After being hugely disappointed with last year’s coverage I settled down with slight trepidation to watch the Oliviers 2012 red carpet action and ceremony, which we were promised would be in full and uninterrupted, courtesy of the BBC interactive red button.
There’s something delicious about watching live red carpet action, although it was frustrating ,too, to see the likes of Trevor Nunn and Maria and Sonia Friedman sail past as this year's presenter Anneka Rice spoke to camera. Overall, though, the red carpet coverage was a huge improvement on last year, when you could hear rehearsals still taking place; and while Jodie Prenger was a much less knowledgeable, if enthusiastic, host, Anneka is obviously a genuine theatre fan and had done her homework. She immediately knew her interviewees and which play or show they were in so it made for a much more comfortable and less agonising watch. And what relief to know she’d be back in the interval – no men sitting at their radio desk with fruit for set dressing!
The main ceremony was at the Royal Opera House, the perfect venue for these awards – a beautiful auditorium that looked stunning on camera and much more intimate than last year's Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Hosts were Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton again – now even more relaxed with each other having spent so much time together in the cast of Sweeney Todd since last year’s awards.
Opening with a performance from We Will Rock You, the event continued with awards interspersed with performances from this year’s new musicals. It’s fairly obvious there is very little TV rehearsal time for these performances and it can be frustrating to watch, especially when they include huge wideshots from the back of the theatre, when all you want to see are the tiny Matildas. But in the same way, you get the odd treat, like Brian May skulking behind Noel Sullivan and Lauren Samuels as they kissed at the end of their WWRY number.
The coverage was all going so well until Ed Watson started his acceptance speech for achievement in dance: the live feed went down for a few minutes, which may seem like a minimal problem, but by which time they were trying to link up with New York for Matthew Warchus to receive his award for directing Matilda. Apart from these hitches, the first half coverage was hugely enjoyable and the ceremony felt slick without being rushed.
In the interval Anneka introduced excerpts from shows that had performed in the Covent Garden Piazza. These were filmed earlier in the day so there shouldn’t really have been any excuse for sound problems but Ryan Collington, the poor boy playing Billy Elliott, had some of his most significant lines silenced. It was a nice idea to have Michael and Imelda start the second half of the show in the Piazza too, although it did feel the most under-rehearsed part of the coverage and there were a few minutes' hiatus before Audience Award winners Les Miserables started their performance.
Back in the Opera House there were a few more sound issues and then suddenly everything seemed to come together with beautiful coverage of the Singin’ In The Rain and Crazy For You numbers, with lots more highlights in this half too, including the four Matildas winning Best Actress in a Musical and a lifetime achievement award for Sir Tim Rice.
Awards ceremonies are hugely difficult technically and we all need to remember that this coverage will have been put together on a much smaller budget than the Baftas or Brits. Small hiccups, especially sound problems, are to be expected - and there did seem to be far fewer this year.
The main thing that was distracting for viewers was the position of the BBC Radio 2 logo, which was virtually central at the top of the screen, rather than at the more discreet left-hand side. So, to sum up, it still feel slike a TV production worthy of the red button and not ready for mainstream BBC2 or 4 yet.