Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which premiered at a 65-seat south London pub theatre, has pulled off a huge shock at this year’s Olivier Awards, beating both Jerusalem and Enron to the Best New Play Award.
The victory, which marks the biggest upset of recent years at the Oliviers, is even more remarkable because the play was only eligible for the prize thanks to its transfer from Theatre503 to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios 1, where it ran for nine weeks. It was 28-year old Hall’s second play and marks the first time a black female playwright has ever won an Olivier.
Nica Burns, president of the Society of London Theatre, which presents the awards, told The Stage that the win was like “a little bit of fairy dust”.
She said: “Isn’t it a great fairy story. A young, black playwright – only 28 years old – and a young British director finds her in America and premieres the play at Theatre 503, they get great reviews and a British commercial producer – Sonia Friedman – takes it into the West End, it wins a major award and now it’s going to Broadway.
“I have a suspicion that with the award, it may come back. I think what it great is that with the award it can make a real difference for this show. I love the fact that the London theatre is so risk-taking and so healthy that we can discover a playwright who, in a sense, isn’t ours…It’s a little bit of fairy dust and that’s what theatre is about.”
Meanwhile, in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, the favourites walked away with the prizes. Mark Rylance was recognised for his performance in Jerusalem, marking his second Olivier Award, while Rachel Weisz won for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Rupert Goold, meanwhile, also picked up his second Olivier – as Best Director for Enron – as did Samantha Spiro, who won Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Hello, Dolly! Elsewhere, Spring Awakening won Best Musical and its star Aneurin Barnard also picked up the award for Best Actor in a Musical.
The all-black staging of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the prize for Best Revival. It also marked the first time that a black producer – Stephen Byrd – had won the award.
“It’s the year of the black Americans,” added Burns. “All I can say is what great role models for British youth. And they are both first-timers in the West End. Stephen Byrd has not produced here before and Katori Hall has not been produced here before. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was also the first time we’ve ever had an all-black revival of a classic – it’s the first time any classic has been done in that way [in the West End].”
Across the venues, the Royal Court was the most successful picking up five awards, while the Donmar won three out of four acting awards in the play categories. The Royal Opera House also fared well, with a hatrick of awards in the opera and dance categories. The most successful commercial production was Spring Awakening, which picked up four awards.
The awards in full are:
Best Actress – Rachel Weisz for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar
Best Actor – Mark Rylance for Jerusalem at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court and now at the Apollo
Best Actress In A Supporting Role – Ruth Wilson for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar
Best Actor In A Supporting Role – Eddie Redmayne for Red at the Donmar
Best New Play -The Mountaintop by Katori Hall at Trafalgar Studios 1
Best New Comedy – The Priory by Michael Wynne at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court
Best Musical Revival – Hello, Dolly! book by Michael Stewart, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on the play ‘The Matchmaker’ by Thornton Wilder at the Open Air
Best New Musical – Spring Awakening music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater, based on the play by Frank Wedekind at the Novello
Best Entertainment – Morecambe by Tim Whitnall at the Duchess
Best Actress In A Musical Or Entertainment – Samantha Spiro for Hello Dolly! at the Open Air
Best Actor In A Musical Or Entertainment – Aneurin Barnard for Spring Awakening at the Novello
Best Supporting Performance In A Musical Or Entertainment – Iwan Rheon for Spring Awakening at the Novello
Best Director – Rupert Goold for Enron at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court and now at the Noel Coward
Best Revival – Cat On A Hot Tin Roof directed by Debbie Allen at the Novello
Best Theatre Choreographer – Stephen Mear for Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air
Best Lighting Design – Burnt By The Sun designed by Mark Henderson at the Lyttelton
Best Set Design – Jerusalem designed by Ultz at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court and now at the Apollo
Best Costume Design – Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert- The Musical designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner at the Palace
Best Sound Design – Spring Awakening designed by Brian Ronan at the Novello
The Audience Award For Most Popular Show – Wicked music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by Winnie Holzman at the Apollo Victoria
Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre – The Royal Court for Cock at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
Best New Opera Production – The Royal Opera’s Tristan Und Isolde at the Royal Opera House
Outstanding Achievement In Opera – Nina Stemme for her performance in the Royal Opera’s Tristan Und Isolde at the Royal Opera House
Best New Dance Production – Goldberg: The Brandstrup Rojo Project, ROH2 at the Royal Opera House
Outstanding Achievement In Dance – Rambert Dance Company for an outstanding year of new work
Outstanding Achievement Award – Michael Codron
SOLT Special Award – Dame Maggie Smith