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On the Red Carpet and Behind the Scenes at the Olivier Awards 2017

Julian Fellowes and the cast
of School of Rock

The sun and stars were out at the same time this afternoon as London's theatre community descended upon the Royal Albert Hall for the 2017 Olivier Awards. With excitement high, the nominees, presenters and guests were all keen to share their hopes and predictions for the evening ahead.

Amber Riley was one of the most hotly-tipped individuals going into the event, with 2015 Olivier winner John Dagleish and his soon-to-be castmate Cush Jumbo putting her name forward. Riley's fellow Dreamgirls star Marisha Wallace was in total agreement, adding that she was really looking forward to her performance: "I know she's going tear it down!".

Another performance that had guests excited was the opener from Gary Barlow, Tim Firth and The Girls. The show's Ben Hunter, the youngest nominee at this year's awards, is "a massive Harry Potter fan", so had high hopes of their success, and was pleased to have his mum and dad in for support. The leading ladies themselves were thrilled at the group nomination and believe it's a great boon for women in theatre.

An American in Paris has just opened to rave reviews, and its stars Leanne Cope and Robbie Fairchild were there to present the two dedicated dance awards; with the response to the show so far, it's conceivable that they could be back next year as nominees. Fairchild, however, is just making the most of the London experience and has "been exploring every day".

Similarly, Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac could be onto another winner as part of Drew McOnie-led On the Town at Regent's Park Open Air, which begins rehearsals tomorrow and sees Mac combine his new dance skills with his day job. He's managed to see a lot of productions and thought it was "really tight this year... the best of the best get nominated".

Haydn Gwynne

Both Haydn Gwynne and Rafe Spall played down their chances of winning in their respective categories, with Spall quipping that he'd only be chosen if it was based on age; there may be an opportunity for him to return to the stage this autumn, following the new Jurassic Park movie shoot, which could give him another chance next year.

Gwynne enjoyed finally taking on Brecht and was so happy to do so as part of "a lovely company" at the National. Emma Williams was present thanks to her fourth nomination, this time for Half a Sixpence - whilst a win would be fantastic at some point, she's just grateful to still be working, with an event like the Olivier Awards a nice bonus.

After everyone had walked the sunny red carpet it was time for the awards, this year hosted by comedian and theatre star Jason Manford. Once the ceremony proper began the winners came thick and fast, starting with Billie Piper; her own award meant a lot to her, as did the team picking up Best Revival for Yerma - Piper views these wins as a great boost before the production returns to the Young Vic again this season, and potentially goes across the pond.

Before long the eleven categories for which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was nominated were turned to, with the Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and JK Rowling play scooping a record nine trophies - they only missed out on Best Theatre Choreographer to Matthew Bourne and Outstanding Achievement in Music to School of Rock. Gareth Fry, winner for Best Sound Design, was very proud to have one for this particular production: "Harry Potter's interesting because it's a play, but it's on the scale of a musical in a lot of ways".

Noma Dumezweni

One of the moments of the night in the press room was undoubtedly Best Actress in a Supporting Role winner Noma Dumezweni running to the television screen to hear co-star Jamie Parker's eloquent acceptance speech. For a big show, it is clear from that reaction that they are a close unit, and their joy in each other's success is a wonderful thing to see. Parker said he "didn't need any convincing" to take on the role of Harry when he saw Thorne's name on the script.

Anthony Boyle was another popular choice, taking Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Scorpius Malfoy. Rather than keeping the various awards he's won he plans to give them away to the teachers and role models who helped him to get where he is today, by way of a thank you.

After missing out on two awards, Dreamgirls got its first win courtesy of Adam J Bernard for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical. Bernard was glad that the show has finally made it to the West End and is doing its best to emulate the success it experienced on Broadway: "We really wanted to do something special; something that a lot of people would remember."

Amber Riley then added to the show's tally, and later spoke of the impact arts education had on her career. "I'm living proof that if I didn't have arts when I was younger, in school, I wouldn't be here right now."

Amber Riley

One of the most prestigious awards of the night was Best New Musical, which was collected by Tim Minchin for Groundhog Day. Minchin was keen to highlight the positive nature of the ceremony, "The whole point of these awards is to celebrate... What they tend to do is slightly pit people against each other, and that's the bit you want to put aside."

He doesn't get the chance to see a lot of the competition, but views the awards shortlists as a good way to encourage people to see the shows. Minchin isn't certain what the main issue facing musical theatre is at the moment, but believes that "passion to make new stuff comes from all of us."

The final Olivier of the night was the Special Award, this year given to Sir Kenneth Branagh. A wealth of colleagues old and new were at the ceremony to pay tribute, including the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company: "It was very, very classy of the Olivier Awards to come up with that particular surprise," he said. Branagh stressed the importance of the arts in building well-rounded lives - "inclusivity, access and diversity" are all key areas he believes should be considered as part of keeping the theatre industry going.

It was certainly Harry Potter's night, setting a new record with nine awards. But with Lin-Manuel Miranda in attendance, the question naturally became: will that record survive the coming of Hamilton next year?

Photo credit: Ana Maria Wiggins for BroadwayWorld

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