Wednesday February 21, 2024


By Diana Simmonds
July 26 2017

HELPMANN AWARDS 2017, photography: above, by Brett Boardman - Leah Purcell in The Drover's Wife;  and below by Prudence Upton - Kate Mulvany as Richard 3

O frabjous day, it’s that time year again when some wonderful Australian performers and creative contributors to the theatre are recognised for their work; and a whole lot more miss out to blow-ins or are left scratching their heads wondering, “wha’ happened?” Or, “who?”

And I get to sound like a broken record in saying, yet again, how sincerely thrilled I am for those who won, but how I cannot respect or support the Helpmanns as the national performing arts awards. Because they are not, in a variety of ways.

First of all, it’s not possible to have genuine and credible national awards in Australia. The capital city awards are the ones that really count, and they don’t have the plump fingers of the big-time producers in their pies. (Sorry, that sounds disgusting, but come to think of it, it is.)

Second of all: transparency. Speaking from the point of view of being a founder of the Sydney Theatre Awards – because I have no business talking about Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth – these awards have gained currency over the past decade (!) because those who make the decisions have seen the productions under review and the people involved are known to the industry and known to each other. This cannot be said of the national awards. 

The UK’s Oliviers are not ”national”, the USA’s Tonys are not national – there is no such thing anywhere in the world of theatre, cos it ain’t possible. A majority of credible critical voices do not see all contenders: for instance, while it’s not that the event wasn’t probably excellent, but who voted for the Best Symphony Orchestra Concert winners – Stemme, Skelton, Tristan and Isolde and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra? Who voted for Best Comedy Performer winner when Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette doesn’t play Sydney until the end of this year? And so it goes.

And let’s ignore the international winners for fear of an epidemic of apoplexy. On the other hand, we can be a tiny bit relieved that the long gone on Sir Cecil Beaton didn’t get up in his category. And he gave show host Jan van der Stool material for a marvellous intervention which should stir up those bone idle living Australian theatre designers.

And Kate Mulvany and Leah Purcell are not only big winners but within the terms of the “national” element, rare and proper winners. Mulvany’s performance for Bell Shakespeare Company as Richard 3 was one for the ages – a brilliant achievement and seen beyond Sydney. And Leah Purcell’s re-invention of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife is one of the most remarkable and genuinely important theatre works in the Australian canon. As well, her performance – in theatres other than home territory of Belvoir St – won’t be easily forgotten either.

Barrie Kosky and the Adelaide Festival reminded us of the power and possibility of operatic (okay, oratorio) innovation and daring. Saul was brilliant – if you happened to be in Adelaide. Luckily, Saul’s other winner – Kanen Breen – is seen in other cities, but largely because he is a determined and tireless performer whose heart beats in the same earth-moving rhythm as Kosky’s. 

So, here’s the full list. Congratulations to all – and you deserve so much more.

Helpmann Award Winners 2017

Best New Australian Work - The Drover's Wife, Belvoir

Best Costume Design - Gregg Barnes, Aladdin, Disney Theatrical Productions 

Best Lighting Design - Joachim Klein, Saul, Adelaide Festival et al

Best Original Score, Iain Grandage and Rahayu Supanggah, Satan Jawa

Best Music Direction - Erin Helyard, Saul

Best Scenic Design - Anna Cordingley, Jasper Jones, Melbourne Theatre Company

Best Sound Design - Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, The Encounter, Complicite et al

Best Cabaret Performer - Hot Brown Honey ensemble, Briefs Factory et al

Best Comedy Performer - Hannah Gadsby, Nanette, Token Events

Best Presentation for Children - Jump First, Ask Later, Powerhouse Youth Theatre and Force Majeure

Best Regional Touring Production - Terrain, Bangarra Dance Theatre

Best Australian Contemporary Concert - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Billions Australia

Best Contemporary Music Festival - MONA FOMA, Museum of Old and New Art

Best Ballet - Ballet Preljocaj's Snow White, QPAC and Brisbane Festival

Best Dance Production - Attractor, Dancenorth and Lucy Guerin Inc et al

Best Choreography in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production - Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin, Attractor

Best Male Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production - Kevin Jackson, Nijinsky, The Australian Ballet

Best Female Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production - Lilian Steiner, Split, Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House


Best Visual or Physical Theatre Production - Snake Sessions, Branch Nebula et al

Best Direction of an Opera - Barrie Kosky, Saul

Best Female Performer in a Supporting Role in an Opera - Lorina Gore, King Roger, Opera Australia

Best Male Performer in a Supporting Role in an Opera - Kanen Breen, Saul

Best Female Performer in an Opera - Lise Lindstrom, The Ring Cycle, Opera Australia

Best Male Performer in an Opera - Christopher Purves, Saul

Best Opera - Saul

Best Chamber and/or Instrumental Ensemble Concert - Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Best Symphony Orchestra Concert - Stemme, Skelton, Tristan & Isolde, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Best Individual Classical Music Performance - Joshua Bell, Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Best Direction of a Play - Leticia Caceres, The Drover's Wife

Best Supporting Female Actor in a Play - Amber McMahon, Girl Asleep, Windmill Theatre Company

Best Supporting Male Actor in a Play - Guy Simon, Jasper Jones

Best Female Actor in a Play - Kate Mulvany, Richard III, Bell Shakespeare

Best Male Actor in a Play - Mark Coles Smith, The Drover's Wife

Best Play - The Drover's Wife

Best Direction of a Musical - Trey Parker and Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon, Anne Garefino et al

Best Choreography in a Musical - Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots, Michael Cassel et al

Best Supporting Female Actor in a Musical - Robyn Nevin, My Fair Lady, Opera Australia and John Frost

Best Supporting Male Actor in a Musical - Michael James Scott, Aladdin

Best Female Actor in a Musical - Anna O'Byrne, My Fair Lady

Best Male Actor in a Musical - Callum Francis, Kinky Boots

Best Musical - The Book of Mormon

Bestowed Helpmann Award for outstanding contribution to the Live Performance Industry - Ross Cunningham

Sue Nattrass Award - Rob Brookman, AM

JC Williamson Award - Richard Tognetti, AO



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