WhatsOnStage Logo

Michael Coveney: Olivier Chit Chat & Memories of War

WhatsOnStage logo
I was unable to get to the Olivier Awards last night but managed to catch some of the Radio 2 coverage over dinner at home. The awards themselves were all done and dusted by 9pm but Radio 2 still had half an hour to fill, so they filled it with two London-based New Yorkers, Paul Gambaccini and Matt Wolf, lauding their fellow countrymen Stephen Sondheim and Bruce Norris. Were we meant to feel we were at the Tonys instead?

Sondheim called by their Drury Lane studio together with Cameron Mackintosh, but the evening had peaked with Angela Lansbury's sensational performance of "Liaisons" from A Little Night Music and dribbled away in some chatty wittering about long-running West End shows, ticket prices and the phenomena of Billy Elliot and Wicked. At least Matt Wolf knew what he was wittering about.   

Lansbury, whom Sondheim wasn't expecting to see as he collected his award for his contribution to London theatre, is rumoured to be in town to join the cast of Philip Prowse's production of Pygmalion, with her old friend Rupert Everett (they bonded during a Broadway production of Blithe Sprit directed by Michael Blakemore last year), opening soon at the Garrick Theatre.

This really was Sondheim's night. Even so, I am faintly shocked at the lack of acknowledgement for Love Never Dies, whose score will be celebrated long after Legally Blonde has disapperead in a cloud of pink fluffiness.

And I certainly would have backed Sierra Boggess as Best Actress in a Musical. I love Sheridan Smith as much as anyone. But I think her current performance in Flare Path is infinitely more brilliant than her energetic star turn in Legally Blonde.

Sondheim made great play of the welcome he's always enjoyed from the West End theatre community, singling out Sam Mendes (who re-opened the Donmar Warehouse with Assassins), Declan Donnellan (whose National revival of Sweeney Todd really put that show on the map after a bumpy West End premiere with Sheila Hancock and the late Denis Quilley) and Mackintosh, whom he described as the best producer he had ever worked with.

For his part, Sir Cameron said that the 1976 revue put together by Ned Sherrin and Julia McKenzie, Side By Side By Sondheim, introduced London to Sondheim. But it had more importance, really, in making Cameron's name as a producer; until then he had been busy, but not remarkably successful or even vaguely respectable.

It was Company that fully alerted London to Sondheim in 1970, when it ran for a year at Her Majesty's (I saw it three times), and Adrian Lester, who played Bobby in Sam Mendes's so-so revival, sang "Being Alive" last night with a passion so fervent it bordered on the alarming and threatened his musical pitch and phrasing.

Everett also dropped by Gambaccini's clubby cubby hole with Sheridan Smith and Jill Halfpenny and made some typically dodgy Everett "on air" remarks about Sheridan faking an orgasm in a film they made together recently; thank God the topic was drowned out in an almost audible blush of embarrassment and some pretty desperate giggling.

Rupert hadn't seen the current revival of Blithe Spirit and didn't really sound as though he had any plans to. It's quite extraordinary that the two plays that cheered Londoners up during the war years, Coward's Blithe Spirit and Rattigan's Flare Path, should be playing concurrently in the West End.

Both offered comfort and entertainment to ordinary people whose loved ones were away fighting, making light of death in the Coward and suggesting that all may not be lost when a man is presumed missing in the Rattigan.

It was clear at a packed Saturday matinee at the Haymarket that the Rattigan still speaks loud and clear to the generation who fought and survived the war, as well as to the generation that remmebers them doing so. But will it appeal to younger people? I suspect it will, if only because Trevor Nunn's production is so exceptionally well tuned to its forgotten era and so adept at bringing it to life in a performance that never feels stale or stilted.

Meanwhile, if the Radio 2 coverage is anything to go by, it's back to the drawing board (yet again) for the Oliviers. The show was a shambles and cried out for some producing expertise and a much more fully worked out interaction between the live show in the theatre and the adjacent studio.



Tagged in this Story