LONDON TICKET -- April 1996
AT THE LARRYS: The big winner in this year's Olivier Awards was undoubtedly Dame Judi Dench, who became the first person ever to win two Oliviers in the same year, collecting the awards for Best Actress in a Drama (Absolute Hell at the Royal National Theatre) and (also at the National for her performance in A Little Night Music) the award for Best Actress in a Musical.
Some of the other awards have come at a perfect time to assist transfers to the West End. David Hare's Skylight (into Wyndham's from the National) won the BBC Award for Best Play, and Adrian Lester (into the Albery from the Donmar Warehouse) for his performance in Stephen Sondheim's Company. Company was the big musical winner for individuals providing the Best Supporting Performance Award for Sheila Gish in the role made immortal by Elaine Stritch and their director Sam Mendes took the directorial honors.
The Best Musical Award went not to Company but to a fine bio-musical of Al Jolson's life, and the hotly contested category of Best Actor in a Drama went to Alex Jennings for his charismatic Peer Gynt over three other marvelous performances from Daniel Massey in Taking Sides, Michael Gambon in Skylight and Donal McCann in The Steward of Christendom.
Honors for best acceptance speech of the night were split between playwright David Hare and opera conductor Bernard Heitinck. Hare recalled hearing Diana Ross on the radio tell an amazed interviewer that while she was planning to produce, direct and star in a life of Josephine Baker, she would not be writing the script "because I always leave the paperwork to somebody else." Hare duly took his award "for the best paperwork of the year" to loud laughter and applause. Bernard Heitinck, on the other hand, had a serious message. As music director of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, he worried publicly that all the new funds for the arts are limited to buildings and none to the people who work in them. With the Opera House coming up for a minimum two-year closure for essential rebuilding, his concern is that for those two years there may be nowhere for the Opera House artists and administrators to work.
Meanwhile, one of the most eagerly watched television series of recent years has been a devastating 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary about the backstage ups and downs of the Opera House. As Jeremy Isaacs moves into his last season as general director, no candidates have yet emerged who are brave enough to handle this particularly hot potato.
-- By Sheridan Morley