Hamilton takes seven prizes at British theatre awards

The hip-hop musical swept the board at the Oliviers, taking best new musical and winning in other categories

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  The cast of Hamilton perform on stage during The Olivier Awards with Mastercard at Royal Albert Hall on April 8, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
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Historical hip-hop musical Hamilton took seven trophies including best new musical at British theatre's Olivier Awards, where women's rights activists joined stage stars on the red carpet to support the Time's Up movement.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about US founding father Alexander Hamilton was nominated in a record 13 categories at Britain’s equivalent of the Tony Awards. The show, which turns an early chapter of history into a compellingly modern story, opened in London in December after taking New York by storm.

Jamael Westman gained a best-actor nomination in the title role, but lost out to co-star Giles Terera, who plays Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr. Terera said it had been “the joy of my life” to perform with the most diverse company he’d ever been part of.

“Diversity is not a policy. It is life,” he said.

Backstage, the British actor said he knew the first time he saw Hamilton that the show was "the most extraordinary thing I'd ever heard and seen".

"Every now and again, you have a show which comes along and sort of shifts things and moves outside of the realm of musical theatre," he said, likening the impact of Hamilton to earlier musicals such as West Side Story, Les Miserables or Rent.

Michael Jibson took the supporting actor trophy for playing British monarch King George III.

The show – with a score that ranges from pop ballads and R&B to rap battles – also won Oliviers for outstanding achievement in music, sound, lighting and choreography.

The seven wins didn't beat the awards' record haul of nine trophies, set last year by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Jez Butterworth's drama The Ferryman, about the past coming back to haunt a Northern Ireland family, won three prizes including best play, best director for Sam Mendes and best actress for Laura Donnelly.

Bryan Cranston was named best actor in a play for his National Theatre performance as a news anchorman who snaps in Network. The former Breaking Bad star beat rivals who included Andrew Garfield's performance as a man with Aids in the British revival of Angels In America and Andrew Scott in the title role of Hamlet.

“It’s very difficult to be mad as hell when you’re holding an Olivier,” Cranston said, a nod to his character Howard Beale’s famous cry: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Cranston said the play, based on Paddy Chayefsky’s 1970s screenplay, was highly relevant to the “world of post-truth,” fake news and too much information confronting audiences today.

His advice for the overloaded? “Turn it off!”

“Television, a phone, a tablet – they’re tools and they have to be used properly,” Cranston said. “But they can also be misused. A hammer is a great tool to drive a nail into a piece of wood, but if I hit you on the head with it, I’ve misused it.

“Being overwhelmed with information doesn’t make us wiser. I think it makes us dumber.”

The trophy for best actress in a musical went to Shirley Henderson for Girl from the North Country. Sheila Atim won the supporting-actress in a musical prize for the same production, a Depression-era drama set to the songs of Bob Dylan.

The National Theatre's production of Angels in America, currently running on Broadway, was named best revival of a play. The British production's Denise Gough was named best supporting actress for her performance as a Mormon woman in an unhappy marriage.

The National's lush production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies won the award for best musical revival.

James Graham's politics-themed Labour of Love was named best new comedy. Bertie Carvel took the supporting actor prize for playing media mogul Rupert Murdoch in another play by Graham, Ink.

Named for the late British actor Laurence Olivier, the prizes honour achievements in London theatre, musicals, dance and opera. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theatregoers.

The Oliviers have become an increasingly glitzy affair in recent years, awarded at a black-tie ceremony studded with musical numbers.

Under a London drizzle, British stage and screen stars including Michael Sheen, Alfred Molina and Imogen Poots were joined by Cuba Gooding Jr and music stars Beverley Knight, Queen guitarist Brian May and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on a slightly damp red carpet outside the Royal Albert Hall.

Just as there was during Hollywood's awards season, there was a sombre overtone to the celebrations. Several British stage companies have recently committed to stamping out workplace abuse, after allegations of sexual wrongdoing by men in the entertainment industry.

Some actresses brought guests from feminist groups and organisations working against domestic violence to Sunday’s ceremony in a show of support for the Time’s Up movement.

Lesley Manville, a best-actress nominee for Long Day's Journey Into Night, said "the tide has turned" in the battle for equality.

“The strength of the movement is now so huge, I don’t think women feel frightened anymore to come forward – and men – when they’ve been victims,” she said.