Predictions for Sunday's Olivier awards (Harry Potter is going to win everything, basically)

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
Theatre & Dance Editor, UK

This Sunday is British theatre’s big night: the Olivier Awards, the industry’s glitziest and most prestigious event. For 2017 it's moving to a new home, the Royal Albert Hall, and for the first time in over a decade, it'll be screened on the telly in full (though you'll have to wait until Tuesday).

But the impatient lot out there can follow our live Twitter commentary to find out all the winners on the night, and for now, enjoy our predictions.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' will win big. Like, really big.

With 11 nominations, JK Rowling’s stage opus matches 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’s' record for most Olivier nominations for a play, but may well surpass its haul of seven wins. It has virtually no competition in the technical categories, John Tiffany will surely win Best Director, Jack Thorne stands a good chance of winning best play (possibly not entirely deserved, but that’s not his fault – see below), and all three nominated actors (Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni and Anthony Boyle) stand very good chances in their respective categories. It's been a huge, huge success and the industry wants to celebrate it.

It won’t be a great night for subsidised theatre…

Without getting too boring and technical, the Olivier shortlists are drawn up in a funny way that vastly favours shows that have gone to or are going to the West End. Because there weren’t many transfers from the subsidised sector last year (ie theatres that receive government subsidy), there are barely any nominations: a few for the National, nothing for the Royal Court and the Almeida. Once the most prestigious award, the best new play shortlist consists of ‘Harry Potter’ then three plays – the NT’s ‘The Flick’ and two good but slightly random shows from the Donmar – that don’t register a single nomination in any other category.

…except Billie Piper will hopefully win best actress.

Aside from the NT’s seven nominations, the only real patch of light for subsidised theatre is the Young Vic’s harrowing ‘Yerma’, which racks up three. Billie Piper’s astonishing, devastating performance as a childless woman who loses her mind was singled out as an Olivier winner from the start and has won all the other major theatre gongs it’s been put up for. But she does face stiff competition from Glenda Jackson, Cherry Jones and Ruth Wilson, all of whom performed in shows much more recently.

'Groundhog Day' deserves to be the biggest musical winner, but might struggle.

You have to look all the way back to 2012 to find a year a musical that really swept the awards, with ‘Matilda’ taking home seven. ‘Groundhog Day’ is the new show from the same creative team, and was by far the best new musical to hit town last year. Expect it to win a bunch of its eight categories. But it might suffer from the brevity of its London run (in a complicated arrangement it did a very limited season before heading off to Broadway), and is up against stiff competition from ‘School of Rock’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ (which counts as a new musical, despite being 35 years old, as this production is its UK premiere).

It will probably be a bit of a quiet one all in all…

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will be the big story this year, but the truth is that it’s pretty much almost the only story. Next year could be a disappointment for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega-hyped ‘Hamilton’ if it doesn’t set a record for wins, whilst heavyweight transfers from subsidised theatres – notably the Almeida’s ‘Hamlet’ and the Royal Court’s ‘The Ferryman’ – plus the NT’s sleb-heavy ‘Angels in America’ and ‘The Network’ ought to make the play categories seriously competitive again.


It being 2017, don’t bet against some politicised speeches. And a lack of BAME winners will look seriously bad for the awards, whose official poster this year features two black performers (Dumezweni and Amber Riley from ‘Dreamgirls’) to one white performer (Kenneth Branagh) – hardly a ratio reflected in the nominations lists, though both Dumezweni and Riley have to be favourites in their categories. The Oliviers haven't had quite an #OscarsSoWhite backlash, but the industry is already in hot water over diversity issues and as well as being bad form, a whitewash wouldn't look good. 

Follow our online coverage on the Oliviers at @TimeOutTheatre, from 5pm on Sunday April 9.

The Olivier Awards will be screened on ITV on Tue April 11, 8pm-10pm.

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