With all the chaos that is currently disrupting our everyday lives, the cancellation of the Olivier awards is a rather minor incident in these times. Although it means we won’t have to listen to Joanna Lumley’s excruciating “jokes” as we did last year, it is a sad plot twist that we will not be able to join the annual celebration of the arts industry.
Up for numerous awards was The Old Vic’s revival of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. Andrew Scott’s nomination for best actor for his portrayal of Gary Essendine, a character whose response to every situation is nothing short of hyperbolic, is undoubtedly well-deserved. His charisma, combined with impeccable comedic timing, would have made Scott a worthy winner of this category. However, it would be unforgivable to overlook the talent of the supporting actresses in this production, Sophie Thompson and Indira Varma, who were both nominated for their roles. Thompson, the despairing secretary, deserves an award just for being able to keep a straight face amidst Scott’s impishness. Varma, who played Essendine’s estranged wife, brought a delicate tenderness to the play. The character’s gentleness combined with a fiery and sharp-witted humour was played effortlessly.
A moving and unflinchingly relevant production.
Present Laughter, however, is not the only play nominated in best revival that deserves mentioning. The production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter theatre remains one of the best things I have ever seen. What could potentially be a dull and incredibly pretentious play was transformed into a moving and unflinchingly relevant production. It delves not only into the human conditions of regrets and “what ifs?”, but also how in the moments of our deepest despairs, one can be saved by hope. Toby Jones’s portrayal of Uncle Vanya was completely mesmerising. Jones had complete mastery over the audience, with his Vanya displaying humour and wit which was always accompanied with an underlying sense of desolation. He is saved from his despair at the realisation of the pointlessness of his existence by his niece, Sonya, beautifully played by Aimee Lou Wood, best known for her role as Aimee Gibs in Sex Education. Wood brought another dimension to this seemingly straight-forward character – not just a woman who has suffered under the wrath of her father and unrequited love, but one who remains resilient and prevents those around her from deteriorating in their despair. She will not allow herself or Vanya to be defeated by the past, and instead looks optimistically to the future. Wood was cheated in not receiving a nomination for best supporting actress in this play.
It is a great pity that the Donmar’s revival of the relatively unknown and incredibly underrated play Europe by David Greig did not receive any nominations. Although the play is over 25 years old, it was reimagined in this production to the present day. Set in a post-Brexit, dystopian landscape, all public transport has stopped, leaving two immigrants marooned in an insular and right-wing village, leading to disastrous consequences. It seemed to resonate and reflect a society that we know all too well, with divisions between the old and young, tradition and modernity. It was everything that a revival should be: powerful, relevant and incredibly stylish. It remains one of the best endings of a play I have ever seen, with the small stage exploding into flames as the village descends into anarchy. I still get goosebumps when I think about it now.
It never fails to amaze me what films are adapted into musicals.
In terms of musicals, it was unsurprising that Waitress was nominated, with its much-anticipated arrival to the West End from Broadway last year. Sara Bareilles’ score is brilliant, with the ballad “He Used to be Mine” an absolute classic musical showstopper. However, it was also very refreshing to see that Amelie: The Musical had been nominated. It never fails to amaze me what films are adapted into musicals, with Bend it Like Beckham definitely remaining the number one absurd film to musical transition ever. I mean how on earth do you stage a play that is set on a football pitch? Yet, it was pleasing to see that the adaptation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s classic film was met with such raving reviews. It would seem that the story of one young woman’s endeavour to do good deeds and find love is still enjoyed by audiences in these rather difficult and unique times.
With such talent and an interesting variety of nominations, it is such a shame that we will never know the end result. What can be agreed, however, is that these nominations exhibit some of the greatest productions that British theatre has to offer, and there will, unquestionably, be much more to come. Long live the arts!