Five things we learned at the 2024 Olivier Awards

Last night was the Olivier Awards, aka the London theatre equivalent of the Baftas, or the Oscars, or whatever your major awards ceremony of choice might be.

Running at well over three hours and with huge numbers of categories, you can find a full breakdown of everything that happened elsewhere. But for you dear, attention-raddled, Time Out reader here are our main takeaways from the night.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ was the big winner, and quite right too

Jamie Lloyd’s swaggering, audacious resurrection of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s flawed ’90s musical was the night’s big winner with seven gongs. Good: it deserved it. Not only that, but Tom Francis stole the show with his performance of the title track, which he started singing to a camera way outside the Royal Albert Hall, before ending up on stage for the final bars. Broadway is lucky to be getting it this autumn, but the scale of its impact at the Oliviers did somewhat beg the question as to why ‘Sunset Boulevard’ only had a limited run – whether or not Francis and co-star Nicole Scherzinger can return with it, it has to come back.

‘Operation Mincemeat’s Best New Musical award is the perfect end to the SplitLip fairytale

SplitLip’s quirky indie musical about an improbable wartime MI5 operation has been slowly working its way up through bigger and bigger venues since it debuted a little before the pandemic, finally becoming eligible for the Oliviers after making its West End debut last year. The fact ‘Operation Mincemeat’ clashed with ‘Sunset Boulevard” in so many categories meant it was never going to sweep the board, but taking best new musical – plus netting a well-deserved best supporting actor in a musical for Jak Malone’s moving turn as MI5 lifer Hester Leggett – feels like the perfect happy ending.

‘Guys and Dolls’ deserved better

Nicholas Hytner’s extraordinary immersive revival of the classic musical felt like a nailed-on Olivers champ when it opened over a year ago. Perhaps therein lay the problem – although it’s still running at the Bridge, most Oliviers voters probably actually saw it before last year’s awards and their memories of Sunset Boulevard were doubtless fresher when they finally came to vote. It’s hard to begrudge any of the actual winners, but it’s hard to shake the feeling ‘Guys and Dolls’ underperformed.

Nothing controversial happened although the National Theatre celebration was a bit odd

The ceremony was punctual and conspicuously free of any real controversy, with the speeches unanimously politics-free. There weren’t even any truly major upsets apart from possibly Andrew Scott losing out to Mark Gatiss in the best actor category. The only really odd moment was the concluding tribute to the National Theatre. The slot is normally reserved for an individual theatre legend, and one wonders if this was all thrown together quickly in the absence of a viable legend. Whatever the case, this year’s spectacle – which kind of mashed up ‘Dear England’, ‘War Horse’ and a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from ‘Carousel‘ – felt like quite an arbitrary way to tackle six decades of NT history, and the bit where Rufus Norris passed the captain’s armband to his successor Indhu Rubasingham was pretty cringe. 

The Oliviers still lets itself down with sentimental decisions

The Oliviers are voted for by members of SOLT (the Society of London Theatre), and there’s no requirement for them to have seen the shows they’re voting for, which sometimes feels reflected in the results. There were a few offenders but the worst was giving the late Haydn Gwynne a best supporting actress gong for her solid but minor turn in the Donmar’s otherwise unnominated ‘When Winston Went To War with the Wireless’. Sorry to be so blunt – and she was a wonderful actor – but there is no way she’d have been nominated for this particular role, let alone won, if she hadn’t passed away. Frankly, it’s doubtful many of the voters even saw the show. These things matter because while nobody can begrudge Gwynne the triumph, her doing so shuts out every other nominee in the category, and makes the awards themselves look a tad amateurish.

You can watch the edited highlights of the Oliviers on ITVX.

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