Controversy Surrounds This Year's Olivier Awards

News   Controversy Surrounds This Year's Olivier Awards As the organizers of the Olivier Awards prepare to unveil this year’s results on Sunday, Feb. 22, the ceremony finds itself having to fight as never before to defend its position as the most prestigious British theatre prize.

Allegations verging on accusations of vote-rigging, a TV pull-out and some raised eyebrows at the choice of who has and has not been nominated have left the Oliviers reeling. The Oliviers’ voting process has always seemed somewhat opaque. Committees are formed consisting of members of the public and theatre professionals. They nominate their long-lists and the members of SOLT (Society of London Theatres) vote, returning a short-list of nominations. But there have been whispers of big-cat SOLT members with vested interests pushing their own shows onto short-lists even though they may not have been on the long lists. It is, it seems, a bit of a murky process. Members of the voting committees have been speaking out against the procedures to the press, and the ceremony’s organizers have vigorously denied that anything is amiss. The organizers point out that the Oscars are voted on by Academy members, many of whom have vested interests in the films in contention.

The Oliviers are also fighting for their prestige. This year is the first in memory that BBC television will not broadcast the event — not even in highlights form, as has been the recent habit. And — also a departure from recent years — the awards will be given out at an expensive black-tie dinner in a top London hotel. This means that fewer people can attend than previously, when the whole thing happened at a theatre (the vast Lyceum last year). That includes fewer press seats, which may mean less coverage.

And, the selections of nominees has been greeted with surprise by critics and some practitioners. While some favorites have been edged out — notably Eve Best, who won the Critics’ Circle Best Actress award for Mourning Becomes Electra at the National (her co-star, Helen Mirren, who is nominated, told Variety “it sucks” that Best is excluded) — three of the four directors’ nominations are for musicals.