Attending the Olivier Awards last Sunday means I have ticked off two bucket list items in the space of four months and I’m left trying not to overthink the whole mortality thing.
As far as meeting expectations goes, this was a mixed bag. Was it thrilling? Was it a bit boring? Was it interesting. Was it worth it. Yes.
I admit to being a bit excited and once at the Royal Albert Hall, we escaped the crowded bar and took our seats, to be rewarded by live-streamed effusive red carpet witterings, although in this case the red carpet was re-usable green grass.
Suffice to say I was grateful for the free programme and feeling uncharacteristically contrary I started at the back browsing the credits which included one for Head of Hair. That tickled me I don’t mind telling you, but I was yet to understand the irony of it.
Eventually, proceedings kicked off with Julian Bird addressing the audience (for the last time as Society of London Theatre chief executive as he steps down next month after eleven years in the post).
He was followed by the Society’s charismatic president Eleanor Lloyd, who spoke about the impact of the pandemic and the forces for change on the work of SOLT and on the wider industry.
Host Jason Manford was very funny and worked incredibly hard to make the whole thing look effortless, which of course it is not.
It takes many hundreds of people to make the Olivier Awards event happen and it was interesting to watch the mechanics of it and get a glimpse of the complexity of its staging as it isn't just about what goes on in the Royal Albert Hall.
It both does and doesn’t have the glamour portrayed in the televised Awards because, whilst it is super-glittery, no amount of sequins hides its technical workings nor—who knew?—the musical chairs that happens to make sure no seats are empty when the cameras pan over the celebrity audience as people slip away to do their stint as award presenters.
By necessity, the televised version of the Awards is much shorter but one advantage of the judicious editing for TV is cutting out some gushing and repetition. On reflection, it was predictable that everyone would say how good it is 'to be back', thank you mother, and so on but somehow the most heart-felt sentiment, particularly amidst all that effervescence, eventually paled with repetition.
Where the Awards are supremely successful is in selling West End musicals the brand. The entertainment showcases the breadth and brilliance of SOLT-related musical theatre, albeit heavily focussed on shows for which you can still buy tickets.
My highlights were exceptions: the final song from Spring Awakening (nominated for Best Musical Revival) which is now closed, and an excerpt from a play, the multi-nominated, and it turned out multi-winning, Life of Pi.
Both these shows are in my top five and I was genuinely delighted for everyone associated with Pi, and the can-they-do-it-again excitement every time the title came up for an award was palpable, though not unique as the same could be said for Cabaret.
For me, the difference was expectation. The sheer strength of star power was going to ensure that Cabaret went home with armfuls.
Attending the event live generally made me look at the nominations less disinterestedly. Whilst I thought it right that Cinderella was only listed for its one redeeming feature, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, I thought it was a travesty that Robert Lindsay had been nominated for his part in Anything Goes, and entirely correct that Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) walked away with Best Comedy Play.
I guess you can predict and opine as much you like, but in the end, you win some and lose some, and my team did very well.