Theatre: Curtain calls

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The Independent Culture
If you thought the Olivier Awards were the ne plus ultra of theatreland, think again. The most coveted gongs in World Drama are the David Benedict Golden Lifebelt Awards.

This unspeakably glamorous honour is bestowed upon those who manage to keep their heads when all about are losing theirs. Diamonds in the dust, they redeem dreadful evenings - with no help from directors.

Last year's indecently fought-over prize went to the designers of Always, who made truly terrible material look ravishing. This year's nominees include Mazz Murray, who tore the Bridewell apart as a gobsmacking cross between Vera Duckworth and Dusty Springfield wearing a purple fringed bikini in an ill-conceived revival of the ghastly Pippin; and David Yelland, whose graceful performance went a long way towards saving Peter Hall's miscast and stupefying The Misanthrope.

The runner-up is Helen Mirren, who, amazingly, kept her dignity in the scandalously bad Antony and Cleopatra. But the 1998 award goes to Josie Lawrence and Robert Bathurst in Alarms and Excursions (above), a lam- entably unfunny evening of over-extended sketches by Michael Frayn, who should know better.

Lazily edited, with a merely efficient production, the evening's sole pleasure came from the detail and conviction of these two performances. How they managed it remains a mystery.