The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) ratcheted up the entertainment value at this year’s 30th annual Laurence Olivier Awards ceremony. In addition to the usual shocks and thrills involved in the announcement of any list of winners, there was a full programme of live entertainment scheduled in between the champagne and the four-course black-tie dinner at the London Hilton.

  • For the full list of 2006 Olivier winners & first photos, click here
  • For additional photos from the night, click here
  • For analysis of the judges’ decisions, click here
  • For reporting on the entertainment & acceptance remarks, click here
  • For additional titbits from the night in The Goss, click here
  • For an overview of the Oliviers & other awards in Features, click here

    Live entertainment

    Cast members from three of the big musicals in this year’s nominations list performed excerpts from their shows. The cast of The Big Life opened proceedings with a rendition of “Work, Work, Work”, which the show’s resident fan Miss Aphrodite (aka Best Supporting Performance in a Musical nominee Tameka Empson) brought to a close by giving presenter Richard Wilson an amusing lesson in physiotherapy.

    On behalf of Guys and Dolls, Jane Krakowski sniffled her way through “Adelaide’s Lament” – shortly before collecting the award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Miss Adelaide in the original cast of the revival at the Piccadilly Theatre – and later, Corey English and Andrew Playfoot sang the title song.

    Billy Elliot also had two numbers during the awards ceremony. Ann Emery and Liam Mower performed “Grandma’s Song”. And, just after the show scooped the evening’s final prize for Best New Musical, the ensemble of miners – with their Spitting Image-style puppets of Tory politicians – performed “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher”. After several minutes dancing on their chairs in the audience, various Billy Elliots ran up onto the stage to sing along with their co-stars.

    In addition, English National Opera’s William Berger and Sarah-Jane Davies sang, respectively, “Lonely Town” from On the Town and “Servilas Aria” from La Clemenza Di Tito; and illusionist Derren Brown involved the entire audience in a pound coin trick, confounding many including Best Lighting Design winner Paule Constable (Don Carlos) who he hauled on stage as a volunteer.

    Acceptance highlights

    Musical winners

  • The second award presented on the evening was the first of four for Billy Elliot. “I won’t be a moment,” said Best Sound Design winner Paul Arditti, taking a deep breath in front of the crowd, “I just want to enjoy this.”
  • He needn’t have worried – he and his collaborators had much more to enjoy and savour as the evening progressed. When James Lomas, Liam Mower and George Maguire were announced as the joint winners of Best Actor in a Musical for originating the title role in Billy Elliot, they literally danced onto the stage, pumping their arms in victory to a huge round of applause. They had clearly decided how they would take their turns at the microphone. “Wow!” exclaimed James first, thanking the audience, after which Liam wisely thanked all the producers, directors, choreographers and casting directors “for choosing us to do this part and for giving us this opportunity” and George thanked “the whole Billy Elliot company” – as well as his “brilliant” mum and dad.
  • Current Billy Leon Cooke also got his time in the limelight when director Stephen Daldry took him on stage to help collect the award for Best Choreographer on behalf of Peter Darling, who Daldry called “one the greatest choreographers in this country”.
  • Moments later, Daldry was back at the podium for the evening’s final award, Best New Musical. He named Billy Elliot’s various producers and artists and other company members who “we love”, amongst them composer Elton John (currently in Atlanta recording), whose idea it was to turn the 2000 Brit flick into a musical. But, said Daldry, “in the end, it’s all about the kids. The kids are at the centre of our extended family. We are thankful of the gifts and the joys that they give.” Book writer and lyricist Lee Hall, who based the story on his own childhood experiences growing up in the North of England, described Billy Elliot’s evolution as “a very weird journey” and reiterated Daldry’s admiration for the children involved. “It’s an incredible thing what these kids do and every night I see them do it, I’m amazed I’ve been a part of it. I’m very grateful.”

  • Guys and DollsBest Actress in a Musical Jane Krakowski was near tears during her acceptance speech because, said the American, her time in London doing the show was “one of the greatest years – or eight months - of my life” and, with the original cast reunited at the awards for perhaps the last time, it felt like “our closing night”. Amongst others, she thanked director Michael Grandage for asking me to come here” before imploring the rest of the audience, “I hope you ask me to come back again because I love this city and I love its people.”
  • In collecting the award for Outstanding Musical Production for Guys and Dolls, Michael Grandage in turn thanked the cast and the rest of the company, including “my right-hand man”, choreographer Rob Ashford, and “a whole host of people that this belongs to - there aren’t Olivier nominations for them, the categories don’t exist”.
  • Acorn AntiquesBest Supporting Performance in a Musical winner Celia Imrie joked: “I think I must be one of the luckiest antique dealers in all of Manchester.” She paid special tribute to Victoria Wood, who wrote the original TV series and adapted it for the stage. “It’s one of the most wonderful and generous presents – a part written for you…. Thank you, Victoria, from the bottom of my heart,” said Imrie.

    Play winners

  • In collecting the Best New Comedy award, Frenchman Gerald Sibleyras said he would have to be short since he was speaking in a second language. But he made sure to credit the play’s English translator: “Thanks very much to Tom Stoppard who improved the text a lot.”
  • Death of a Salesman’s Best Actor winner Brian Dennehy appeared humbled by his win. “I am that rarest of things – an American actor who does theatre for the money.” He paused. “You think I’m kidding, right?” he asked before continuing that “the man’s name on this award says it all for me”. Dennehy recalled seeing Laurence Olivier in the New York production of The Entertainer in 1957. “To be mentioned in the same breath as Olivier, Sir Derek, Sir Ian – and Clare Higgins (who was nominated for her performance as his wife, but lost out to Eve Best) – is a great honour for me.” But for all those he thanked – including “everyone in this city and this business who have been so generous to us” – “mostly,” said the actor, “I just want to talk for a minute about Arthur Miller. I was with him about a week before he died. He was looking forward so much to us opening this production here. It’s too bad he didn’t live to see it, but he was out there with me every night on stage.” Dennehy concluded: “There’s no way for me to tell you how much this means to me, especially here, especially now.”
  • Tricycle artistic director Nicolas Kent collected the award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre for the courtroom docu-drama Bloody Sunday – Scenes from the Saville Inquiry and quickly gave due credit to his co-creator. “This really belongs to Richard Norton-Taylor, who’s been my collaborator on so many of these plays. He brilliantly distilled five years’ worth of evidence into two hours.”
  • In collecting Best Performance in a Supporting Role, an ecstatic Noma Dumezweni immediately checked her statuette to see whether there had been any mistakes made with her name. “Yes, they spelt it right,” she confirmed. “That’s lovely.” After thanking many, including her director David Lan, she noted: “I’m standing in front of people I’ve fucking watched and adored for years. And it’s brilliant! I’m in awe.”

  • Best Actress winner Eve Best seemed similarly overawed in front of the star-studded audience. “Oh shit,” was her first utterance, before “Thank you very very much.” She said she felt “very lucky to have had the chance to play this incredible part with this incredible company in an incredible theatre”, but felt especially lucky to have worked with director Richard Eyre. “Apart from the fact that you’re not an actress, Richard, this award is for you,” she told him.
  • Not that Richard Eyre needed any charity on the night. When he accepted the prize for Best Director, he began by apologising for having come up to the stage so many times (three in total, having already collected for Best Revival and on behalf of Rob Howell for Best Set Design). He continued with another apology to fellow nominees “Stephen Daldry (for Billy Elliot) and Michael Grandage (Don Carlos) – both of whose productions I admire without reservation”. He went on to reflect on his own good fortune: “As if it’s not enough to have an indecently good time doing something that you’re paid for, they give you awards for it.” In his acceptance of the Best Revival trophy, which was presented by Dominic Cooke, artistic director designate of the Royal Court, Eyre also reminded the audience of the advice of Court founder George Devine that “you should always treat a new play like a classic and a classic like a new play”.

    Other winners

  • In addition to scooping Best New Entertainment for his stage show Something Wicked This Way Comes, TV illusionist Derren Brown had another reason to celebrate. “It’s my birthday tomorrow as well,” he informed the audience, before admitting, “I do feel genuinely small and silly in front of all you actors and directors and real theatre people.”
  • When presenting the Society’s Special Award to one of those “real theatre people”, Michael Grandage hailed Sir Ian McKellen (pictured) as “one of this country’s greatest actors who, over the past half a century, or nearly half a century, has given us some of the greatest stage performances we have ever witnessed”. According to Grandage, who is currently directing McKellen in Mark Ravenhill’s new play The Cut at the Donmar Warehouse, “his passion for the theatre and for our profession is intoxicating.” McKellen received a standing ovation and, after howls of audience disagreement when he suggested “you don’t want a long speech from me”, he talked of “gratitude and relief”, the demise of the repertory system, the importance of working in a company and the abundance of talent in the younger generation of actors. After a lifetime in it, McKellen confessed that “I don’t know anything about this profession except to enjoy it as much as you can, to realise that it’s the best job in the world and to keep trying to get better at it.”

    Amongst the winners who were unable to attend tonight’s ceremony were: Simon Stephens (author of Best New Play On the Shore of the Wide World), Rob Howell (Best Set Design for Hedda Gabler) and Peter Darling (Best Choreographer for Billy Elliot), who are both currently in Toronto working on the world premiere stage adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

    The presenters at the 2006 awards were: Alex Kingston, Angela Rippon, Anita Dobson, Catherine Tate, Christian Slater, Dominic Cooke, Jodhi May, Kathleen Turner (the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? star had to wait several moments for the welcoming applause to subside before she could announce her category), Martin Jarvis, Matthew Modine, Michael Grandage, Michelle Collins, Natascha McElhone, Neve Campbell, Nigel Havers, Paul O'Grady, Piers Morgan, Reece Shearsmith, Richard Olivier, Roger Allam, Sam West and Sir Simon Milton.

    In addition to winners and presenters, there were numerous nominees and other celebrity guests in attendance at this year’s Olivier Awards, including: Tracie Bennett, Jorg Betts, Christopher Biggins, Victoria Wood, David Furnish, Lee Hall, David Lan, Nick Moran, Clare Higgins, Laura Wade, Helen McCrory Damian Lewis, Richard Bean, Jenny Eclair, Douglas Hodge, Ewan McGregor, Jenna Russell, Harriet Walter, Guy Henry, Con O’Neill, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Bradley, Anne Reid, Paul Ritter, Peter Quilter, Scarlet Strallen, Sean Foley, Howard Brenton, Lez Brotherston, Brian May, Megan Dodds, Clint Dyer, Rick Fisher, Jamila Gavin, Deborah Findlay, Terry Jardine, Charlotte Jones, James Nesbitt, Owen McCafferty, Conleth Hill, Richard Norton-Taylor, Christopher Oram, Peter Oswald, Graham Sheffield, Ian Talbot, Catherine Tate, David Threlfall, Derek Jacobi, Phyllida Lloyd, Ian MacNeil, Anthony Minghella and Haydn Gwynne.

    - by Terri Paddock

  • For the full list of 2006 Olivier winners & first photos, click here
  • For additional photos from the night, click here
  • For analysis of the judges’ decisions, click here
  • For reporting on the entertainment & acceptance remarks, click here
  • For additional titbits from the night in The Goss, click here
  • For an overview of the Oliviers & other awards in Features, click here