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The Importance of Awards

 Thursday, 30th March, 2017

Member and theatre critic, Mark Shenton, shines a light on The Olivier and h.Club 100 Awards.

This month the Laurence Olivier Awards -- the biggest awards ceremony in the theatrical calendar -- take place on April 9th, and they're being held at their biggest, most prestigious home yet: the Royal Albert Hall. (The last three years have seen them take place at the Royal Opera House). Of course they reward achievement -- but that is only part of the story: they also shine a national and international spotlight on London theatre, much as the Tony Awards do in New York -- and will take place two months later on June 11 at Radio City Music Hall.

Their publicity value is immense, and this year a number of initiatives will see them achieve new levels of possible visibility, from a live Facebook stream of interviews from the red carpet to the awards show itself, which will screened (on delay) on ITV1 in a primetime slot that evening (8pm-10pm), and simultaneously webcast to other territories beyond Britain. The event will also be broadcast live on radio, with coverage by Magic Radio in the UK (hosted by Olivier winner Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold) and Sirius XM in the US, as well as streaming to China for the first-time via YouKu.

Performances in the ceremony will include Gary Barlow and Tim Firth with the company of The Girls, Amber Riley from Dreamgirls (performing And I Am Telling You), Tim Minchin from his musical Groundhog Day (which is about to open on Broadway), the companies of School Of Rock The Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Red Shoes, and an appearance by six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, performing as part of the In Memoriam section. That will make quite a show, even if there are some questions about the awards nominations and voting process itself, which are no longer decided by an independent panel but by the collective efforts of the membership of the Society of London Theatres, the trade organisation promoting the awards.

So never has it been more true that they are scratching their own backs -- and it does lead to some head scratching, in turn, of who has been included, and more particularly, who has been left out. It is striking that the Royal Court and Almeida, for instance, were entirely ignored in the nominations -- and the National, which used to dominate the lists, has been rescued from a high of 17 nominations in 2011 to just seven this year. Meanwhile, their collective loss is the commercial theatre's gain -- with one commercial producer Sonia Friedman securing a whopping 31 nominations across six productions. (No one is surprised or begrudging of the 11 nominations secured for her production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

But if the Oliviers are all about the commerce and publicity, ultimately, other awards which are about the art and artists can have a wider-ranging impact. That's where the h.Club 100 Awards comes in to play, helping to celebrate and promote the achievements of the 100 most influential and innovative emerging and established talent in the UK’s creative industries across various categories, from art and broadcast to fashion, film and theatre.

I am proud to be an judge in the theatre and performance category, and last year we were able to promote the work of a young couple of theatre makers in transforming a Victorian warehouse in Manchester into the city's newest theatre that features a diverse repertory but has already made a major mark with musicals. One of their first productions Hair is transferring to London's Vaults this October. 

* MARK SHENTON hosts monthly series of Hospital Club events of interviews with West End stars on the last Sunday of every month. Watch out for the next event on April 30th.