Winners for this year's 33rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys and the UK's most prestigious stage awards, were announced tonight (Sunday 8 March 2008) at a star-studded ceremony held at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane. Some gossipy titbits overheard on the night – from the ballroom - follow. See our other stories for the full list of winners and nominees, analysis, speech highlights, photos, video interviews and other coverage…
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London mayor Boris Johnson topped and tailed the evening. A video message from him opened proceedings with “gosh…” and went on to commend an industry that is in “advance state of credit crunch denial” before also applauding theatre-related offerings in the capital including our “restaurants, hotels, taxis and, of course, our fantastic Tube and bus services”. Of course. When collecting the evening’s final Special Award, Alan Ayckbourn brought us full circle by beginning his acceptance saying, “In the words of mayor Boris … gosh”. No mention of the Tube and buses, though.
Theatre producer and owner Nica Burns of Nimax Theatres, who is also the new president of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which runs the Oliviers, betrayed her own acting roots in her introductory speech. Reading a letter from a 15-year-old who’d had her first experience of theatre with Rain Man, Burns got enthusiastically in character. Casting directors take note.
In his introductory overview of the 2008 theatre year, host James Nesbitt noted that the BBC competition I’d Do Anything had attracted a new type of audience to the West End before adding with heavy sarcasm “joy”. He went on to say that the BBC had programmed a new series this year hosted by John Barrowman to be titled I’d Do Anything … But I Won’t Do That, ignoring the fact that John will do anything, especially that!” The quips came just before Nesbitt introduced I’d Do Anything victor Jodie Prenger, who told Nesbitt threateningly, “I’ll have a word with you later”. Prenger also expressed gratitude to Cameron Mackintosh for helping prepare her for her role in announcing the nominations for Best Lighting: “Thank goodness, Cameron sent me to RADA”, she told the room full of thespians.
Sadie Frost, who presented the award for Best Costume Design, debuted a new costume of her own last night, which she herself designed for her fashion label FrostFrench: a very sleek metallic silver mini-dress. Frost finishes her West End run in Touched … For the Very First Time, Zoe Lewis’ one-woman play about a Mancunian woman obsessed with Madonna, next Saturday (14 March 2009), but producer Imogen Lloyd Webber told us negotiations are under way to take Frost and the play home to Manchester for a limited season later this year.
Sian Phillips, who presented the award for Best Actor, was glad for a night off in London from her current touring schedule with Calendar Girls, which transfers to the West End next month. On the behest of producer David Pugh, she also expressed her gratitude for being allowed on stage when “I don’t have to take my clothes off”.
Thank goodness La Clique was successful in the Best Entertainment category. We hear the company brought along four burly bouncers from the London Hippodrome. The plan apparently, if they didn’t win, was to send the four on stage to forcefully recommend a change of mind. In the event, no roughing up was necessary. Afterwards, Grosvenor House’s Red Bar, where many guests linger for post-awards revelry, was less crowded than usual as La Clique was hosting what was, by all accounts, an extremely raucous after-party back at their home base.
There must have been several last-minute changes to the line-up of presenters. James Earl Jones, who in the press pack was down to announce Best Actress, was nowhere to be seen. His duties were assumed by Russell Tovey instead. Amongst presenters not pre-announced were Brian May and Anita Dobson, who announced Best New Musical – the husband and wife said they agreed to take part as they’d never presented together before and, with their hectic schedules, it also afforded them a rare opportunity to spend an evening together.
Another surprise presenter was Alfre Woodard, the American screen actress whose credits include Desperate Housewives. “You can Google me,” Woodard advised the audience, who seemed uncertain who she was or how she was connected with London theatre. (Is she planning to make her West End debut? If so, no mention was made of it.) She increased the bafflement by declaring herself to be an FOB (ie a Friend of Barack, the “brother in the White House”) and then laying claim to several other FO acronyms which were never explained. The person who could decipher them would be able to go home with James Nesbitt, she promised. Sadly, we were never enlightened.
With Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper both presenting awards, and James Corden on hand to support his girlfriend Sheridan Smith, who was also presenting, many noticed that we had a proper History Boys reunion in the making. Now, if only we could get that lot together onstage together too! By the way, we quite liked Tovey’s pronouncement that the Best Actress contenders were being recognised not just for their acting skills but also for their “complete fabulousness”.
Several presenters were thrown by an apparent technical hitch which resulted in a long pause between them announcing “and the nominees are” and the recorded message that listed those nominees in tandem with a video display of production shots. Most annoyed seemed to be host James Nesbitt. After the first few categories, he told the audience, “You’re probably wondering why there’s a delay between the announcement and the voice of god (fyi for those who may not have recognised the voiceover, it was David Suchet). And to be honest, so am fucking I!” Unfortunately, the problem persisted to the end.
David Hare hasn’t attended the Olivier Awards in 15 years, but he made an exception last night on the personal request of Harold Pinter’s widow, Lady Antonia Fraser, who wanted Hare to deliver a tribute to the late playwright. Hare told Whatsonstage.com he drew the “short straw” for having to cast a pall of gloom over the evening’s celebrations. It may be several more years before Hare agrees to attend another Oliviers. He told us he’s absolutely awarded out after his experience with the film The Reader, for which he wrote the screenplay and had to attend near-nightly awards events in Los Angeles in the run-up to the Oscars last month.
The Young Vic’s current King Lear Pete Postlethwaite, on the other hand, relished his opportunity to present at the Oliviers, doling out the Best Revival gong. He revealed that he’d once written to Jim’ll Fix It “to ask if I could open one of these envelopes. Now I don’t need them, I can do it myself”.
When profiling the recipient of this year’s Special Award for lifetime achievement, Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey gave the audience three clues to the winner’s identity. After his 1939 birth date, the revelation that he wrote most of his plays to be performed in-the-round, and the “third and final clue” – that this person had had 38 plays mounted in the West End or at the National – Spacey scolded, “if you don’t know who it is, you must work in television”. It was, of course, Alan Ayckbourn.
Top points for lack of subtlety go to Spring Awakening’s Aneurin Barnard and Charlotte Wakefield. Though Nesbitt gave their show a plug when introducing them, they managed to mention Spring Awakening, in reference to presenting the award for sound design no less, at least half a dozen times. And, in case anyone was left in any doubt, Barnard reminded the audience that Spring Awakening is opening at the Novello Theatre on 21 March. Got that?
There were awful flashbacks to Kate Winslet’s Golden Globes embarrassment when book writer Marshall Brickman was doling out thank-yous after Jersey Boys won Best New Musical. He meant to thank all four of our “lovely London Jersey Boys” but struggled to remember the names of the four West End principals. “Ryan and Stephen … um, Philip … and Scott?” he suggested hesitantly before someone at the Jersey Boys table corrected him by yelling out the name Glenn. Fans of the show will know the West End’s fab four are: Ryan Molloy, Stephen Ashfield, Philip Bulcock and Glenn Carter.
A few Olivier attendees were double-booked as Elaine Paige also chose tonight to hold her concert celebrating her 40 years in showbusiness at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Didn’t Paige’s people consult the diary before booking the engagement? Whatever the reasoning, it was a very unfortunate clash. “It’s like holding a premiere for your new film in Los Angeles on the night of the Oscars,” one guest lamented, before abandoning his attempt to swap the Oliviers’ after-party for Paige’s.
Answers on a postcard to Patrick Stewart please. When presenting the award for Best New Comedy, the actor cited the familiar quotation “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”, but said he’d never been able to find a definitive attribution. Any ideas who actually coined the phrase? Trivia hounds may also be able to tell us how many times a person has been both a presenter and a winner at the Olivier Awards. We can’t remember the last time that happened. In any case, though there were only three other announcements between Best New Comedy and Best Supporting Performance in a Role, Stewart seemed unruffled when he retook the stage to collect the latter award for his Claudius in Hamlet. What a pro.
The general consensus on James Nesbitt’s debut as Oliviers host was that the boy done good. Amongst the unshaven actor’s other asides that raised generous laughter were those when he proved that he was happy to poke fun at himself as well as others: “In solidarity with a fellow Ulsterman, sadly overlooked for his work on Ivanov, I am wearing Kenneth Branagh’s beard” … The Old Vic’s current revival of Dancing at Lughnasa features “an all-star Irish cast – with one notable absentee” … And our favourite, towards the end of the evening, “If I could act as well as (award presenter) David Morrissey, I wouldn’t be up here putting myself through this shit”, to which Morrissey responded while exiting, “too late!”
ALL AWARDS COVERAGE IS AVAILABLE VIA OUR NEW, DEDICATED
LAURENCE OLIVIERS’ PAGE – CLICK HERE NOW!