Spacey Hails Dench, Daldry Shames BBC at OliviersDate: 23 February 2004
The great irony of the BBC’s decision not to televise this year’s Laurence Oliviers (See News, 15 Jan 2004), the UK’s highest theatre accolades, is that last night’s ceremony at the London Hilton was one of the most memorable and entertaining in recent memory (See News 22 Feb, & 23 Feb 2004).
Kevin’s crush on Judi
Worth any price of admission alone was the presentation of the Special Award to Dame Judi Dench for 47 years’ worth of work in theatre, including the RSC’s current production of All’s Well That Ends Well which opened in the West End last week. As host Clive Anderson announced the award, the lights dimmed and from the back of ballroom, a smooth voice began to croon “I’ve Got a Crush on You”. Making his way through the crowd, the singer was revealed as Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, who will soon take over as artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre and who has been a close friend of Dench’s since they both appeared in the 2001 film The Shipping News. “She asked us to surprise her and so we did,” said Spacey of his serenade.
In his introduction, Spacey recounted the career of “a woman for whom there can be no doubt how deserving she is of this award”. To date, not counting last night, Dench has won a record six Oliviers, including in 1996, two in one year – Best Actress for Absolute Hell and Best Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music. On screen, her awards include an Oscar for a performance in Shakespeare in Love which lasted all of eight minutes.
Spacey praised “my friend and our queen” of theatre as someone who “reminds us just how astounding the craft of acting can be”, “a woman of enormous grace and style and friendship and conviction” whose “spirit and integrity are as infectious as her laugh.” Referring back to his song in closing, he said: “There is no one like her and there never will be anyone like her. She is the one we have all had a crush on for a very long time.”
Dench received a rapturous standing ovation, ending only when she pleaded with the audience to sit down and “talk amongst yourselves for a moment” while she reined in her emotions. She described the feeling of overwhelming at the honour as “a bit like being at the most wonderful party and in the middle of it, somebody coming up, giving you your coat and telling you it’s time to go”.
She went on to accept the award on behalf of her many co-workers over her illustrious career. “In 47 years, I have made some of the best friends that I or anybody could ever wish for,” she said. And she was optimistic about the state of the art form. “I love it that theatre is so alive and well, that we can fill a theatre with Shakespeare in this age. We don’t have to worry.”
In between dinner courses and acceptance speeches, the awards ceremony was enhanced by live music from the big band of Best Entertainment nominee The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas and its stars Stephen Triffitt, George Long and Mark Adams, as well as solos from Jerry Springer’s Alison Jiear (Best Actress in a Musical nominee), High Society’s Tracie Bennett (Best Supporting Performance in a Musical nominee) and Kwame Kwei-Armah (star of TV’s Casualty and Celebrity Fame Academy and author of Best New Play nominee Elmina’s Kitchen).
The awards presentation also provided a showcase for two theatre workers not normally seen on stage – Karina Opdal, an usherette at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and Kat Smiley, a stage door worker at the Royal Court. Their full-throttled duet of “Mack the Knife” had stars including Sheila Ferguson and Matthew Kelly leaping to their feet to cheer, while host Anderson noted that this “was the stuff of showbiz legends” and that there were probably “a couple of front of house jobs available as of tonight”. Opdal and Smiley were selected to perform from 30 hopefuls put forward by theatres belonging to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which organises the awards.
There was added entertainment from several high-profile awards presenters. This year’s included Anita Dobson, Jamie Theakston, Jason Donovan, Joan Collins, Richard Wilson, Dame Joan Plowright (aka Lady Olivier), Samuel West, Stephen Daldry, Ross Kemp and Hollywood’s Alicia Witt and, currently starring in When Harry Met Sally, Luke Perry. Deserving of their own award for funniest double act were Liz Smith and Lee Evans, who’ll shortly be appearing along with Michael Gambon and Geoffrey Hutchings in Endgame in the West End. As a slightly off-guard Smith announced the award for Best Actor in a Musical, Evans improvised with his own sign-language version of proceedings, to much laughter.
Shaming & blaming the BBC
On a more serious note, director Daldry used his time, before announcing the final award for Best New Musical, to pour scorn on the BBC for its decision not to broadcast this year’s Oliviers. “Isn’t it an outrage we’re not being televised?” he asked to a chorus of agreement. He urged everyone to write strongly worded letters of complaint to “the villain of the piece”, BBC 2 controller Jane Root. “The letters should finish, ‘Jane, you should get out more.’”
In his asides during the evening’s ceremony, host Anderson also referred to the broadcast situation. “We did ask the BBC to come and film us this evening but apparently they’ve all resigned,” he quipped.
- by Terri Paddock