Continuing its phenomenal run of success at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and our own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards - in which it won a record-breaking seven top trophies (See News, 25 Feb 2008) - Hairspray has tonight (Sunday 9 March 2008) converted its 11 nominations into four big wins at the 32nd annual Laurence Olivier Awards. (Overall analysis of the 2008 Olivier results follows. See our other stories for full shortlists, speech highlights, photos and other coverage…)


Hairspray holds firm

Hairspray Award winners Michael Ball, Leanne Jones and Tracie Bennett won the equivalent prizes – Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical – at the Oliviers, where it also won yet another Best New Musical accolade.

The only other musical to win an Olivier was the Young Vic’s South African version of The Magic Flute (Impempe Yomlingo), now at the West End’s Duke of York’s theatre, which was named Best Musical Revival. Others with multiple nominations - Parade, Fiddler on the Roof, Little Shop of Horrors, The Drowsy Chaperone and The Lord of the Rings all went home empty-handed.

Three Horse race for National

One category that normally goes to a musical, Best Theatre Choreographer, was this year nabbed by a play, the National’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel War Horse and its choreographer Toby Sedgwick. The production, with its life-sized horse puppets, also won its third Best Set Design prize for Rae Smith and the South Africa-based Handspring Puppet Company.

War Horse’s success was one of three double wins for the National. The Man of Mode won Best Costume Design (Vicki Mortimer) and Best Performance in a Supporting Role for Rory Kinnear’s turn as a flamboyantly modern fop. And Saint Joan, also seen in the NT Olivier, was named Best Revival and nabbed Best Sound Design (Paul Arditti, with music by Jocelyn Pook). The National won a seventh award, Best New Comedy for Rafta Rafta.

The night’s other two-time winner was the Chichester Festival production of Macbeth which, after its West End run at the Gielgud, transferred this year to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and is now preparing for another move to Broadway. The production won a third Best Director trophy for Rupert Goold, adding to his wins at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle, and was also recognised for Best Lighting Design (Howard Harrison).

Acting differences

It was in the top play performance categories that this year’s Oliviers diverged most notably from the other theatre awards to date. Kristin Scott Thomas (for The Seagull at the Royal Court) beat off competition from hot favourite Anne-Marie Duff (who has already won the same prize at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards) as well as Kelly Reilly (Othello), Fiona Shaw (who won the Best Solo Performance Award for Happy Days) and Penelope Wilton (John Gabriel Borkman).

Othello’s Chiwetel Ejiofor shared the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance with Macbeth’s Patrick Stewart, but this time he triumphed over Stewart and fellow Shakespearean and Award winner Ian McKellen (King Lear) to take the Best Actor Olivier for himself alone, also besting John Simm (Elling) and Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing).

In the new category, Best Newcomer in a Play, Tom Hiddleston reigned victorious over himself, winning for his performance in Cymbeline at the Barbican, which was judged more award-worthy than his performance in the Donmar Othello. He also beat off competition from Evening Standard Best Newcomer Stephen Wight (Dealer’s Choice) and David Dawson (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby).

Lloyd Webber flies TV flag

While Lee Mead did not figure in this year’s Olivier nominations, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat did get a look-in at tonight’s ceremony in a less expected way, when the show’s composer and co-producer Andrew Lloyd Webber was presented with the Society’s unshortlisted Special Award. Lloyd Webber has, of course, been a major force in British and world theatre for 40 years, since he and lyricist Tim Rice had their first big hit with Joseph, but the timing of this award, in recognition of his overall contribution to the performing arts, is hardly accidental.

The success over the past two years of the Lloyd Webber-headed TV competitions, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do, to cast his West End productions of The Sound of Music and Joseph, have helped fuel a 25 percent increase in theatre audiences across the country. This spring’s latest musical theatre television offering, I’d Do Anything!, will find an Oliver and Nancy for a Cameron Mackintosh co-production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! in the West End.

- by Terri Paddock