Continuing its success in the Evening Standard (where it won four prizes), Critics’ Circle (another four) and our own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (with 14 nominations and results to be announced), the Donmar Warehouse has today garnered 13 nominations – more than any other theatre for the second year in a row - in the annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys (See Today's Other News for Full Shortlists).

The nominations are for two productions that originated at the Donmar’s Covent Garden home base - The Chalk Garden (four nods) and Piaf (five) - and two mounted as part of its year-long Donmar West End season at Wyndham’s Theatre - Ivanov (two) and Twelfth Night (two).

Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage told "I'm delighted that so many of our productions have been honoured with Olivier nominations. It has been a big year for the Donmar, and it has been made possible because a lot of people have put their hearts and souls into everything we've done. It's thrilling that so many of them have been recognised for their invaluable contribution. This wonderful news is a real boost as we continue to reach out to as many people as possible at our Covent Garden home and in the West End in the year ahead."

Despite the Donmar domination today, there are two big names missing from its Oliviers tally: Grandage himself and Kenneth Branagh. Grandage won Best Director at the Critics’ Circle and Evening Standard Awards, while Branagh won the Critics’ Circle and was shortlisted for the Standard prize; and both are leading contenders in those categories in the Awards, which are announced on 15 February.

Co-star head-to-heads

In several of the Olivier performance categories, production colleagues compete for the same prize. For Best Actress, The Chalk Garden’s Penelope Wilton and Margaret Tyzack are once again in the running (they shared Best Actress at the Standard Awards, while Tyzack lifted the Critics’ trophy), along with August: Osage County’s Deanna Dunagan and That Face’s Lindsay Duncan.

For Best Actor, it’s No Man’s Land’s Michael Gambon versus No Man’s Land’s David Bradley, as well as Rain Man’s Adam Godley and Twelfth Night’s Derek Jacobi. In Best Performance in a Supporting Role, Hamlet’s Patrick Stewart and Oliver Ford Davies are both nominated, as are Ivanov’s Kevin R McNally and The Norman ConquestsPaul Ritter.

And finally in the co-star battles, onstage lovers Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson, the original West End stars of La Cage aux Folles, have both been nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, squaring up against Jersey Boys Ryan Molloy and Zorro’s Matt Rawle.

There’s even more intimate competition in the Best Lighting Design category, where nominees Paule Constable and Neil Austin battle themselves and each other. Constable has been dually nominated for The Chalk Garden and Ivanov, Austin has been recognised for No Man’s Land and Piaf.

La Cage leads the way

Hodge and Lawson’s Best Actor in a Musical nominations contribute to a total of seven for La Cage aux Folles, the most for any individual production in this year’s Olivier Awards. The production, which started life at the 150-seat Menier Chocolate Factory before transferred to the West End’s Playhouse in October, is also up for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical (Jason Pennycooke), Best Director Terry Johnson, Best Costume Design (Matthew Wright), Best Theatre Choreographer (Lynne Page) and Best Musical Revival

In the last, La Cage aux Folles faces competition from Piaf, Sunset Boulevard and the 50th anniversary of West Side Story. Meanwhile, Best New Musical is literally a two-horse race, with the only shortlisted productions being Jersey Boys and Zorro, one of five nominations apiece for the Broadway import and the Gipsy Kings premiere respectively.

Praise for plays

Beyond the Donmar contributions, there’s a strong showing in the play categories by the National Theatre of Scotland thanks to its long-awaited London debut for Gregory Burke’s Black Watch at the Barbican. The production garners five nominations, including Best New Play, in which it’s in contention with Polly Stenham’s That Face and the National Theatre offerings of Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters (which won the prize at the Evening Standard Awards) and, care of the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre, Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County (which won at the Critics’ Circle Awards).

August is one of four plays to receive four Laurence Olivier nominations each, the others being: the Old Vic’s in-the-round revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests, which has just announced its Broadway transfer, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s eight-play cycle of The Histories at the Roundhouse, and Kneehigh’s multimedia version of Brief Encounter at the specially created Cinema Haymarket.

Odd omissions

Amongst other note-worthy omissions from this year’s shortlists are two care of the Royal Shakespeare Company: David Tennant and RSC artistic director Michael Boyd. Tennant won the Critics’ Circle prize for Best Shakespearean Performance and is a leading contender for two Awards following his original Stratford-upon-Avon run in Hamlet - for his injury-shortened London run may have made it difficult for Olivier judges. Boyd received nominations in the Evening Standard and Awards and won the TMA Award for Best Director for The Histories, but like Michael Grandage, he’s been left off the Oliviers Best Director list.

Theatre-wise, subsidised powerhouses the Almeida and the Royal Court both receive scant attention: while the Court has two nominations, both are in the Affiliate Theatre category for work in its Upstairs studio, and the Almeida is entirely nomination-free. Other critically and audience acclaimed productions ignored by the Olivier judges were the Old Vic’s revival of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, for which Hollywood’s Jeff Goldblum and artistic director Kevin Spacey were jointly nominated for Best Actor in the Awards, and Lindsay Posner’s current West End musical revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway classic Carousel, starring Lesley Garrett.

Awards timeline

The 33rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards comprise 24 categories, as well as another Special Award which is not shortlisted. Taking another leaf out of the Awards book, the Oliviers have this year introduced a new category celebrating ensemble work, entitled Best Company Performance, for which four plays (August: Osage County, Black Watch, The Histories and The Norman Conqusts) and one musical (Sunset Boulevard) are recognised.

Last year’s new category of Best Newcomer in a Play has been dropped in 2009 and the occasional field of Best Entertainment re-inserted. The awards ceremony, which will this year be hosted by James Nesbitt, takes place on Sunday 8 March 2009 at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

Ahead of the Oliviers, our own ninth annual Theatregoers’ Choice Awards will be announced online on Sunday 15 February to coincide with our live Results Concert, incorporating trophy presentations to selected winners. The concert - once again hosted by James Corden and Sheridan Smith and featuring a full evening’s entertainment from the casts of Jersey Boys, Spring Awakening and Mamma Mia! and stars including Ryan Molloy, Elena Roger, Ramin Karimloo and Niki Evans – takes place at 7pm on Sunday 15 February at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

The Theatregoers’ Choice Awards are the only London theatre awards in which the audience is the ultimate judge across all 25 categories. More than 35,000 people took part in this year’s voting, which closed this past Saturday, 31 January.

- by Terri Paddock

To view the full list of 2009 Olivier nominations, click here.

Tickets to the Awards Concert on Sunday 15 February 2009 are priced from £15 to £40 & are selling fast! To book yours, call the Prince of Wales box office on 0844 482 5133 or click here to book online!