Diversity – or lack thereof – has never flared into a major issue at the Olivier Awards. This is perhaps surprising: in 2015, the year of #OscarsSoWhite, there was only a single non-white winner at the Oliviers (Sergio Trujillo, choreographer for Memphis).
Subsequent years have generally been a bit more diverse, but you’ll need to go back to 2010 to find the best new play award going to a non-white author, and er, never for a best director. You need to look back to 2014 to find a woman winning best director or to be the author of the best new play (Lyndsey Turner and Lucy Kirkwood, for Chimerica).
For whatever reason this has never really caused a fuss, but after the intense scrutiny this year’s BAFTAs, Oscars and Césars faced, will the Oliviers follow suit?
In general terms, there is nothing particularly controversial about the nominations for a year in which no one show has dominated, even if eight nods for Trevor Nunn’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof feel a bit surprising – that’s one more than Dear Evan Hansen, and six more than the underperforming Waitress. The main acting awards are considerably more diverse than they were five years ago.
But let’s look at those prestige creative categories, new play and director. In both groups there is only a single female nomination – Lucy Prebble’s A Very Expensive Poison for best new play, and Miranda Cromwell and Marianne Elliott’s co-directed Death of a Salesman for best director, and everyone who has been nominated, apart from Cromwell, is white.
Is this fair enough, and simply a fair representation of the eligible work? Well, yes and no. Yes, it does seem faintly remarkable that the venerable Nunn has his millionth best director nomination at the expense of Katy Rudd, whose magical direction of the new play-nominated The Ocean at the End of the Lane was surely the key to its success.
I suspect the Oliviers will carry on exactly as they are unless there’s an outcry, and I would guess the 2020 nominations have done enough to avoid that
And there’s something a bit fishy about the way the ever bizarre ‘best entertainment or comedy play’ category has hoovered up Fleabag and Emilia, plays by women that – if the seven-year-old Fleabag counts – seem like reasonable contenders for the big categories.
But no, insofar as seasoned Oliviers observers will be aware that these days the awards are relentlessly focused on shows that have had a West End run, and last year very little by women or non-white people did. So what needs to change? Should it be the Oliviers, making an effort to recognise the creatives in the more diverse subsidised sector? Or should it be the producers, whose work is assessed, producing different work?
Ultimately, I suspect the Oliviers will carry on exactly as they are unless there’s an outcry, and I would guess the 2020 nominations have done enough to avoid that. Still, I do wonder if pressure will start to grow: the gender and ethnic make-up of prestige entertainment industry awards ceremonies clearly is an increasing public concern – and I’m not sure the Oliviers quite has its house in order.
Andrzej Lukowski is theatre editor at Time Out London