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Oliviers 2017: Andrzej Lukowski – How ITV edited out Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Winner of best set design for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Christine Jones (centre) with presenters Charlotte Ritchie and Rose Leslie. Photo: Pamela Raith
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When The Stage asked me if I’d care to write an article comparing ITV’s two-hour Olivier Awards broadcast to the real thing, my first instinct was: don’t make me go back there. I love the Oliviers, but I’d spent something like four hours watching them in real life on Sunday. The prospect of adding another two filled me with genuine dread.

But I’m glad my curiosity got the better of me: the ITV broadcast of the Oliviers was really quite impressive, and very little like the actual ceremony I’d experienced.

The most obvious thing to say is that the new venue made total sense on telly: liberated from the proscenium arch of the Royal Opera House (where the ceremony previously took place), the cameras swoop and dive gracefully throughout the Royal Albert Hall, zooming in and out freely, creating a sense of slickness and intimacy that’s not really there in the vast hall on a given night.

Sound that was occasionally echoey on the night – particularly during the opening musical number, from Gary Barlow’s The Girls – is pin sharp. All the musical numbers are immeasurably enhanced by close-ups. The speeches and the emotions of the speechmakers come across beautifully.

It looks like a proper, no-expense spared awards ceremony, which stands in contrast to the slightly rambling reality of it, and its recent televised history. I can’t quite get my head around why exactly ITV – a channel that occasionally get sneered at by cultural types – is so determined to make a go of the Oliviers, but I’m delighted they are. It frankly feels flattering that a commercial channel can be this arsed about theatre.

It is, of course, judiciously edited – and here is where things get a bit weird if you were there. Sans ad breaks, the broadcast barely tops 90 minutes. Of the categories that were broadcast, I don’t think any of the speeches were meaningfully edited – there is something pretty thrilling about seeing David Lan talking about Federico Garcia Lorca on the small screen, or ITV being good sports about Nathan Lane’s endearing digression about his love of rival broadcaster Channel 4’s Gogglebox. It is nice that it feels unhurried.

This was a compromised representation of the Oliviers, but it was, for the most part, an elegant, respectful compromise

However, a lot of categories were relegated to a montage, notably the technical ones. I think this is pretty standard stuff for these sorts of broadcasts, but because Harry Potter and the Cursed Child basically won all the technical awards, the overall effect is to strangely mute the biggest Oliviers winner of all time. It obviously did well, but with loads of its awards missing and no extract from the show, the sense of its total dominance is simply not there; there is nothing of Potter that makes nearly as lasting an impression as the musical numbers.

It is remarkable that Potter felt so under-represented at a ceremony it dominated, but the bottom line is: what are you going to do? A TV broadcast services individual songs from musicals brilliantly, everything else less so. ITV may well have asked the Cursed Child team to do an extract from the show, but it’s almost inconceivable they’d have said yes, because it would have looked bobbins.

The reason theatre remains in a fairly healthy state in 2017 is that you can’t copy and download it. This was a slightly compromised representation of the Oliviers, but it was, for the most part, an elegant, respectful compromise – I hope they do it again next year, when Hamilton is unleashed upon London. Plus, at the end, I just grabbed a beer from the fridge, rather than sit on an hour-long bus to the after-party – a major step up, and one the organisers of the awards could learn from.

Read more about the Oliviers 2017

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