Eighteenth-century German dramatist Friedrich Schiller has today cemented his position as the West End’s hottest property for 2005, with no fewer than a dozen nominations for revivals of his classic tragedies Mary Stuart and Don Carlos in the 30th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys (See Today's Other News).

Schiller thrillers

In this year’s Olivier nominations – announced today ahead of the winners’ ceremony held at the London Hilton on Sunday 26 February 2006 - Don Carlos and Mary Stuart received six nominations apiece, going head-to-head in the races for Best Revival and Best Director. The former was directed by Michael Grandage, originally at Sheffield Crucible, while the latter, which also subsequently transferred to the commercial West End, was directed by Phyllida Lloyd for the Donmar Warehouse, where Grandage is artistic director.

Other key nominations for the productions include another set of Best Actress nods for both of Mary Stuart’s leading ladies, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, playing duelling queens, and a Best Actor nod for Derek Jacobi for his performance as Spanish monarch King Philip II in Don Carlos.

Equalling the Schillers with six nominations is Richard Eyre’s revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, which transferred to the West End last summer after its initial season at the Almeida. It’s in the running for Best Actress (Eve Best), Best Performance in a Supporting Role (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Revival and Best Director, amongst others.

Another heavy-hitter play, the Broadway transfer of Arthur Miller’s 20th-century American classic Death of a Salesman, is also up for Best Revival as well as Best Actor for Brian Dennehy and Best Actress for Clare Higgins. (If she wins, it would make a fourth Olivier for Higgins, who’s previously triumphed with Sweet Bird of Youth, Vincent in Brixton and Hecuba, which earned her the Best Actress trophy last year.)

Billy boys vs Dolls

Amongst the musicals, the world premiere stage adaptation of Billy Elliot - which features an original score by pop star Elton John - leads the way with a total of nine nominations, including Best New Musical and Best Director (Stephen Daldry, who also directed the original 2000 Brit flick). As in the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, all three young performers who originated the title role – James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower – have been collectively nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, while their co-stars Haydn Gwynne and Tim Healy are also up for prizes (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, respectively).

In addition to his Don Carlos, director Michael Grandage also figures prominently in the Olivier shortlists for his revival of Frank Loesser’s classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, co-produced by the Donmar in the West End with the Ambassador Theatre Group. In another striking similarity with the Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, all four original principals have been nominated in the key performance categories: Ewan McGregor and Douglas Hodge compete with each other for Best Actor in a Musical while Jane Krakowski and Jenna Russell both vie for Best Actress in a Musical.

Guys and Dolls is also in the running for Best Musical Revival, where it’s only competition comes from the Open Air Theatre’s HMS Pinafore. English National Opera’s first foray into mainstream musical theatre, with its full-scale production of Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town, has been shunted into the Best New Opera Production category, where its up against three other ENO stagings.

Donmar overtakes NT, Old Vic omitted

For a second year in a row, the National Theatre has not overshadowed all others in the Olivier shortlists. From such highs as 21 nominations in 2003 and 20 in 2004, the three-auditoria NT picked up eight nominations in 2005 and just seven this year – three of them for Helen Edmundson’s stage adaptation of Jamila Gavin’s children’s book Coram Boy. It does dominate the Best New Play category, where Coram Boy competes with Howard Brenton’s Paul and Simon StephensOn the Shore of the Wide World (both seen in the NT Cottesloe), as well as Richard Bean’s Harvest, premiered at the Royal Court.

Taking into account nominations for its West End co-production of Guys and Dolls, the Donmar Warehouse surpasses the National for the first time, with a record number of 14 nominations in total. Amongst the other subsidised houses, the Almeida follows with its six nods for Hedda Gabler, while the Royal Court has three nominations and the Royal Shakespeare Company just one (Best Costume Design for The Dog in the Manger).

In a year where the West End has come back strong, one glaring omission is Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic, which hasn’t received a single nomination, not even for its critically acclaimed production of Richard II, in which the Hollywood star-turned-artistic director made his UK Shakespearean debut in the title role, directed by Trevor Nunn.

Two awards categories which haven’t been seen in recent years – Best New Comedy and Best Entertainment – have returned for the 2006 running. As with the past two years’ format, the awards ceremony, which takes place on Sunday 26 February 2005 at the London Hilton, will not be open to the public and will not be televised.

- by Terri Paddock

To view the full list of 2006 Olivier nominations, click here.