If you hadn’t previously heard of the Olivier Awards, you are forgiven, I only discovered this industry-centric awards show last year, upon Harry Potter and The Cursed Child’s record breaking sweep. The Olivier Awards somehow never reach mainstream British public attention in the same way that the BAFTA’s or the Brits do, and this is perhaps due to their restriction of West End only nominees. To some, I can imagine this would come across as snobby and bizarre, especially since the standard of British regional theatre is phenomenal. However, after moving on from this issue, The Oliviers really are a pure delight to watch, even if just as a showcase of theatre masterpieces, regardless of the actual awards.
This year’s ceremony was hosted by all-round funny-woman Catherine Tate. I find the Oliviers choices of host interesting. It is usually a comedic personality, not primarily known for their work in theatre, like Tate, and last year’s choice Jason Manford. Nonetheless, Tate brought charisma and her unique cutting humour to what could be a dry ceremony, and held the proceedings together perfectly.
One musical held a record-breaking amount of nominations across the board this year, and that was unsurprisingly, Hamilton. Hamilton tells the story of American independence, through the lens of the life of Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The musical has been praised for its treatment of themes such as immigration, race, nationality and colonialism. But it mostly stands out among other nominees for its non-traditional approach to the modern musical, by using rap and hip-hop as its main styles. The ceremony began with a performance of Hamilton’s opening number, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ starring the entire original West End ensemble, and this set the tone that the whole night was to be dominated by this showstopper. By the end of the night, Hamilton had picked up seven awards, sweeping most of the technical awards like best choreography, music and lighting design. In the acting side, it also won best supporting actor for Michael Jibson, as King George III, despite only being on stage for a total of eight minutes throughout the musical. It also picked up the coveted award for best actor, with Giles Terrera beating Jamael Westman who plays Hamilton, for playing Hamilton’s rival Aaron Burr.
Other competitors to Hamilton in this categories included Girl From The North Country, a musical set to the music of Bob Dylan. This picked up wins in Best Actress for television and film actress Shirley Henderson, who announced that this role was her first time on stage for 17 years. It also picked up supporting actress for Sheila Atim, who also beautifully performed during the ceremony.
Perhaps the most upbeat performance of the night was that of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the musical created by The Feeling lead singer, Dan Gillespie-Sells. It stars Best Actor nominated John McCrae as Jamie New, a character based on Jamie Campbell, a 16-year-old who caused controversy by going to their high school prom in a dress. This is the musical that most caught my eye throughout the night, and has recently had great success, with its West End residency being extended to October.
West End plays are often given less press than musicals, by the industry and the Olivier Award coverage, but this year has seen some groundbreaking offerings hit London. Breaking Bad lead Bryan Cranston deservedly won Best Actor for his role in Network, an adaptation of the 1976 Oscar-winning film. Marianne Elliot’s beautiful National Theatre revival of Angels in America about American AIDS sufferers gained many nominations including Andrew Garfield for best actor, and a win for Denise Gough for Supporting Actress. But it was acclaimed playwright, Jez Butterworth’s and Bond director Sam Mendes’ The Ferryman that swept the nominations and awards on the play side.