Drum roll please! The nominations for the Olivier Awards 2012 have been announced at long last. Matilda, Betty Blue Eyes, Ghost, London Road and Shrek will battle it out for Best New Musical (with Matilda garnering an incredible ten nominations in total, including Bertie Carvel for Best Actor in a Musical), and Singin in the Rain, Crazy for You, South Pacific and The Wizard of Oz are in contention for Best Musical Revival. Legally Blonde star and 2011 Olivier winner Sheridan Smith is up for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the play Flare Path. Scarlett Strallen – star of Singin in the Rain at the Palace Theatre (which originally played at Chichester last summer) is also up for Best Actress in a Musical. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, the two leads of Chichester’s other big musical Sweeney Todd – now also in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre – will host the ceremony for the second year running, and lyricist Tim Rice (whose Evita with 2011 Olivier nominee Elena Roger has just opened on Broadway, with Superstar shortly to be revived for a UK stadium tour) is to be given a special honour. 


Having followed a format of a private ceremony and sit-down meal, open to nominees and industry members only, at a London hotel for many years, the Olivier Awards finally returned home to theatre in 2011 with a spectacular ceremony at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the heart of London’s West End. This was produced by the Society of London Theatre with sponsorship from Mastercard. The evening was a wonderful celebration of theatre with performances from many of the nominees and shows nominated that year, and the public were given the opportunity of attending the ceremony with seats allocated in the Upper Circle and Balcony areas of Drury Lane.


Tickets to last year’s ceremony were available to Mastercard holders only as an understandable nod to the sponsors of the Awards – not every theatregoer has access to a Mastercard and, from what I hear, this certainly encouraged some theatregoers to apply for one (or at least to ask a kind relative or friend for use of theirs!). Seats were priced at different levels depending on visibility (as they would be for a musical at Drury Lane), with a top price of £65, including a free programme and glass of champagne. Theatregoers were also asked to present themselves in smart dress or black tie at the theatre up to an hour before the scheduled start-time, and to the side entrance of the theatre, in order for the front of the theatre to be kept clear for industry guests to arrive on the red carpet. The streets around Drury Lane were blocked off for access and security reasons and there was considerable activity around the theatre, including a live radio link for Radio 2 with Jodie Prenger (who played Nancy in the recent production of Oliver! at that very theatre) talking to nominees and guests as they arrived. Viewers could also watch the ceremony on the red button at home.


This year, the Olivier Awards 2012 are being held at the Royal Opera House on 15 April. When preliminary arrangements for this year’s ceremony were announced in January, The Stage reported that there would be no tickets offered to the general public as the evening was going to be for industry members only. Instead, theatregoers were being encouraged to gather in the Covent Garden Piazza where there would be a live screening of the event being held nearby, also with live performances from West End shows. This would certainly be an enjoyable freebie for theatregoers who are based near London, but it would be unlikely to attract as many theatregoers from the provinces who would have been potentially interested in attending the ceremony itself. 


However, in the run-up to the announcement of the nominations for this year’s Olivier Awards, it was unexpectedly announced via Twitter that seats would be available for the Royal Opera House ceremony after all, and that they would be sold via Mastercard’s Priceless London website. This is free to join for Mastercard holders and contains offers for theatre tickets and other events. Seats would be available in the Amphitheatre section of the Royal Opera House right at the top of the house. The terms and conditions warn that ‘the Amphitheatre is not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo or who find it difficult to navigate steep, narrow stairs’.  For those theatregoers who do manage to climb the stairs, there will once more be a free programme and glass of champagne, and everyone gets to walk the red carpet this year, all providing of course that they follow the strict dress code of ‘black tie and glamorous’.


And the price for tickets this year? £90 a ticket – and this isn’t even for a specific seat at the time of booking. The Terms and Conditions again reveal that ‘Seating will be allocated to you and tickets sent out 10-14 days prior to the Awards’. This means in effect that you could be seated in the centre of row B at the front (presuming that the whole of the Amphitheatre is available for allocation of public tickets – this is not clear), or in the centre of back row W. The corresponding ticket prices for the opera La bohème for these seats would be £81 and £13 – even the centre of row R would be £46, almost half the top price for that section   

It’s such a shame that the Olivier Awards are seemingly ‘segregating’ themselves from a large section of the theatregoing audience. How many young people (say in their twenties or even early thirties) would be able to afford a £90 ticket price plus the potential added cost of suitable clothing on top of the usual transport and accommodation costs if you do not live locally? Teenagers wouldn’t even have a hope unless they have rich benefactors. And yet these age groups are the theatre of tomorrow – they will be the ones who will be supporting theatre and keeping theatre alive in future years, yet it is potentially difficult for them to attend an award ceremony which celebrates London theatre – unless they access the ceremony via the screens in Covent Garden or on TV. There must be plenty of other people (of all ages) who would find it difficult to ‘navigate steep, narrow stairs’ too (though it should be noted that a limited number of wheelchair spaces are available). And who ticketholders get to see on stage when they arrive at the Opera House? Last year’s programme – or at least some major highlights – was announced well in advance (admittedly with some late surprises including Angela Lansbury), but organisers have so far concentrated the publicity on the Awards themselves rather than the show on the night. In a year when Andrew Lloyd Webber and others have been vocal about the potential state of West End theatre bookings during the Olympics, and with an ensuing advertising campaign promoting the West End as the ‘Real Show’, it’s all rather discouraging. So good luck Betty, Matilda, Scarlett and Sheridan – but many of your theatre audience will have to cheer you on from afar, and stick to watching the Olivier Awards at home. It’s certainly cheaper.