An intimate, sold-out production of Cabaret was the big winner at Sunday’s Olivier Awards, taking seven prizes including acting trophies for its high-voltage stars, Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley. Literary adaptation Life of Pi took five awards, including Best New Play.
Cabaret was named Best Musical Revival at the ceremony, which saw the Oliviers — Britain's equivalent of Broadway's Tony Awards — return to live collective prize-giving after a three-year break imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Redmayne and Buckley won lead acting prizes for their roles as the Emcee and Sally Bowles in a production of Cabaret that transformed London’s Playhouse Theatre into the Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin.
Liza Sadovy and Elliot Levey won supporting performer awards for the same production, which continues its London run with new leads — and is rumoured to be Broadway-bound.
Buckley, who was praised by Redmayne as “one of the greats”, appeared overwhelmed to have won.
“It’s my worst nightmare and my biggest dream all at once,” she said.
'Life of Pi' and 'Back to the Future'
Life of Pi, adapted from Yann Martel’s best-selling novel about a boy adrift at sea with a tiger, was voted Best New Play. Hiran Abeysekera was named the Best Actor in a Play as title character Pi, while — in a first — the supporting actor prize went to seven performers who collectively play the show’s puppet tiger.
Fred Davis, one of the seven, said it was “a landmark moment for puppetry”.
A stage adaptation of a time-travelling 1980s film favourite, Back to the Future — The Musical, was named Best New Musical.
The black-tie ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall was the first full Oliviers show since 2019. Theatres were shut when Britain went into lockdown in March 2020, weeks before the scheduled 2020 Oliviers ceremony.
Britain’s stage community came out in force Sunday to celebrate — but also to reflect on a tough couple of years that saw all UK theatres closed for months at a stretch, for the first time since the Second World War.
The war in Ukraine was also on many minds. Several award winners spoke in support of Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion, and the Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Kseniia Nikolaieva performed her country’s national anthem during the show.
Cabaret director Rebecca Frecknall took the directing trophy, and said the war in Ukraine gave John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical about the collapse of democracy and rise of fascism in Germany added poignancy.
“In a way it’s quite sad that every time it’s on it feels like it’s been written for today,” she said.
In the non-musical categories, Sheila Atim was named Best Actress for multidimensional relationship drama Constellations. Liz Carr won the Best Supporting Actress prize for playing a determined doctor in a revival of 1980s Aids crisis play The Normal Heart.
Carr, who uses a wheelchair, noted that she was the first disabled actor in 35 years to play the role, based on real-life medic Linda Laubenstein, also a wheelchair-user. She thanked director Dominic Cooke for taking a chance on a disabled performer, but added: “It shouldn’t be a chance — it should just be a right.”
Constellations was named Best Revival, while the prize for Best New Comedy or entertainment went to Pride And Prejudice* (*sort of), a comic all-female twist on the Jane Austen classic.
Sustainable green carpet
Kit Harington, Tom Felton, Emma Corrin and Jonathan Pryce were among the stars walking the sustainable green carpet, made from reusable grass, before the glitzy ceremony, which featured performances from best-musical nominees including Frozen, The Drifters Girl, Back to the Future — The Musical and Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical.
The show also included a musical tribute to a theatre titan, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died last year aged 91.
The awards were founded in 1976 and named after the late actor-director Laurence Olivier. Winners are chosen by voting groups of stage professionals and theatregoers.
The last Oliviers ceremony, held largely remotely in October 2020, gave awards for work done before the pandemic. Venues began reopening in mid-2021, and shows are largely up and running again, though the number of international visitors, vital to sustaining West End shows, remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
Actress-singer Beverley Knight, a Best Actress nominee for The Drifters Girl, said the theatre community was ready to celebrate after a difficult two years.
“We have been bereft of theatre for so long, just had nothing. And people only realise the importance of the place that theatre and live entertainment played in any society when it was taken away,” she said.
“We bring in multimillions and that’s week in, week out. So we are part of giving the economy buoyancy — but more than that, we feed the nation’s soul.”