West End set to beat outsiders at the Olivier awards
Jury change favours mainstream shows at expense of independents
Susie Mesure writes interviews, news and features for the Independent on Sunday, Independent and i, and has done for the last ten years or so give or take two lengthy maternity leaves. She is interested in just about any topic, especially anything Scandinavian, food, or consumer-orientated, and used to be the Independent’s Retail Correspondent
Sunday 28 April 2013
As Helen Mirren and Kristin Scott Thomas settle into their seats at the Royal Opera House in London tonight, they might look warily over their shoulders, for trouble is afoot at theatreland's prestigious Olivier awards.
The casts and producers of smaller shows are angered by changes to the judging panel that they fear will sideline them in favour of the West End's commercial goliaths.
Critics are questioning the likely outcome of tonight's ceremony, hosted by Sheridan Smith and Hugh Bonneville, and the first in a decade to be televised. Low-budget productions have traditionally fared well at the Oliviers – most spectacularly so three years ago when favourites Jerusalem and Enron were overtaken in the race for the coveted Best New Play award by Katori Hall's The Mountaintop, about the last hours of Martin Luther King.
This year, however, the jury of nine has been dramatically expanded to include 153 theatre owners and producers, prompting accusations that judges will favour their own productions and also lobby their friends.
Mark Rubinstein, president of the Society of London Theatre, said: "There's no doubt that people will vote for their own shows, but I think that will be blended out."
Mark Shenton, theatre critic of The Stage, cautioned that although some changes were welcome – such as returning the Oliviers to television – the independence of the judging panel had been compromised. "The awards will be inevitably weighted more towards commercially stronger shows over artistically strong ones," he said.
Mirren is among the favourites to secure the Best Actress award for her latest turn as the Queen in The Audience, which is also up for Best Play and Best Director (Stephen Daldry). She is up against Scott Thomas in Old Times, Billie Piper in The Effect and Hattie Morahan, for her Nora in A Doll's House, which has already won Evening Standard and Critics' Circle awards.
Theatre commentators warned that the jury changes mean not everyone in the voting pool will have seen all of the shows they vote on.
Terri Paddock, the managing director of Whatsonstage.com, which runs its own awards show based on votes from the public, predicted that there will now be fewer opportunities for surprise winners.
"Commercial West End shows were always the poorer cousin in the Olivier awards," she said. "That's going to change."
Mr Rubinstein defended the changes, saying that they brought the Oliviers into line with other major awards such as the Baftas, the New York-based Tonys and Hollywood's Oscars. He said the body wanted "the expertise" that would come from letting each of the society's members vote.
"Our advice was that people shouldn't vote in categories where they haven't seen all of the nominees," he said, adding that members had abstained in places.
The nominees for Best Actor are James McAvoy for Macbeth, Rupert Everett in The Judas Kiss, Luke Treadaway in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Rylance for Twelfth Night, and Rafe Spall for Constellations.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga