Olivier Awards 2023

Hire a host; tell a few jokes; sing the songs; give out the awards. We can and will quibble over the actual awards, but it’s hard to argue with a show that pretty much did the thing it was supposed to.

The 2023 Olivier Awards left me generally elated. Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Prima Facie, My Neighbour Totoro and A Streetcar Named Desire all got the gongs they deserved.

But organisers need to slice proceedings – feed everyone – get back to basics, broadcast it live and start it earlier in the day.

For, it’s no exaggeration to say, the live ceremony was simply too clunking at over three and a half hours.

Neat host Hannah Waddingham wore a stunning array of outfits (four in total) and opened this year’s ceremony with the awards’ first ever original musical number, written by Pippa Cleary, who wrote The Great British Bake Off Musical.

It all added up to an event to remember and that would’ve been way beyond the ability of any other living British musical theatre star.

Ted Lasso star Waddingham started her acting career in musical theatre, and it showed.

“I hope I’ve earned my supper,” said Waddingham. She did that in spades.

So in the spirit of the night’s big — and big-hearted — winners, let’s get on with the highlights.

It was great to see Paul Mescal win best actor for his brutal, mesmerising performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Streetcar director Rebecca Frecknall, collecting Best Revival, paid tribute to the show’s creator: “I just have to thank Tennessee Williams, really. He gave us magic instead of realism, and that’s what we needed.”

As for Jodie Comer winning best actress in Prima Facie – my personal preference would have been for Patsy Ferran’s complex turn in A Streetcar Named Desire. But Comer gave a spirited, theatrical and highly watchable performance and she radiates star quality. The courtroom drama opens on Broadway next week.

In total the Almeida landed six awards. Will Keen bagged best supporting actor for his role in Patriots, and Tammy Faye snatched two awards: Katie Brayben for best actress in a musical and Zubin Varla for best supporting actor in a musical.

The biggest winner of the night, however,  was the RSC’S enchanting My Neighbour Totoro, an adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s 1989 anime film. Best Director was awarded to Phelim McDermott.

My Neighbour Totoro also went on to take the much sought after Best Entertainment or Comedy award. The magical show returns to the Barbican later this year.

Across the decades Standing at the Sky’s Edge, set on a Sheffield council estate and based on the music of Richard Hawley, won Mastercard Best New Musical.

The brilliant show, that I first saw at Crucible Theatre in 2019, recently finished a sell-out run at the National Theatre, also led to Hawley and Tom Deering taking home the award for best original score or new orchestrations.

Thrillingly, Standing At The Sky’s Edge will transfer to the Gillian Lynne Theatre, in London’s West End, from February 2024. It is a wonderful show.

And yes, Magic FM had to apologise for the rock star’s bad language. Hawley, ignoring his designated 40 second acceptance slot, eventually proclaimed: ‘Sheffield, we love you! Will you marry us?

Rock ’n’ roll, people. Rock. And. Roll.

Elsewhere, Sir Derek Jacobi was given the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to theatre. Jacobi told The Guardian that instead of risking becoming “elitist” through high ticket prices, theatre should be easily accessible and “part of our blood and bones”.

Jacobi added, the industry was in danger of being left up a certain “creek without a paddle”, and he had been shocked to see prices of £150 or more for a seat in the stalls in London’s West End. Me too.

That being said, winners Arthur Darvill, Chris Bush and Beverley Knight called out the government for not prioritising youth theatre and for failing to see its value in shaping cultural careers.

Knight, who performed twice, won best supporting actress in a musical for her performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia at the Old Vic.

Theatre, she said, has often been seen as the preserve “of the middle classes and upwards, dominated by people who are mainly white – and who are older because they’re the ones who can afford it”

The government must not think of theatre as “something frivolous”, she said: “You don’t know what the arts does for kids.”

Her comment is one that should be addressed urgently by educationists, arts bodies and politicians alike.

Until next year…