Belvoir wins big in first night of Helpmanns

In a feat of magic, Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre has walked away with a trolley-load of gongs at the first ceremony for the 2018 Helpmann Awards, beating the theatre event of the year, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in a number of categories.

Held in Melbourne for the first time, Sunday’s industry-only event at Arts Centre Melbourne celebrated predominantly technical and supporting artist awards. It precedes Monday night’s more glamorous ceremony for best leading performers and shows.

Mid-weight theatre company Belvoir took home four Helpmanns for Counting and Cracking and two for Barbara and the Camp Dogs, both co-productions with Co-Curious and Vicki Gordon Music Productions, respectively.

Off to a cracking start: Belvoir’s Counting and Cracking.Credit:Brett Boardman

Counting and Cracking, which charts a Sri Lankan-Australian family through four generations, debuted at Sydney Festival before going on to Adelaide Festival. In the plays category it won best direction (Eamon Flack and S. Shakthidharan), best female actor in a supporting role (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash) and – pipping Harry Potter – best scenic and sound design (Dale Ferguson and Stefan Gregory, respectively).

Best male actor in a supporting role went to Paul Blackwell for Faith Healer, also Belvoir and presented by State Theatre Company South Australia, and beating impressive newcomer William McKenna in Harry Potter.

Belvoir’s Indigenous rock-opera Barbara and the Camp Dogs, meanwhile, scooped two trophies in the musicals category including best female actor in a supporting role for Elaine Crombie and best original score (Ursula Yovich, Alana Valentine and Adm Ventoura).

William McKenna, right, with Sean Rees-Wemyss in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

In opera, Barry Kosky and Suzanne Andrade won best direction for Komische Oper Berlin’s The Magic Flute (Adelaide and Perth festivals by arrangement with Arts Projects Australia), while Tom Erik Lie won best supporting male in the same production.

Opera Australia won two gongs thanks to Francesca Zambello for best direction of a musical (West Side Story on Sydney harbour) and Taryn Fiebig for best supporting female in Metamorphosis.

But both OA and The Magic Flute were pipped in the best musical direction category by small player Pinchgut Opera, for Artaserse (Erin Helyard).

In musical theatre, Tony Sheldon was awarded best supporting male for his role in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The New Musical, and Malik Le Nost and Mitchell Woodcock won best choreography for Saturday Night Fever, beating OA’s West Side Story.

Antony Hamilton won best choreography for ballet, dance or physical theatre (Forever & Ever at Sydney Dance Company), beating international heavyweight Hofesh Shechter and SDC’s own artistic director, Rafael Bonachela.

Regional player Arena Theatre Company won best presentation for children and young people for Robot Song, while Bangarra Dance Theatre won best regional touring production for its critically acclaimed Bennelong.

Best costume design went to Gabriela Tylesova for Melbourne Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night (beating Katrina Lindsay for Harry Potter), while Hobart’s Dark Mofo won best special event.

La Mama Theatre’s Liz Jones was awarded the Sue Nattrass award for services to performing arts, having clocked up 40-plus years at the helm of the independent theatre company.

In the end, blockbuster import Harry Potter and the Cursed Child only won one technical award out of four nominations, for best lighting design (Neil Austin). It may still be able to redeem itself in Monday’s awards night, with nominations for best play, best score (Imogen Heap) and best actress (Paula Arundell as Hermione Granger).

Winners to be announced at Part II of the 2019 Helpmann Awards include best male and female leads, best score, best shows across categories, and the cabaret, classical and contemporary music categories.

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