I blogged yesterday about the nominations and judging process for the Olivier Awards, and about some of the results it produced. But as much as we can fret and argue about individual choices, there was one indisputable winner: the Awards themselves, which were a triumph of glitz, glamour and rigorous organisation.
From the moment I walked down the eerily quiet (and scarily long) red carpet soon after 5pm - which was a bit like walking on snow, producing no sound at all as you did so - until I emerged over five hours later to see the crowd barriers being packed away, here was an occasion that celebrated London theatre as no other.
Yes, it was only a partial reflection of the vitality of British theatre, not the full picture - but then no awards ceremony could possibly hope to encompass all of that.
Thank goodness we also have the critics’ view (the annual Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, which I have hosted for the last few years in my role as chairman of the drama section), the view of a smaller subsection of critics (the Evening Standard Theatre Awards), and even the public’s view (the Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards), all of which have wider criteria for inclusion, not to mention the Offies and the Empty Space Awards to honour fringe productions and theatres.
And though two of those awards use different parts of the beautiful Prince of Wales Theatre (the Critics’ Circle holds its bash in the Delfont Room, while the Whatsonstage.com Awards holds a concert in the auditorium), nothing quite compares to the Royal Opera House in terms of scale and a sense of exclusivity: so exclusive, in fact, that Reece Shearsmith, nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for starring in Betty Blue Eyes just around the corner at the Novello and who has previously headlined at Drury Lane in The Producers as well as with The League of Gentlemen, told me he’d never been inside it before!
This proves that the Opera House still has a long way to go in drawing people in when even established theatre professionals have never been there before; at least the Olivier Awards will act as an introduction to a historic part of London’s theatreland for them.
And while the Laurence Olivier Awards managed for a few years to go ‘underground’ in every sense - and not just because they were held in the subterranean Grosvenor House Ballroom, but also because they were hardly on the public radar at all - SOLT’s chief executive and the executive producer for the awards Julian Bird has triumphantly re-established them as public events.
Not, alas, that the general public can actually get tickets to attend (except via hospitality packages through sponsors MasterCard as part of their Priceless London campaign that offers exclusive experiences to card holders), but thanks to initiatives like the live public relay to Covent Garden Piazza that saw presenters Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball braving the cold to go out and present the Radio 2 Audience Award to Les Miserables that saw the cast of that show presenting a live extract there, too. The Oliviers were also, for the first time, available globally via a live webcast streaming.
And the Oliviers put on a show, in every sense, to showcase the nominated musicals (with the exception of London Road, which presumably chose to sit them out on the basis that any single extract, performed out of context, would not do justice to what it achieves), as well as an opening plug for We Will Rock You and Ronan Keating singing a bit of Lloyd Webber.
There was also a brief dance extract from the Royal Ballet (to mark Dame Monica Mason’s special Olivier) and a longer tribute to the work of Sir Tim Rice (who also received a special Olivier, and which included Maria Friedman and Siobhan McCarthy singing ‘I Know Him So Well’ from Chess, Elaine Paige singing ’ Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, and the company of The Lion King performing ‘The Circle of Life’).
As Julian Bird commented to the Guardian, this was “possibly the biggest one-nighter anyone has done, ever… We have about 450 people on stage”.
That’s quite some organisational feat; and it paid off. But there were also even more hungry mouths than that to feed at the post-awards reception in the Floral Hall, so I went home hungry. Thank God for Sultana Bran.