Although a spirited, mostly online edition of the Laurence Olivier Awards was pulled out of the hat in the autumn of 2020, you really have to look back to 2019 for the last ‘normal’ incarnation of British theatre’s most prestigious awards.
But now the Oliviers are back! And for the most part, they’re looking the same as they were before, with the fact the nominating season was effectively shorter than usual (because theatres were closed until May) having little impact: indeed, the high volume of delayed musicals finally getting staged means it’s arguably a busier year than usual.
So without further ado, here’s all you need to know about the nominees and potential winners at Sunday’s ceremony, which will take place at the Royal Albert Hall, with coverage on ITV and Magic Radio.
The West End’s luxury revival of Kander & Ebb’s ‘Cabaret’ has received 11 nominations, and looks likely to take a decent chunk of them. Some of the technical categories and minor acting awards are liable to be more contested, and there’s stiff competition from the Barbican revival of ‘Anything Goes’, but it would be pretty remarkable if ‘Cabaret’ didn’t take home best actor in a musical (for Eddie Redmayne), actress in a musical (Jessie Buckley), set design (Tom Scutt) and musical revival – and that’s a bare minimum. It’s ‘Cabaret’'s night to throw away, basically.
The dark horse-slash-tiger
Okay, Max Webster’s puppet-driven West End version of Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ is hardly a plucky outsider, with its nine nominations. Nonetheless, as a somewhat unusual show that isn’t a musical but in many ways falls outside of traditional definitions of ‘drama’, it has the potential to cause a lot of upsets. There aren’t always obvious categories to enter a show based on puppets, meaning there are weird nominations like the seven actors playing the tiger Richard Parker being joint up for best supporting actor – they were brilliant, but it’s a strange fit and hard to predict how they’ll fare against more traditional performances.
Best acting awards
The Oliviers divides these between musical and non-musical for whatever reason, but it would be truly remarkable if Redmayne and Buckley didn’t bag the musical ones so let’s gloss over those.
In terms of straight plays, the best actress award is as baffling a series of nominations as I can remember: Lily Allen was very credible in ‘2:22: A Ghost Story’ but not astonishing; Sheila Atim was great in ‘Constellations’ but her nomination feels a touch random given she was one of four actresses playing the same role; Emma Corrin’s for the little-remembered ‘Anna X’ is just baffling. Cush Jumbo seems likely to win for ‘Hamlet’ because she was pretty good herself and people like giving awards to ‘Hamlet’, even though it wasn’t a very good ‘Hamlet’.
The actor category is basically less controversial – the National Theatre’s revival of Larry Kramer’s ‘The Normal Heart’ has racked up five nominations, which is an awful lot for a show that hasn’t played the West End, and Ben Daniels took home the actor gong at last weekend’s Critics’ Circle awards, so I’d guess he’ll take it here.
Best new play
James Graham’s ‘Best of Enemies’ is very obviously the best play nominated and stands a good chance of being recognised as such. Still, it was only a few years ago that ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child’ won the best play award as part of a general sweep for the show, despite the script clearly not being a classic in and of itself. Don’t be shocked if ‘Life of Pi’ gets it.
Best new musical
I’ll tell you what’s not going to get the night’s biggest gong: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cinderella’, which received just one nod (best supporting actress in a musical for Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). In fact, the dominance of the revivals of ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Anything Goes’ conceals how chaotic the new musicals nominations are in general. In best new musical – the one, extremely prestigious category that ‘Cabaret’ can’t enter – it’s almost impossible to say what will win. ‘Back to the Future’ has the most nominations (seven), but bona fide Broadway smash ‘Moulin Rouge!’ seems like a slightly more credible choice. In any case, it’s the most open the category has been in years – which adds to the fun.
The Laurence Olivier Awards are at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday April 10. Follow our live coverage at twitter.com/TimeOutTheatre.