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Olivier Analysis: Spring & Dolly Lead, Play Upset

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Upsets ruled at the 34th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, held tonight (Sunday 21 March 2010) at Grosvenor House, Park Lane. And the biggest and, by far, most unexpected came with this year’s Best New Play winner.

Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, which has hoovered up just about every other accolade in the run-up to tonight, was considered by most a dead cert, despite stiff competition from Lucy Prebble’s Enron, 2009’s other massive hit play, which, like Jerusalem, has also now transferred to the West End via the Royal Court.

Tonight, however, both of those heavy-hitters were bested by The Mountaintop, the two-hander set on the eve of Martin Luther King’s assassination and written by 28-year-old American and Memphis native Katori Hall. The play premiered at the tiny 65-seat Theatre503 in Battersea before transferring for nine weeks to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios last summer.

Musical resurrections

There were also a few eyebrows raised over the big musical awards, which were split between just two productions, both now finished: Spring Awakening and Hello, Dolly!. Despite lasting just five weeks in the West End after its transfer from Lyric Hammersmith last spring, the critically acclaimed Spring Awakening continued to pull in the awards recognition. It received the most nominations of any production in this year’s Oliviers – seven – and managed to convert four of them, not least scooping Best New Musical over competition including screen-to-stage blockbusters Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Sister Act.

Spring also nabbed both Best Actor in a Musical and Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for its two Welsh male leads, Aneurin Barnard and Iwan Rheon, both of whom made their stage debuts with the show. Its fourth award was Best Sound Design for Brian Ronan.

Meanwhile, Hello, Dolly!, which ran at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park last summer, converted three of its four nominations, collecting: Best Musical Revival, Best Actress in a Musical for Samantha Spiro and Best Theatre Choreographer for Stephen Mear.

The only other musical prize for new productions was Best Costume Design for Priscilla while long-runner Wicked, which last month won the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best West End Show, tonight took home the Olivier’s Audience Award for Most Popular Show, also voted for by the public. Other 2010 musicals, Sister Act, A Little Night Music and Oliver! went home empty-handed.

Holding Court

Elsewhere, the Oliviers followed similar patterns of earlier prize-givings. Mark Rylance and Rachel Weisz each picked up their third major award for Best Actor and Best Actress for, respectively, Jerusalem and A Streetcar Named Desire, and Rupert Goold picked up his third Best Director gong this year for Enron (similar to the sweep he effected just two years ago for Macbeth).

Rylance came through in an expanded category of six big-name Best Actor contenders, which also comprised James Earl Jones, Whatsonstage.com Award winner Jude Law, James McAvoy, Ken Stott and Samuel West, while Weisz beat off competition from Gillian Anderson, Lorraine Burroughs, Imelda Staunton and Juliet Stevenson.

Rylance and Goold’s wins were two of five awards in total tonight for the Royal Court from its initial 15 nominations. Jerusalem won a second for Ultz for Best Set Design, and there were also gongs for Best New Comedy (Michael Wynne’s The Priory) and, in the affiliate category, Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre (for Cock by Mike Bartlett). Meanwhile, Enron lighting designer Mark Henderson did receive the Best Lighting Design prize, albeit not for Enron: he beat himself to triumph for Burnt by the Sun at the National instead, marking his fifth Olivier win to date.

The Donmar Warehouse won two more prizes in addition to Weisz’s: a second for A Streetcar Named Desire, Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Wilson (denying Keira Knightley a prize for her stage debut), and Best Supporting Actor in a Play for Eddie Redmayne in the now Broadway-bound Red.

In another category expanded due to the strength of drama contenders in 2009, Debbie Allen’s all-black production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, led by nominee James Earl Jones and Adrian Lester, was named Best Revival over rivals Arcadia, The Misanthrope, A Streetcar Named Desire, A View from the Bridge and Three Days of Rain.

And one one-man show, Tim Whitnall’s Morecambe starring nominee Bob Golding, won Best Entertainment over two other one-man offerings, Derren Brown: Enigma and Arturo Brachetti: Change.

Doubly special

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the body that runs the Oliviers, this year presented two special, non-shortlisted prizes, as opposed to the usual one. The Society’s Special Award was presented to actress Dame Maggie Smith while theatre producer Michael Codron was honoured with an Outstanding Achievement Award to commemorate nearly 60 years in the business.

Finally, the Royal Opera House swept the board in the opera categories and won a further award in dance. The ROH’s Tristan Und Isolde picked up both Best New Opera Production and Outstanding Achievement in Opera for Swedish soprano Nina Stemme’s performance as Isolde.

ROH’s third title was Best New Dance Production for Goldberg: The Brandstrup Rojo Project at ROH2. And the Outstanding Achievement in Dance award was given to the Rambert Dance Company, who produce more new work than any other dance company in the UK, for an outstanding year of work.

LAURENCE OLIVIERS’ MICROSITE – www.whatsonstage.com/oliviers!


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