A surprisingly disparate spread of winners was announced at this year s 23rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards, the UK's most prestigious theatre awards. Though the 12 February ceremony was held at the Royal National Theatre, which received a whopping 16 nominations this year, the RNT did not have as dramatic a turnout as some anticipated.
The RNT's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, directed by Trevor Nunn, choreographed by Susan Stroman and now transferred to the West End's Lyceum Theatre, received nine nominations but took home only four awards on the day, including Outstanding Musical Production, Best Theatre Choreographer (Stroman), Best Set Designer (Anthony Ward) and Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (Shuler Hensley, who won out over, amongst others, his co-star Jimmy Johnston).
Best Actress in a Musical, for which Oklahoma! female lead Josefina Gabrielle was nominated, went to Sophie Thompson for her performance in the Donmar Warehouse's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. Best Actor in a Musical, for which Oklahoma! male lead Hugh Jackman was nominated, went to a unique choice - the entire South African cast of Kat & the Kings which ran in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre. The Cape Town musical was also honoured with the Best New Musical award.
As far as clean sweeps go, Hollywood star Kevin Spacey can legitimately claim one for his performance in the Almeida revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh for which he has now won Best Actor in all the major London theatre awards - the Evening Standard, Critics Circle and Oliviers. Spacey was on hand to accept and applaud the Almeida, director Howard Davies and his company of fellow actors. Commenting on the production's imminent transfer to Broadway, Spacey said: 'As long as we go there with the same company spirit we had here in London, we can't go wrong.'
The Iceman Cometh earnt another Olivier for Howard Davies who took Best Director over formidable competition from Trevor Nunn (Oklahoma!), Sam Mendes (The Blue Room) and Ian Rickson (The Weir). Davies used the opportunity to lavish praise on his award-winning star. 'Kevin Spacey is a talent to be reckoned with, an incredibly modest man and a team player par excellence,' he said. 'It has been the happiest experience of my professional life to work with this company and Kevin in particular.'
Eileen Atkins seemed genuinely surprised when she was awarded Best Actress over the likes of Sinead Cusack (who won the honour this year from both the Evening Standard and Critics Circle judges), Judi Dench, Diana Rigg and Nicole Kidman. Recognised for her role in the RSC production of Yasmina Reza's The Unexpected Man, Atkins spoke of her co-star Michael Gambon as 'witty, naughty, very very wicked, sexy' and a 'bliss to work with'.
Director Sir Peter Hall was recognised with this year's Special Award for his lifetime's achievement, which has included the founding and steering of the RSC and National Theatre as well as the direction of over 30 West End productions in the past 10 years. In accepting the award, Hall thanked his producer Bill Kenwright twice but went on to comment on his famous rift with the impresario whose withdrawal of funding has now spelt the end of Hall's residency at the Piccadilly Theatre. 'We had a right royal row which proves to me that commerce thinks more about the deal than it does about the work,' said Hall.
Other major awards included Best New Comedy which went to Terry Johnson's Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick at the RNT's Lyttelton, Best Entertainment which went to the Right Size for Do You Come Here Often? at the Vaudeville and Best Supporting Performance which went to Brendan Coyle in Conor McPherson's The Weir at the Royal Court.
The announcement of the award for Best New Play was withheld until the televised broadcast on Monday night. The winner will be given the award in a surprise presentation over the weekend. The strong favourite is the RNT production of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen which has now transferred to the West End's Duchess. If it wins, it will bring the RNT total up nine awards.
The ceremony, presented by chat show host Clive Anderson, is televised on BBC2 next Monday, 15 February at 7.30pm in a programme that will combine the awards presentation with the highlights of the year in London theatre. For a full list of this year's nominations, the 1999 Olivier Nominations feature.