Ahead of the main ceremony on 8 March 2009, many of the nominees in this year’s 33rd annual Laurence Olivier Awards gathered today (24 February 2009) for an informal celebratory lunch at London’s Haymarket Hotel.

Amongst the nominees – and competitors – in attendance today were Michael Gambon, David Bradley, Oliver Ford Davies, Christopher Hampton, Lindsay Duncan, Ruthie Henshall, Ryan Molloy, Clive Rowe, Margaret Tyzack, Emma Williams, Jason Pennycooke, Alexander Hanson, Kathryn Evans, Dave Willetts, Lesli Margherita, Kevin R McNally and various members of the casts of Black Watch, The Norman Conquests, La Clique, Jersey Boys, Sunset Boulevard and The Histories.

The reintroduction of the nominees’ lunch, which has not been held in recent years, is one of a number of adjustments to this year’s Oliviers format. Speaking about the preliminary lunch, Nica Burns, president of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which runs the Oliviers, told Whatsonstage.com: “It’s a nice chance for the nominees to see each other before the night. It’s not so much making changes, as restoring things. No one can remember why they stopped.”

As for the night itself at Grosvenor House, although the basic formula remains intact – “we’re still having performances and we’re still having a dinner”, said Burns – more audio-visual elements will be added to the evening’s entertainment, produced for the first time by Julian Stoneman of Stoneman Treagus Associates. Video screens placed around the venue will - during the dinner break - roll extracts from shows, first night photos and tributes to artists who’ve passed away over the past year. The Oliviers also have a new presenter this year, with Irish actor James Nesbitt taking over from Richard Wilson.

The Laurence Olivier Awards were created in 1976, then called the Society of West End Theatre Awards, to recognise excellence on the London stage. They were rebranded in 1984 when Lord Olivier agreed to have his name associated with them. Over the years, there have various changes in format. Prior to 2004, the Awards were a daytime event held in a theatre, with some upper circle and balcony seats reserved for the public, and the ceremony later televised on BBC One.

But when the BBC decided to stop broadcasting the Oliviers, the event reverted to a more glamorous, black tie ceremony exclusively for industry guests, approximately 950 of whom will attend this year. Burns told Whatsonstage.com that a change of address is unlikely as Grosvenor House is the only venue in London that can hold up to 1,000 guests for the popular sit-down dinner. However, negotiations are ongoing to get the Oliviers back on TV in 2010.

- by Terri Paddock