In case you missed it, here’s Rebel Wilson praising the best director nominees at this year’s BAFTAs: “Sam Mendes, Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon-ho: I look at the exceptional, daring talent nominated in this category and I don’t think I could do what they do. Honestly, I just don’t have the balls.”
By near universal consent, her skewering of the all-male list was the highlight of the laborious – sorry, fabulous – ceremony held solely, it seems, for reasons of grandeur, at the Royal Albert Hall. Even a presenter as skilled and beloved as Graham Norton couldn’t enliven the proceedings. Small wonder, since comedy loves small spaces and that hall is a vast, circular cavern that slaughters laughter because the overwhelming majority of the audience feel disconnected from the stage. Without their audience in one area at which to aim jokes and win laughs, presenters struggle to connect with the crowd of about 5,000 spread out all around, above and behind them.
I know the late Victoria Wood and others have had sellout success there, but they were the sole focus and built a rapport across an interrupted set. Awards presenters move in and out of the limelight, desperately trying to keep things joined-up and moving along. For them, the gig is basically a (well-paid, I hope) nightmare. From the moment it starts, it gradually gets worse for them because the truth is: the longer it goes on, the more losers outweigh winners.
We’re in peak awards season with almost every organisation connected to film recently announcing their year’s best. One week after the BAFTAs came the Oscars, where members of the Academy, to give them their lofty title, voted in 24 categories and conjured up a handful of hugely welcome surprises – especially the multiple wins for South Korean film Parasite.
In terms of scale, things could have been much worse: try the Grammys. Any idea how many categories there are? Eighty-four. And that’s the improved, slimline version following the 2012 cull that took the total down from a mind-numbing 109. My favourite Grammys fact is that from 1986 to 2009 there was best polka album category and in its 24-year history it was won by Jimmy Sturr 18 times – niche, as the song almost said, is the word.
We’ve yet to hear how many categories will be there at this year’s ‘London Theatre Producers’ Awards to Themselves’, otherwise known as the Oliviers. The days of these awards being deliberated upon and awarded by independent judges are long gone. With the exception of some specialist categories, they’re now nominated and chosen by vested interests.
Given that they are the annual industry shop-window paid for by the Society of London Theatre membership, that’s fair enough. But it’s a shame that the rest of the industry, the media and the public don’t realise the fact.
The cut-off point for Olivier eligibility is not until February 18 and there are likely to be about 23 categories, the number of the just-announced WhatsOnStage awards.
Secretly, my favourites are the Clarence Derwent Awards, Equity’s prizes for supporting actors. Just two awards, based solely on merit, chosen by actors’ peers and a couple of critics who trawl through hundreds of performances to highlight less-than-starry, often under-sung talent.
In between are the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards – with just 10 categories. With no list of nominees, there’s no favouritism, no horse-trading, no vested interests, just favourites from across the year of theatregoing selected by the members of the Circle.
This year’s crisp, hour-long ceremony yielded a couple of surprises, the first of which came in the best actor category.
Combining angst, pain and suffering is traditionally the fastest way to fill your awards cabinet, so the fact that Andrew Scott won for his Garry Essendine in Matthew Warchus’ magnificent production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter was particularly welcome. Scott was quite literally brilliant – he positively glowed with high-burning energy – but it remains a rarity that acting awards go to comedy performances.
The other surprise was the introduction of a new award for services to theatre, presented to lighting designer extraordinaire, Paule Constable by, well, me.
But when it comes to awards, I know whereof I speak. Hushed tones of awe are adopted by anyone who caught my pulse-quickening stage debut in Aladdin. Unaccountably, my era-defining interpretation was never filmed, so you’ll just have to take my word for it but the clearly massively enlightened headmistress rushed out and bought the Coombehurst School Drama Cup, so impressed was she by my now legendary performance as Widow Twankey. I was 10-and-a-half. Which proves that all awards are ridiculous. Until you win one.
Read David Benedict’s columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/david-benedict