nathaniel Parker for Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies (Swan Theatre and Aldwych Theatre)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Angela Lansbury for Blithe Spirit (Gielgud Theatre)

BEST REVIVAL: A View from the Bridge (Young Vic and Wyndham’s Theatre)

BEST SOUND DESIGN: Gareth Owen for Memphis: The Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre)

WHITE LIGHT AWARD FOR BEST LIGHTING DESIGN: Howard Harrison for City Of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Christopher Oram for Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies (Swan Theatre and Aldwych Theatre)

BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND FAMILY: La Soirée (La Soirée Spiegeltent)

XL VIDEO AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN: Es Devlin for The Nether (Royal Court and Duke of York’s Theatre)

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION: 32 Rue Vandenbranden by Peeping Tom (Barbican) and Mats Ek’s Juliet And Romeo by Royal Swedish Ballet (Sadler’s Wells)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE: Crystal Pite for her choreography in the productions of The Associates – A Picture Of You Falling, The Tempest Replica and Polaris (Sadler’s Wells)

VIRGIN ATLANTIC BEST NEW PLAY: King Charles III (Almeida Theatre and Wyndham’s Theatre)

THIS MORNING AUDIENCE AWARD: Wicked (Apollo Victoria Theatre)

BEST NEW COMEDY: The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre)

MAGIC RADIO BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL: City Of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION: The Mastersingers Of Nuremberg (London Coliseum)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA: Richard Jones for his direction of The Girl Of The Golden West, The Mastersingers Of Nuremberg and Rodelinda (London Coliseum)


BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER: Sergio Trujillo for Memphis: The Musical (Shaftesbury Theatre)

BEST DIRECTOR: Ivo Van Hove for A View from the Bridge (Young Vic and Wyndham’s Theatre)

AUTOGRAPH SOUND AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC: Ray Davies for Sunny Afternoon (Hampstead Theatre and Harold Pinter Theatre)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL: George Maguire for Sunny Afternoon (Hampstead Theatre and Harold Pinter Theatre)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL: Lorna Want for Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre)

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: John Dagleish for Sunny Afternoon (Hampstead Theatre and Harold Pinter Theatre)

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Katie Brayben for Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre)

MASTERCARD BEST NEW MUSICAL: Sunny Afternoon (Hampstead Theatre and Harold Pinter Theatre)

Crucially, this past year has proven that cutting-edge projects have commercial, as well as critical, value

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Delighted as I am about ENO's Mastersingers taking Best New Opera Production award - and I can't imagine it being surpassed by anything else in opera OR theatre this year -  it can't be right since Richard Jones's production originated at Welsh National Opera five years ago and hasn't changed substantially. Do Olivier Awards specifically fete London? Anyway, it would have been fairer to opt for a completely new show, like The Girl of the Golden West. Richly deserved gong, anyway, for Jones's triple whammy (quadruple if you bring in the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier).

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