A sprawling two-part, seven-hour play about the lives of gay men in New York emerged as one of the biggest winners at the UK’s most prestigious theatre awards on Sunday.
The Inheritance won four Oliviers at a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Also with four wins were a gender-switching reinvention of Stephen Sondheim’s Company and a spirit-lifting September 11 musical from Canada, Come From Away.
Matthew Lopez’s epic play The Inheritance, which transferred to the West End after a sold-out run at the Young Vic, was named best new play and won awards for its director, Stephen Daldry, and its lead actor, Kyle Soller, best known for some as Ross’s cousin Francis in BBC One’s Poldark.
The play – “Angels in America crossed with Howards End”, said the Guardian’s Michael Billington – tells the stories of the post-Aids generation of New York gay men. In his review Billington said it was a play which “pierces your emotional defences,” while Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph described it as “perhaps the most important American play of the century so far”.
Soller, a London-based American actor, said The Inheritance was the hardest, most rewarding and best acting job he had ever had. Accepting his prize, he said: “This play would not have existed without a debt of sacrifice to the people who died during the Aids epidemic. To those that were lost, to those that continue the fight in a world where you can still be stoned to death for loving who you love … thank you.”
Best revival was awarded to the Almeida’s production of Tennessee Williams’s largely neglected play Summer and Smoke. Its star, Patsy Ferran, was named best actress from a strikingly strong list which also featured Gillian Anderson, Eileen Atkins, Sophie Okonedo and Katherine Parkinson.
Broadway legend Patti LuPone won best supporting actress in a musical for her performance in Company. She had previously sworn never to do another musical and had played the role of Joanne – who has the song The Ladies Who Lunch – before, so originally said no to the part.
But it was the draw of working with director Marianne Elliott which persuaded her. “I said to myself: if I say no to this woman then she’ll never ask me again and I don’t want to risk that,” she said last year. “I am here because I want to work with Marianne.”
Elliott’s production switched the gender of the main character – now a thirty-something woman who can’t commit to a relationship.
Accepting the best revival award Elliott said she set up her new theatre company, with Chris Harper, with the main goal of “putting female stories front and centre on our stages”.
It was a risk to meddle with what is a well-trodden and well-loved musical, she said. “We felt there was a wind of change blowing through the industry where celebrating female stories was not only possible but absolutely vital … our audience seem to believe that too.”
The show also won best set design and best supporting actor in a musical for Jonathan Bailey.
The award for best new musical went to Come From Away which tells the true story of how welcoming the small Newfoundland community of Gander was when 38 passenger aeroplanes were forced to land there on September 11.
Its four awards also included outstanding achievement in music and best choreography.
Sharon D. Clarke won her second Olivier award for her performance in Caroline, Or Change, “one of the supreme performances of 2017,” wrote the Observer’s Susannah Clapp in her review of the show when it first premiered.
“Clarke’s magnificent voice makes each song mighty. But she is also extraordinary in the way she holds a silence. She rivets as she glowers, swivelling between pain and anger.”
The best actor in a musical prize went to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for his portrayal of the monstrous Ike in the Tina Turner musical.
It was an evening which once again highlighted the importance of subsidised theatre in feeding the West End.
The Inheritance came from David Lan’s Young Vic, Summer and Smoke from the Almeida, Caroline, Or Change from Chichester and the winner of the best comedy award, Home, I’m Darling, started off at the National Theatre.
The choreographer Matthew Bourne was presented with a special Olivier award recognising three decades of achievement in British dance.
The ceremony’s special guest was the Duchess of Cornwall, a fact not unnoticed by Danny Dyer as he presented the best revival award. “A shout out to the Duchess,” he said. “No Charlie tonight I see. I’ll pop up and see you later.”
Daldry, winning his third Olivier prize, was named best director, an award this year renamed in honour of the late Sir Peter Hall, a towering figure in British theatre who helped found the Royal Shakespeare Company when he was just 29 and was director of the National Theatre, overseeing its move to the South Bank in 1976.
He died in September 2017 but was, incredibly, not included last year Oliviers’ In Memorium section. Organisers, the Society of London Theatres, apologised and said it would review its process for future ceremonies.
The Oliviers 2019
Best actor: Kyle Soller for The Inheritance
Best actress: Patsy Ferran for Summer and Smoke
Best actor in a supporting role: Chris Walley for The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Best actress in a supporting role: Monica Dolan for All About Eve
Best director: Stephen Daldry
Best new play: The Inheritance
Best New Musical: Come From Away
Best musical revival: Company
Best revival: Summer and Smoke
Best new comedy: Home, I’m Darling
Best actor in a supporting role in a musical: Jonathan Bailey for Company
Best actress in a supporting role in a musical: Patti LuPone for Company
Outstanding achievement in music: Come From Away
Best new dance production: Blkdog at Sadler’s Wells
Outstanding achievement in dance: Akram Khan for his performance in Xenos at Sadler’s Wells
Best Entertainment and family: A Monster Calls
Best theatre choreographer: Kelly Devine for Come From Away
Best actor in a musical: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for Tina – the Tina Turner Musical
Best actress in a musical: Sharon D. Clarke for Caroline, Or Change
Outstanding achievement in affiliate theatre: Flesh and Bone at Soho Theatre
Best lighting: Jon Clark for The Inheritance
Best sound: Gareth Owen for Come From Away
Best costume: Catherine Zuber for The King and I
Best new opera: Katya Kabanova at the Royal Opera House
Outstanding achievement in opera: The ensemble of Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum
Best set design: Bunny Christie for Company