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Olivier Analysis: Donmar, RSC, Black Watch on Top

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Continuing its success in the Evening Standard (where it won four prizes), Critics’ Circle (another four) and our own Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (five), the Donmar Warehouse has tonight (Sunday 8 March 2009) converted its 13 nominations into four big wins at the 33rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards.

But the Donmar was hardly the only big institutional winner, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland both also scooping four trophies apiece, the latter for a single production, Black Watch. (Overall analysis of the 2009 Olivier results follows. See our other stories for full shortlists, speech highlights, photos and other coverage…)


Donmar vs RSC

Donmar productions swept to victory in three key acting categories. Derek Jacobi beat off competition from Rain Man’s Adam Godley and No Man’s Land’s Michael Gambon and David Bradley to win Best Actor for his performance as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, in the Donmar West End season at Wyndham’s. Margaret Tyzack added a Best Actress Olivier to her Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Best Actress trophies for The Chalk Garden at the Donmar home base, triumphing over her co-star Penelope Wilton as well as August: Osage County star and Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan and That Face’s Lindsay Duncan. And Elena Roger won Best Actress in a Musical for Piaf, which transferred from the Donmar to the Vaudeville Theatre.

The Donmar’s fourth win was Best Lighting Design (Paule Constable) for The Chalk Garden. Controversially, though he directed both The Chalk Garden and Twelfth Night, Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage – who’s already won a hat trick of Best Director prizes at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards for those two productions and his Donmar West End Ivanov - did not even make this year’s shortlists. Nor did his Ivanov star Kenneth Branagh, who won Best Actor at the Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards.

Meanwhile, RSC artistic director Michael Boyd, another notable omission from this year’s Best Director field, had reason to celebrate thanks to three other prizes – Best Revival, Best Costume Design (Tom Piper and Emma Williams) and the new Best Company Performance – for his epic staging of the eight-play cycle of The Histories at the Roundhouse. The RSC’s fourth win went to Patrick Stewart, a previous two-time Olivier winner, who this year scooped Best Performance in a Supporting Role for Hamlet at the Novello Theatre. The production’s star David Tennant was another shortlist absentee; he was ruled ineligible because he only managed 11 performances in London following a back injury.

Black Watch is white hot

The most successful individual production in this year's Oliviers was the National Theatre of Scotland’s London debut of Gregory Burke’s Black Watch at the Barbican, which converted four of its five nominations. It nabbed Best New Play over Polly Stenham’s That Face and the National Theatre offerings of Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters (which won the prize at the Evening Standard Awards) and, care of the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre, Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County (which won at the Critics’ Circle Awards as well as, for its New York run, the Tony Awards).

Black Watch also netted Best Director for John Tiffany and Best Theatre Choreographer for Steven Hoggett – who beat off stiff musical competition in those fields from Jersey Boys and La Cage aux Folles - as well as Best Sound Design for Gareth Fry.

Crazy for La Cage

The big musical winner in the 2009 Olivier Awards was La Cage aux Folles, which started life at the 150-seat Menier Chocolate Factory before transferring to the West End’s Playhouse last October. In addition to beating Piaf and the 50th anniversary production of West Side Story to Best Musical Revival, its original drag queen leading man Douglas Hodge was named Best Actor in a Musical (the second year a cross-dressing performance has won the prize - last year it went to Michael Ball in Hairspray), triumphing over his on-stage lover Denis Lawson as well as Jerseys Boys Frankie Valli and Whatsonstage.com Award winner, Ryan Molloy, and Zorro’s Matt Rawle.

The Jersey Boys team could console itself with winning the two-horse Best New Musical race against Zorro, whose Lesli Margherita took the award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for the Gipsy Kings premiere, which closes this month at the Garrick Theatre.

Ackybourn recognised, Pinter remembered

In other categories, Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage won Best New Comedy and adult cabaret La Clique, running at the still-threatened London Hippodrome, was named Best Entertainment.

The Society’s unshortlisted Special Award was presented to Alan Ayckbourn. One of the most prolific playwrights in British history, with more than 70 titles to his name, Ayckbourn has premiered almost all of his plays in Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he has this year stepped down as artistic director after 36 years in the job. Ayckbourn suffered a debilitating stroke in 2006, but returned to work after a six-month recovery period and remains active. He recently ended a West End moratorium on his productions after transferring his Scarborough revival of Woman in Mind, starring Janie Dee, to the Vaudeville Theatre following the autumn success of the Old Vic’s Olivier-nominated in-the-round revival of his trilogy The Norman Conquests, which is now Broadway-bound.

Another playwright-director honoured tonight was Harold Pinter, who passed away on Christmas Eve after a long battle with cancer (See News, 25 Dec 2008). Fellow playwright David Hare presented a special tribute.

- by Terri Paddock



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