Helpmanns still rough around the edges

For the first time ever, I watched the Helpmann Awards from the comfort of my lounge room in Pyrmont – not far from where all the bright lights were all on at the Sydney Opera House.

It’s a different experience from watching it live, and from my recollection I’ve sat in the audience for the last six or seven of them.

Firstly, the red carpet broadcast was a disaster.

Darcey Bussell may be an internationally renowned dancer and I mean no disrespect to her stunning career, but research is the key, darling.

Asking people what they’re nominated for, asking if they’re performing on the night and having no idea who the talent even is certainly isn’t the way to broadcast an event like this.

Jonathan Biggins’ opening gambit was funny enough – though throwing in political references like ‘Rudd Never Dies’ and ‘Kiss Me Carbon Kate’ was a bit tacky – and when he was jokingly ‘played off’, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

During Esther Hannaford’s acceptance speech, you could hear someone else talking over the top of her. Perhaps Biggins’ mic was left on.

Either way, it was amateur stuff.

Presenters not knowing how to say of winners’ names, impromptu singing from presenters and a huge number of winners not even being tat the ceremony all added to the fun. Not.

Ah dear oh dear, 30 minutes in and I want to flick back to Monday Night Football.

Thank God for the boys from The Chaser – they added some legitimate comedy.

Denise Scott followed and her acceptance speech was fantastic. Perhaps there’s some life in this thing yet. But wait, let’s go to an ad half-way through an acceptance speech and then randomly come back half-way through the next award. Ah, Foxtel do it so well.

We keep going, and more people who win awards aren’t there. Did invites get lost in the mail?

There were moments of brilliance, of course. Amanda Harrison, Sharon Millerchip and Caroline O’Connor were brilliant in their tribute to Nancye Hayes, Toni Lamond and Jill Perryman.

Hayes, Perryman and Lamond are pioneers of musical theatre in this country and deserved the honour. In fact, it should have been given to them well before now.

Dinosaur and Paul Capsis? Good stuff and visually wonderful.

OK, so it’s getting better as it goes on.

But hang on, what’s the deal with putting award winners right at the back?

Particularly Philip Jacobsen from Frontier Touring Company who had to hobble down the stairs to get to the stage. Good seating plan.

Martin Crewes somehow found the ‘presenters joke book’ and chose the worst one he could find.

Once they came back from one ad on the television broadcast, you could hear the announcer in the theatre asking for applause. Nothing like spontaneity.

Biggins showed some though – he didn’t even read out the nominees for Best Director of a Musical. Straight to the winner – good time saver.

The Helpmann Awards are an important event on the Australian theatre calendar and it is important that they continue.

But something must be done to gain it more respect and recognition, because at the moment, it’s all a bit lopsided.

Tonight’s presentation was quicker than normal, and clearly producers were going for a slicker event. But the lack of time to put together an event such as this was clearly evident.

The Helpmanns need to take a stronger, more professional and more dedicated direction in the future, or they will disappear into a big black hole – and there’s plenty of companies and shows down there.

Tonight brought to an end my association with the Helpmanns as a journalist. It’s in a much better place then when I first started covering them nearly a decade ago, but there’s a long, long way to go.

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