Stars of the stage thronged the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, for the 33rd Laurence Olivier Awards last Sunday. At the packed champagne reception it was hard to miss the glowing Lindsay Duncan, nominated for Best Actress, or David Morrissey, standing tall above the crowd with his wife, the novelist Esther Freud; easier to overlook, though, was the diminutive Imelda Staunton – until she shook your reporter's hand and asked trenchantly: "Why isn't this televised? Are we second-class citizens, working in the theatre?"
First-class, indeed, was the entertainment. Over a slap-up dinner, guests enjoyed excerpts from West End hits (Elena Roger from Piaf, Douglas Hodge from La Cage Aux Folles) and wry commentary from presenter James Nesbitt. Wine flowed, as did emotion: Derek Jacobi, on winning Best Actor for his Malvolio, paid tribute to Olivier himself: "You were my father figure and mentor, and as I hold you in my hand now" – the award is formed in the actor's image – "I love and miss you still."
So many disciplines in one ballroom resulted in moments of culture clash, as performers from La Clique raised a gyrating puppet diva dangerously close to David Hare, who was sitting near the stage, and the table of English National Opera luminaries vied for elbow room with the table from Zorro.
But the cliques united at the end of the evening with a rousing ovation for Alan Ayckbourn, the recipient of the Special Olivier Award for his contribution to theatre, and, finally, a show-stopping performance from the cast of Mamma Mia. Everyone watched rapt – apart from TV's man-of-the-moment James Corden, who couldn't resist joining in, making his girlfriend, the actor Sheridan Smith, join him in a tango round their table.