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Matt Trueman: Oliviers reveal the start-outs behind the superstars

All of last night's celebrated winners had to start somewhere

The boys done good: Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis from The Play That Goes Wrong
© Dan Wooller

Everybody's got to start somewhere, even Olivier Award winners. If there was anything to take away from last night's glitzy ceremony, it was that. Winner after winner had a story to tell - and it made for a remarkably feelgood evening.

Mischief Theatre set the tone early on with their best new comedy win. In 2012, this group of twenty-something LAMDA grads self-produced a short run of a self-penned spoof called The Play That Goes Wrong in small room above a pub. The set was little more than a painted flat and a natty chaise-longue. It was directed by one of their tutors.

Fast-forward three years and they're onstage at the Royal Opera House, clutching themselves a little Larry and looking, for all the world, like their dreams had come true. (Remember their tears at the WhatsOnStage Awards? Imagine what holding an Olivier must feel like...)

You want that in an acceptance speech. The best give a glimpse of the child beneath the surface or the start-out behind the superstar. Those well-rehearsed in accepting awards do so with professionalism and good grace. Far better when someone is just about holding their shit together, a bit overwhelmed and little gawky as a result. Someone who's clearly imagined all this as a kid, but never dared to dream that one day they'd actually be stood here, holding this.

Beautiful moment: Lorna Want and Katie Brayben celebrate their wins
© Dan Wooller

It's why there's a lick of nostalgia around on these occasions. La Soiree, this year's best entertainment, spoke of coming from the "spit and sawdust" of the Edinburgh Fringe. Ray Davies and Joe Penhall told how Sunny Afternoon began in a tiny Islington rehearsal room with a couple of cowbells for company. Angela Lansbury remembered her stage debut - although not the play's title - alongside Peggy Ashcroft. Sylvie Guillem accepted her special award with a note of thanks to the great Rudolph Nureyev, her first major champion at the Paris Opera Ballet. For some, the award itself seems like a big break: Beautiful's Katie Brayben and Lorna Want looked gobsmacked; John Dagleish was bashful and George Maguire, giddy and gangling - impossible not to delight in their wins.

'Without the nudgers, there would be no winners'

The thing is, success almost always involves someone else's backing. Ivo Van Hove thanked David Lan for pushing him towards A View From the Bridge. Mike Bartlett, having thanked the Royal Family for not hauling him in for treason over King Charles III, acknowledged Rupert Goold's shove to put this inkling of an idea into practice. A few years on - ta-da - best revival and best new play. Everything needs a bit of a nudge and without the nudgers, there would be no winners.

That's what producers do - and, really, that's what the Olivier Awards exist to celebrate. It was Kenny Wax who scooped up The Play That Goes Wrong and souped it up for the West End. Sonia Friedman backed Sunny Afternoon, long before the Hampstead did. Playful Productions secured the rights to Wolf Hall and approached the RSC. Supporting Wall, too - an emerging producing outfit - were behind Mike Bartlett's Bull, even at an affiliate level.

It goes to show quite how tight - and intricate - the ties between the commercial and subsidised sectors have become. In recent years, it's been subsidised successes, self-produced. Here, the big hits have come from collaboration; commercially-minded projects taken to the subsidised sector, with both sides benefiting.

For more on the 2015 Olivier Awards, click here

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