For the first time since the foundation of the Helpmann Awards in 2001 by Live Performance Australia, the 2019 Helpmann Awards ceremony is being held in Melbourne rather than Sydney, with the announcement of the 43 awards taking place over two nights. The first 20 awards for best creative, designer and supporting actor roles were presented tonight at an intimate, industry-only cocktail hour event hosted by Robyn Archer.

Helpmann AwardsVaishnavi Suryaprakash and Sukania Venugopal in Counting and Cracking. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Counting and Cracking, the epic, new play by S. Shakthidharan, produced by Belvoir and Co-Curious, was the big winner of the evening with four awards. The play, which moves between 1956 and 2004, and takes place in Australia and Sri Lanka, tells a compelling story of Sri Lankan history over the past 30 years. Featuring a multi-cultural cast who performed in six different languages, the play premiered at the 2019 Sydney Festival and then moved to the Adelaide Festival. Eamon Flack and S. Shakthidharan took home the Helpmann Award for Best Direction of a Play. Vaishnavi Suryaprakash was named Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play, Dale Ferguson won Best Scenic Design, and Stefan Gregory won Best Sound Design.

Best Direction of an Opera went to Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade for their production of The Magic Flute for Komische Oper Berlin, which came to the 2019 Perth and Adelaide Festivals. The visually stunning production used a kaleidoscopic design of exquisite hand-drawn animation by Paul Barritt from British theatre company 1927, ingeniously related to the music. Tom Erik Lee, who played Papageno, also won Best Male Performer in a Supporting Role in an Opera.

Helpmann AwardsIwona Sobotka and Joan Martín-Royo in Komische Oper Berlin’s The Magic Flute. Photograph © Toni Wilkinson

Taryn Fiebig won Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in an Opera for her portrayal of Gregor Samsa’s Mother in Opera Australia’s revival of Brian Howard’s opera Metamorphosis. Best Direction of a Musical went to Francesca Zambello for her direction of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: West Side Story, also produced by Opera Australia. Erin Helyard took home the award for Best Music Direction for Pinchgut Opera’s production of Hasse’s Artaserse – another accolade for the production which won Best Rediscovered Work at this year’s International Opera Awards.

In a moving moment, Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play was posthumously won by Paul Blackwell, who died in February, for his performance in Faith Healer, a Belvoir production presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia.

Elaine Crombie was named Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her performance in Barbara and the Camp Dogs, produced by Belvoir in association with Vicki Gordon Music Productions Pty Ltd. Barbara and the Camp Dogs also won Best Original Score for the songs by Ursula Yovich, Alana Valentine and Adm Ventoura, which ranged from rock to funk to soul to ballads. Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical went to Tony Sheldon for the John Frost production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The New Musical.

Best Presentation for Children and Young People was won by Arena Theatre Company’s Robot Song, Best Regional Touring Production was presented to Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Bennelong, while Best Special Event went to Dark Mofo 2018, produced by the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

Helpmann AwardsAntony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever for Sydney Dance Company. Photograph © Pedro Greig

In the dance categories, Antony Hamilton was awarded Best Choreography in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production for his new work Forever & Ever created for Sydney Dance Company, while Malik Le Nost and Mitchell Woodcock won Best Choreography in a Musical for Saturday Night Fever, produced by John Frost in association with Robert Stigwood.

Gabriela Tylesova was awarded Best Costume Design for Melbourne Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night, directed by Simon Phillips, while Neil Austin won Best Lighting Design for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One and Two) produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender, Harry Potter Theatrical Productions, and Australian Executive Producer, Michael Cassel.

The 2019 Sue Nattrass Award for outstanding service to the live performance industry, announced in April, was presented to Liz Jones AO, long-serving Artistic Director of Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre, who is now overseeing the rebuilding of the theatre’s heritage-listed venue after it was destroyed by fire in 2018.

The remaining 23 awards will be presented at The Helpmann Awards Act II on Monday July 15 at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne. The ceremony will be broadcast live on ABC Comedy at 8pm, with highlights from Act I included in the broadcast.