As I write, I'm still feeling a little light-headed after my adaptation of Michelle Magorian's book, GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM won an Olivier Award. Angus Jackson, the sensitive and brilliant director, accompanied me onto the stage of the Royal Opera House to collect the Best Entertainment and Family Award – a memorable moment, indeed.
I honestly thought I had missed my chance of an Olivier when, last year, my adaptation of Judith Kerr's THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA was nominated in the same category, but failed to win. This time I found myself sitting in exactly the same seat in the Stalls! I thought history was about to repeat itself. But no, it was second time lucky.
Last year there were questions asked about why the four nominations for this category were so diverse. MIDNIGHT TANGO, featuring Strictly dancers, together with Derren Brown's SVENGALI were up against TIGER, as well as POTTED POTTER, the clever two-hander Harry Potter spoof.
It is probably true that the category was introduced in order to reward entertaining productions that didn't easily fit any of the existing categories. But it called into question what exactly is the meaning of the word 'family'. Does it mean a show to which all the family could go? If so, why isn't MATILDA called a family show? Presumably, because it is perceived as a blockbuster musical. My TIGER – a show for under-fives - lost out to Derren Brown, whose work I respect and admire, but it did seem odd that we were competing against each other.
This year the playing field seemed much more level, with all four nominations being productions specifically aimed at children or young people. ROOM ON THE BROOM, the imaginative adaptation of Julia Donaldson's book, along with the National's HANSEL AND GRETEL and the quirky, original version of CINDERELLA at the newly-opened St James Theatre were strong, yet fair, opposition.
I was rooting for CINDERELLA almost as much as MISTER TOM, because Sally Cookson, its brilliant devisor/director, started her career as an ASM/understudy with my Whirligig Theatre in 1982. Anyway, I was thrilled that GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM, which genuinely was a labour of love, came up trumps. Maybe the time has come to split the Best Entertainment and Family category into two. Best Entertainment would honour the adult shows, Best Family or Best Children's Production would reward the shows aimed specifically at a young audience.
Some years ago very few such shows would have been seen in the West End, so such a category would have been unwarranted. But now it is not unusual for such shows, even those for the under-fives, to be presented on West End stages.
Finally, I was especially pleased that GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM was originally commissioned by Chichester Festival Theatre. In 1963 I got a wonderful job as an extra at Chichester, playing a soldier in SAINT JOAN, starring Joan Plowright. Her husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, was the director of the theatre. Once I found myself standing next to him in the gents backstage. He even said 'Good morning' to me. Strange but rather warming to think that nearly 50 years to the day later I'm holding the statuette bearing his name.
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