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Mar 17 / Simon


The Taitmail awards
Goes to show what decent sponsorship can do, for the first time from MasterCard. Last year’s Oliviers was a sit-down dinner which a colleague described as more like a livery company’s annual get-together; this time it was in a proper theatre, the 2,000 seater Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with the full BBC Concert Orchestra, celeb presenters of the rather more luvvie than sparkly kind (except for Barry Manilow, no-one was quite sure how that happened), and for the finale there must have been 500 singers on the stage as well. Proper awards, with the not very ghostly hand of the Society of West End theatre’s new chairperson, Nica Burns, all over it.

So here are the Taitmails, the other awards in the shape of card board cut-outs of Nicola Jennings’s grossly over-theatrical portrait of your scribe.

Best sobber was undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim who manfully fought back against the up-well but failed as the whole house stood to applaud him and his special award. Cameron Mackintosh allowed that some people find Sondheim’s music “difficult”, and I confess I’m one, but there was genuine affection here and I think I know why. Sondheim writes songs for actors to sing, as demonstrated here by the consummate Adrian Lester and the grand dame Angela Lansbury. These songs don’t work unless you act them. Most tearful was the delightful Sheridan Smith whose dad, mum and uncles were all weeping helplessly as she made her way to the stage to collect the best musical actress prize for Legally Blonde. “Not good” she said as she smeered her mascara even more. I suspect that it was all a blind to cover-up the on-screen expletive she emitted as her name was announced. But the tear-jerker of the evening has to be Leon Baugh, the best choreographer for Sucker Punch at the Royal Court. He thanked the cast, the theatre, his partner Sacha Wares who also directed the play – “and the cardio-thoracic surgeons of Great Ormond Street Hospital for keeping our daughter alive”.

Best raconteur was hands down Joss Ackland, a non-winner, for his tale about how, 30 years ago, the SWET awards, as they used to be could be, could be shared. For the year they decided there had to be only one winner, the two level-peggers were Falstaff and Hitler. They went for Alec McCowan’s Hitler, he was Falstaff. “Complete idiots!” Nevertheless, he graciously handed over the best actress manikin to Nancy Carroll for After the Dance.

There were one or two expressions of disapproval at the arts cuts that will affect the subsidised theatre that has done so well in this year’s Oliviers, with Sean Holmes, getting the award for directing the best production by an affiliate theatre, Blasted! at the Lyric Hammersmith, thanking audiences for backing theatres: “They are going to need our support”. And Sondheim himself paying tribute to the theatres that had given his work the oxygen American theatres wouldn’t. But nothing for which you would give a prize. Ed Vaizey, who was sitting near Alan Davey, will have been relieved.

And finally, the most genuinely surprised was Brian May, his famous locks now almost white, who was getting the Olivier for We Will Rock You being named the Radio 2 audience’s choice: “Something must have gone wrong – getting this ten years after waking one morning to the shittiest reviews known to man?”

We love you all.