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Tim Bano: Community, collaboration and Nigel Farage’s worst nightmare made an Oliviers to remember

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith with the award for best actor in a musical for Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Olivier Awards 2019. Photo: Pamela Raith
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There were no upsets at Sunday’s Olivier Awards ceremony. No scandals or catastrophes. No really questionable wins. In fact, it was all rather nice. But let’s not underestimate that, because what it showed was a community of (true, mainly London based) theatremakers of every kind celebrating – their own wins, yes, but other people’s too, and most importantly celebrating the coming together of the theatre community as a whole.

We saw Stephen Daldry insisting his assistant director come up on stage for the best director award, and Sonia Friedman handing her Olivier for best revival over to Summer and Smoke director Rebecca Frecknall, and the love with which Patti LuPone introduced Rosalie Craig, and the message of humanity pulling together in Come from Away.

Sonia Friedman: ‘Summer and Smoke’s Oliviers success proves West End should take more risks on emerging talent’

In addition, the Oliviers this year proved to be a night that rewarded talent far more than fame. Look at the nominees for best actress: you’ve got Gillian Anderson, Eileen Atkins, Sophie Okonedo. That’s a dame, a CBE, an OBE, and an as-yet-unheralded-but-still-very-famous actress. But who won? Patsy Ferran, the astonishing performer who revitalised a forgotten Tennessee Williams play along with Frecknall and her team.

Summer and Smoke star Patsy Ferran: ‘I enjoy being goofy, manly, ugly on stage, it’s liberating’

In the best supporting actor category, Chris Walley beat veterans Malcolm Sinclair and Adrian Lukis for his role in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, despite the fact that he was making his stage debut in the role. It’s extraordinary, and pretty exciting. And yet amid all that juicy new talent they still managed, wonderfully, to squeeze in a win for Patti LuPone. And why not?

Nice to see so many accolades for Come from Away, that little sprig of hope and kindness in all the unending horror of current affairs. Or, as Jason Manford put it: “Nigel Farage’s worst nightmare.”

But as much as I really loved Come from Away (the day after I saw it my browser history contained search terms such as “job prospects for theatre critics in Newfoundland”), I wish Fun Home had taken a little slice of the former’s awards pie.

Where Come from Away grabbed me by the heart, Fun Home hit me in the soul. I think one of my all-time top moments of being in a theatre was watching Fun Home the day of the Pride march in London. That auditorium was charged like nothing you can imagine. So it’s a shame it went away empty-handed. A shame, too, that Nine Night didn’t win anything.

Fun Home review at Young Vic, London – ‘a staggering work of art’

One of the overwhelming feelings of the night was one of community. That came not just from the joint nominations for shows including Six and The Lehman Trilogy, but from the shows themselves – Come from Away celebrates it best, as did English National Opera’s stellar Porgy and Bess – and from the love pouring out of the winners’ acceptance speeches.

But what gave the ceremony this year its full-on positive flavour wasn’t just that talented people won, it was that good people won – and for doing good things. The supreme Sharon D Clarke, for instance, shouting out to “every mother out there doing the best for their child”, a wonderfully messy and teary Kobna Holdbrook-Smith reminding us that “no one does these things alone”, the charming Jonathan Bailey with the moving message that “LGBT people are just as anxious, just as flawed, and just as desperate to fall in love”.

No scandals, then. No disasters or embarrassments. Instead, a night of uplift and positivity, a Royal Albert Hall full of love and joy. And why not? We could all do with a little more of it.

Tim Bano is joint lead critic of The Stage. Read more of his reviews and features at thestage.co.uk/author/tim-bano

Olivier Awards 2019: the winners in full

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