“I could have been a contender”: the year’s theatrical achievements the Oliviers overlooked

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Awards, especially the announcement of the nominees, follow a familiar pattern: anticipation and excitement followed by incredulity. It’s a well known fact that, despite being irresistible and so much fun, awards always get it wrong. Having said that, this year’s Olivier nominations got almost everything right: there is little I would object to, at least not with any conviction. Tomorrow’s award ceremony would be unique in that respect, I can route for almost everybody.

But inevitably, with the quality of London theatre, many productions missed out. Following the rule of the Kermodes (no one nominated for an Olivier is eligible), here are my awards for the past theatrical year. With an additional category or two. Because they are my awards and I can do what I like.

Best Actor: Pip Carter is an actor of minimalistic explosiveness, often doing very little and usually stealing every scene he is in. Taking the lead in Nick Dear’s The Dark Earth and The Light Sky, he brought poet Ed Thomas to life in a performance of reticent vivid pulsating desperation. He made it look easy, too easy in fact, hence the absence of award recognition. Runner Up: I had to think long and hard about this one and John Heffernan missed by a whisker: three plays (She Stoops to Conquer, Love and Information and The Physicists), an impressive range and a light touch that brings depth and humanity to all his roles mark him out as an exceptional talent. Edward II at the National next. After that, the sky is the limit.

Lydia Wilson In Tis Pity She's a Whore. Photo Manuel Harlan

Lydia Wilson In Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Photo Manuel Harlan

Best Actress: How is it possible that Lydia Wilson is not a huge star yet? Waif-like but with a physical and emotional stubbornness that belies her looks, her performance in Cheek By Jowl’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore was the eye of the storm in an exceptional production: Part punk, part angel of mercy, part little girl, she made sense of the brutality and tenderness of the play.

Best Supporting Actor: Looking at the Olivier nominations, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time appears frequently and deservedly. But increasingly, when I think back at the production, Paul Ritter’s performance stands in the heart of the play: a father’s love that is exhausted and exhaustive, imperfect, infuriated but stubbornly present, Paul Ritter, in the briefest of touches, brought home what was so special about Christopher.

Tony Bell as Autolycus. Photo Manuel Harlan

Tony Bell as Autolycus. Photo Manuel Harlan

Best Shakespearean performance: Along with the James McAvoys and the Mark Rylances, the best Shakespearean performance came from the predictably excellent Propeller company and Tony Bell as Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale: anarchic, precise, sticking up two fingers, Shakespeare would have approved.

Best new play: a crowded field and an embarrassment of riches, as a result Lucy Prebble’s The Effect missed out. Bold, ambitious, it approaches the big existential questions with intellectual clarity, only to give the most visceral salt-of-the-earth answers. We know very little but we know it with an uncompromising open heart.

Best musical production: I know it’s not eligible as it played only in Sheffield, but with a production like the Crucible’s My Fair Lady it shouldn’t matter. I could cry with joy just thinking of it. I hope it makes it to London so I can see it again.

Best theatre: Back in the summer and autumn 2012, the Cotttesloe stage at the National theatre had an astonishing trio of productions opening almost back to back: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time followed by This House followed by The Effect. Any one of this productions would have been a big achievement. The Cottesloe is no more, as it’s closed for refurbishment and it will open with a different name. It went out justifying its history and in perfect style. We can only hope the Dorfman will match this tradition.

2 responses to ““I could have been a contender”: the year’s theatrical achievements the Oliviers overlooked

    • The quality of productions in London right now is extraordinary. My challenge is not to take them for granted. I take it you go to Sheffield often enough? Because their productions consistently match or better anything you will see in London.

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