Olivier Awards: Seven things we learned at the ceremony

It was a night of high drama at the Olivier Awards, with plenty of tearful speeches, but the stars were all smiles as they arrived – not least because the sun was shining.

My Neighbour Totoro, the stunning stage adaptation of the 1988 Studio Ghibli film, dominated the night.

Paul Mescal and Jodie Comer each won their acting categories, while there was success for the musicals Standing at the Sky’s Edge and Oklahoma!.

But aside from the big wins there was so much else going on – here are seven things we learned.

1. Host Hannah Waddingham ‘smashed it’

Hannah Waddingham at the OliviersIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Hannah Waddingham sang the opening number with performers from other stage shows

Ted Lasso star Waddingham started her acting career in musical theatre, and it showed.

She opened this year’s ceremony with the awards’ first ever original musical number, written by Pippa Cleary, who wrote The Great British Bake Off Musical.

Waddingham completely held her own on stage, singing with performers from other shows.

She also managed to make the audience laugh, comfort a weeping winner and laugh at herself when she fluffed a line, blowing a raspberry in frustration.

“Godammit, I wanted to get through the whole thing,” she said. “Can we go back? Oh that’s annoyed me now, pretend it didn’t happen – first time presenting!”

Billy Differ, who presents BBC Radio Scotland’s musical theatre show, said: “You’ve either got or you haven’t got and boy has she got it. Hannah Waddingham smashed it”, while the Independent’s Isobel Lewis added: “Eurovision is in safe hands.”

TV reviewer Hamza Jahanzeb added: “Hannah Waddingham to present every year please.”

2. Beverley Knight compares herself with John Cleese

Beverley Knight
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Beverley Knight’s dress was so long that the train at the back was carried for her

Knight looked amazing when she arrived in head-to-toe black latex adorned with gold snakes – she even had someone carrying the back of her dress, so it didn’t drag on the grassy, sustainable green carpet.

She sang twice during the ceremony, for suffragette musical Sylvia – which won her an Olivier – and also for Sister Act, about a singer who goes into witness protection by pretending to be a nun.

That’s a lot of costume changes – how did she manage it? With precision timing.

“I literally am like John Cleese in the film Clockwise [a film about an obsessively punctual headmaster], minute by minute, in wigs, and in and out of costumes,” she said.

It’s a good job Cleese’s headmaster stuck to wearing suits in the film – if he’d had to change from black latex into a nun’s habit, he’d definitely have been late.

3. Liz Carr wore a winning monologue

Liz Carr
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Liz Carr wearing a speech “very dear to my heart”

Last year’s best supporting actress winner Liz Carr was in a stunning outfit and, if you look closely, you’ll see her pink bolero top is adorned with words.

It turns out that Carr thinks she may have won in 2022 because she delivered a powerful monologue by her character, Dr Emma Brookner, in The Normal Heart.

So the Silent Witness star decided that, this year, she’d wear the speech, which was “very dear to my heart”.

She also tweeted about the fact that, for the first time, the awards stage was wheelchair accessible, telling us: “This year the ramp is incredible.”

Carr added how excited she was for her upcoming role in the second series of BBC Two’s Good Omens, which will also feature Sir Derek Jacobi, who was at the Oliviers for his lifetime achievement award.

She’s also going to appear in the third season of Netflix’s series The Witcher, and said: “I’m getting smaller roles, but in bigger things, since I won last year – but no theatre work. I’m desperate to tread the boards again.”

Casting directors, take note.

4. Hey Duggee live is like a ‘rave for under-fives’

Matthew Xia aka Excalibah and Vikki StoneIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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Matthew Xia and Vikki Stone adapted Hey Duggee for the stage

Hey Duggee The Live Theatre Show, an adaptation of the hugely popular CBeebies series, successfully transferred to the stage and won the Olivier for best family show.

Matthew Xia and Vikki Stone, who adapted the TV show about Duggee – the leader of The Squirrel Club – for live performances, told us it was a “category that can often get a bit lost in the mix”.

“Children’s theatre is really important, it’s where formative opinions are made, and we feel really passionate about it,” they said.

Xia described it as a “mosh pit down at the front of the South Bank Centre, with loads of two-year-olds raving like their lives depended on it”.

Stone added: “It’s banging – it’s genuinely the sort of system you’d put into a massive concert. So the parents, who were probably partying in the 90s and early 2000s, can get a sense of that – but with their under-fives – all at safe levels.”

If you’re missing your raving days since having children, this might possibly help bridge the gap. Maybe.

5. Mark Strong on why ‘real talent’ is required for theatre

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Mark Strong: “I think stage is the yardstick you measure yourself against”

The stage and screen actor, who won a best actor Olivier in 2015 for A View From a Bridge, spoke to us about why he thinks the Oliviers are so special.

They’re for people who have “earned their spurs doing something incredibly difficult”, Strong says. “Real talent is required”.

“I think stage is the yardstick you measure yourself against, and if you can carry a play over the course of an evening – beginning, middle and an end and moving audience – then I think that’s incredibly important.

“I think I’ve been more moved in live theatre than I’ve ever been in a movie theatre,” he adds.

6. Arthur Darvill on why there’s room for musicals

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Arthur Darvill says there’s “room for everything”

Darvill, who won best actor in a musical, for Oklahoma!, said he thought its revival had been so popular because “it’s about what people do for love, and how they come together to create a community”.

But what about playwright David Hare saying recently that “musicals have become the leylandii of theatre, strangling everything in their path”? Andrew Lloyd Webber certainly disagreed with him.

“Well, I don’t want to say too much,” says Darvill, but he does add: “I doubt he’s seen our show because I don’t think musicals are strangling theatre. I think there’s room for everything.

“There should be more plays on in the West End, but I don’t think it’s because specifically our show is taking the place of one.”

The former Doctor Who star also talks about the return under Russell T Davies of David Tennant, before Ncuti Gatwa takes on the role.

“It’s such a wonderful family to be part of, I just love seeing how it changes and evolves. I’m excited for Ncuti, because I think he’s going to have such a great time,” he says.

“You become part of something that will be with you for the rest of your life. And that’s really special.”

7. Tim Minchin did a sketch with Prince Charles

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“I love British theatre,” says the award-winning Matilda composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, adding that he thinks it has a “very different vibe from across the pond”.

Given he’s sung at previous Royal Variety Performances, is he going to be involved in the upcoming coronation for King Charles?

“I’m not sure you’d get me,” he laughs, but then tells us he did appear in a 2017 spoof Hamlet sketch celebrating Shakespeare, with none other than Prince Charles, as he was then known.

“Look it up,” he says, and so we do, only to discover it also featured Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Paapa Essiedu, Harriet Walter and Rory Kinnear.

“Yeah, it was a pretty star-studded sketch,” he recalls with a grin. Having watched it, we can see why it made him smile.

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