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‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ won a record nine Olivier Awards last night

By
Andrzej Lukowski
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It was the Olivier Awards last night, the British theatre industry’s big annual bash, and in line with our predictions, JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ won big. Here are some thoughts on its success, and more.

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ won an awful lot of awards

Nine out of its 11 nominations, to be precise, making it the biggest ever Olivier-winner (‘Matilda’ and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ are now joint second on seven). Early on it seriously looked like it would win all 11 because the nine awards it won were the first nine it was nominated for – at one point in the awards ceremony it had won six consecutive awards. Choreographer Matthew Bourne jokily apologised when his ‘The Red Shoes’ finally ended ‘Cursed Child’s winning streak by taking best choreography.

Did it win too many awards?

Maaaaybe. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is an extraordinary achievement, a once-in-a-lifetime show. But the fact of the matter is that it shut out a lot of other shows. Potter didn’t necessarily deserve to lose any of the categories it won for, but neither was it the clear favourite in many of the non-technical categories. ‘The Flick’ could have credibly won Best New Play, Kate O’Flynn Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Ian McKellen Best Actor – but everything was swept aside. You got the vague sense that the voting panel were so bedazzled by the West End’s gargantuan hit that they were simply waving it through in every category (though it did end up losing its final two). There is a wider problem about what else was or wasn’t nominated: there was no obvious big challenger overall, and a lot of the best stuff from subsidised theatre simply didn’t make the shortlists – where was Lucian Msamati for ‘Amadeus’ or Leo Butler for ‘Boy’?

The big loser was…

Probably ‘Cursed Child’ director John Tiffany’s other show, ‘The Glass Menagerie’, which was flattened by Potter across the board, despite a stunning set and terrific performances (though it’s hard to imagine Tiffany being too fussed since he beat himself to the best director gong). Superficially, Tim Minchin’s musical ‘Groundhog Day’ underperformed with only two wins out of seven nominations, but again, many of those nominations were technical awards in which Potter triumphed. Taking home Best New Musical and Best Actor in a Musical (Andy Karl) will definitely provide a boost as it opens on Broadway this week (Minchin has promised it will return to London next year).

‘Yerma’ was the only bright spot for subsidised theatre

For a place that puts on some pretty weird shows, the Young Vic consistently performs well at the Oliviers. And this time its ‘Yerma’ took home Best Revival and Best Actress (Billie Piper) – the only theatre show not in a West End theatre to win an award (the National Theatre’s solitary win was Best New Comedy for ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’, which is heading to the West End). It’s hardly a surprise, as barely any shows from subsidised theatres were even nominated this year. To some extent, the gargantuan success of Potter papered over poor recognition from this year’s Oliviers for drama and new writing. 

It was a reasonably diverse group of winners

With triumphs for Noma Dumezweni (Best Actress in a Supporting Role), Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), it was certainly no whitewash. Still, wins for actors do make you reflect on how little BME creative talent there is on the shortlists; though realistically that’s more an issue with the industry than the Oliviers.

Next year will probably be more interesting

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ will be the big story of next year’s Oliviers, but it will struggle to match Potter’s nine gongs because it’s less assured of technical wins and its cast will probably be up against each other for the big performer awards. It’s also a musical, so it will compete in different categories to the ones Potter won in. The play awards should be more interesting as there are already far more transfers from subsidised theatres bolted on than last year: ‘The Ferryman’ from the Royal Court, ‘Hamlet’ from the Almeida (those two produced by Sonia Friedman which certainly seems to help), ‘Oslo’ from the National, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ from the Young Vic. And it seems unlikely the NT’s blockbuster ‘Angels in America’ will be overlooked. However, none of this is to take anything away from ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ – a remarkable production that deserved to win big, and did.

FULL LIST OF WINNERS

Best Actress

Billie Piper for ‘Yerma’ at Young Vic

Best New Comedy

‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ at National Theatre, Dorfman

Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre

‘Rotterdam’ at Trafalgar Studios 2

White Light Award for Best Lighting Design

Neil Austin for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best Sound Design

Gareth Fry for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best Costume Design

Katrina Lindsay for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Blue-i Theatre Technology Award for Best Set Design

Christine Jones for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Anthony Boyle for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Noma Dumezweni for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best New Opera Production

‘Akhnaten’ at London Coliseum

Outstanding Achievement in Opera

Mark Wigglesworth for his conducting of ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘Lulu’ at London Coliseum

Best Revival

‘Yerma’ at Young Vic

Best Actor

Jamie Parker for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Virgin Atlantic Best New Play

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best Director

John Tiffany for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at Palace Theatre

Best New Dance Production

‘Betroffenheit’ by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young at Sadler’s Wells

Outstanding Achievement in Dance

English National Ballet for expanding the variety of their repertoire with Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ and ‘She Said’ at Sadler’s Wells

Best Theatre Choreographer

Matthew Bourne for ‘The Red Shoes’ at Sadler’s Wells

Outstanding Achievement in Music

‘School of Rock The Musical’ – Three children’s bands who play instruments live every night at New London Theatre

Best Entertainment and Family

Matthew Bourne’s production of ‘The Red Shoes’ at Sadler’s Wells

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Adam J Bernard for ‘Dreamgirls’ at Savoy Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical

Rebecca Trehearn for ‘Show Boat’ at New London Theatre

Magic Radio Best Musical Revival

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Best Actor in a Musical

Andy Karl for ‘Groundhog Day’ at The Old Vic

Best Actress in a Musical

Amber Riley for ‘Dreamgirls’ at Savoy Theatre

Mastercard Best New Musical

‘Groundhog Day’ at The Old Vic

Special Award Winner

Kenneth Branagh

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