(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/2; Photo: Host Hannah Waddingham at the Olivier awards. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for SOLT.)

Adaptation of Studio Ghibli film wins six awards, while Jodie Comer wins for Prima Facie and A Streetcar Named Desire brings Paul Mescal best actor prize

My Neighbour Totoro, the inventive stage production of Studio Ghibli’s much-loved animated film, has triumphed at this year’s Olivier awards. The show, which received nine nominations, won in six categories at the ceremony on Sunday.

On a star-studded night at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Jodie Comer and Paul Mescal were among the victorious actors. Comer said that she was “so overwhelmed” to take the best actress prize for her performance in Prima Facie and that the play had changed her life. The Killing Eve star, who did not formally train as an actor, sent a message “to any kids who haven’t been to drama school, who can’t afford to go to drama school, who’ve been rejected from drama school”, declaring “don’t let anybody tell you that it isn’t possible”.

Mescal, who won best actor for A Streetcar Named Desire, said he felt “incredibly privileged” to have been a part of “the best company of actors I have ever worked with”. He thanked his parents “who never said no” and sent a get well wish to his mother, who has undergone treatment for cancer.

As well as receiving the awards for best entertainment or comedy play and best director (Phelim McDermott), My Neighbour Totoro was recognised for its stagecraft with wins for the designers of its set (Tom Pye), costumes (Kimie Nakano), lighting (Jessica Hung Han Yun) and sound (Tony Gayle). Basil Twist’s puppetry direction was beaten, in the best choreographer category, by Matt Cole for the musical Newsies.

The story of two sisters who discover a magical world including mysterious woodland spirits and a prowling catbus, My Neighbour Totoro broke box-office records at the Barbican in London last year and will return to the venue in November for a four-month run. It is produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company (whose musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda won seven Olivier awards in 2012) and is a collaboration with Improbable and Nippon TV.

London’s Almeida theatre had success with three shows. Will Keen was named best supporting actor for his steely performance as Vladimir Putin in Patriots, Peter Morgan’s play about oligarchs, which transfers from the Almeida to the West End next month. Katie Brayben won best actress in a musical for her title role as the televangelist in the Almeida’s Tammy Faye, and Zubin Varla (who played Faye’s rival Jerry Falwell) won best supporting actor in a musical.

A Streetcar Named Desire, which is now running in the West End and sold out at the Almeida earlier this year, beat nominees including Jerusalem to the prize for best revival. It is directed by Rebecca Frecknall whose intimate staging of Cabaret dominated last year’s Olivier awards. Streetcar’s Paul Mescal, who was Oscar-nominated for the film Aftersun, won best actor for his performance as Stanley Kowalski. Anjana Vasan, who plays Stella, won best actress in a supporting role.

The ceremony was exuberantly hosted by Ted Lasso star (and three-time Olivier nominee) Hannah Waddingham and 16 of the 18 winners were picking up their first ever Olivier award. Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer won best actress for her West End debut in the monologue Prima Facie which was named best new play. Prima Facie, written by Suzie Miller, starred Comer as a barrister who defends men accused of rape and is assaulted herself. Miller, who first had the idea for the play when she was studying criminal law, praised Comer in her speech, declaring: “What a talent!”

The Oliviers honour London productions but it was the second year in a row that Sheffield Theatres was celebrating. In 2022, the West End transfer of Life of Pi, which started out at Sheffield’s Crucible, won five Olivier awards. This year, Standing at the Sky’s Edge – which is set on Sheffield’s Park Hill estate and went from the Crucible to the National Theatre – was named best new musical. It had been nominated for eight awards and won two, the other for Richard Hawley and Tom Deering (best original score or new orchestrations). Hawley relished the opportunity to turn raconteur during his speech, to cheers from the crowd.

A musical theatre version of the CBeebies programme Hey Duggee, co-adapted by director Matthew Xia and Vikki Stone, was named best family show. The best musical revival award went to the Young Vic’s Oklahoma! which is now running in the West End and stars a guitar-strumming Arthur Darvill who won best actor in a musical. Beverley Knight won her first Olivier award, from her third nomination, for her supporting performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in the suffragettes musical Sylvia at the Old Vic. In an emotional speech, Knight explained how, in 1912, Emmeline Pankhurst had stood at the Royal Albert Hall and said: “I incite this meeting to rebellion.” She had told the women in the room “to each be militant in your own way”, said Knight. In 1913, Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union were banned from the hall. More than 100 years later, “we’re stood on this stage – we are reclaiming the power for those women,” said Knight.

Waleed Akhtar’s play The P-Word, a love story between two Pakistani men staged at the Bush theatre, won the award for achievement in an affiliate theatre. The Royal Opera House’s Alcina won best new opera production and the award for outstanding achievement in opera went to William Kentridge for his conception and direction of Sibyl at the Barbican. Choreographer Dickson Mbi won the award for outstanding achievement in dance for Enowate at Sadler’s Wells. The winner of best new dance production was Traplord by Ivan Michael Blackstock, staged at 180 Studios.

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