Much is being made of the “revitalisation” of the Laurence Olivier Awards, as heralded with today’s major press conference – for the first time – to coincide with the nominations, not to mention the bagging of a headline sponsor in MasterCard (another first), an extensive multi-media coverage tie-in with the BBC, a return to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, a snazzy new awards website, promises of exciting line-up announcements from next week and limited publicly available tickets later this month ... but what about the shortlists themselves?

The Olivier nominations, always dominated by the subsidised sector, this year sees the National Theatre back on top, leading with 17 nods, followed by the Royal Court and the Donmar Warehouse with nine apiece. (The Court led the way last year, with its double-headed threat of Jerusalem and Enron, while the Donmar came tops the two years prior to that.)

Subsidised battles

In the Best Director category, it’s subsidised-only zone, with the artistic directors of the Royal Court and Donmar Warehouse, Dominic Cooke and Michael Grandage, for Clybourne Park and King Lear respectively, going head-to-head with two National offerings, Howard Davies for The White Guard (but not for his West End revival of All My Sons) and Thea Sharrock’s revival of Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance.

In fact, the NT’s 2011 overall haul is thanks in large part to After the Dance with its six nominations, the most for any play this year, including Best Actress for Nancy Carroll, Best Supporting Actor for Adrian Scarborough, Best Director for Sharrock and Best Revival; as well as The White Guard’s three and Hamlet’s two (another Best Actor nomination for Evening Standard winner Rory Kinnear and Best Supporting Actor for James Laurenson).

Amongst the Court’s stash are four for Bruce Norris’ satire Clybourne Park, which opens tomorrow night at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre, including Best Actress for Sophie Thompson, Best Supporting Actress for Sarah Goldberg and Best New Play, in addition to Cooke’s director nod; as well as two other Best New Play nominees, Roy WilliamsSucker Punch and Nina Raine’s Tribes.

The Donmar’s top scorer is Grandage’s King Lear which sees Derek Jacobi’s title performance earn him another Best Actor nod. Amongst its five nominations are also mentions for Gina McKee for Best Supporting Actress and Best Revival.

West End look-ins

There are a few West End plays giving the subsidised houses a good run for their money. Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow, about the last days of Judy Garland, nets an impressive four nominations - Best Actress for Tracie Bennett’s performance as Garland, Best Supporting Actor for Hilton McRae, Best Sound Design (Gareth Owen) and Best New Play – while Howard Davies’ production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons earns two (Best Actor for Critics’ Circle Winner and Whatsonstage.com frontrunner David Suchet and Best Revival), and two big mentions for Douglas Carter Beane’s Broadway comedy The Little Dog Laughed (Best New Play and Best Actress for another Whatsonstage.com Award favourite Tamsin Grieg).

The 2011 Best Actor category is particularly strong, with another West End offering, last year’s Best Actor (for Jerusalem) Mark Rylance being shortlisted again, this time for the David Hirson comedy La Bete, alongside Jacobi, Kinnear, Suchet and, for Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 at Shakespeare’s Globe, Roger Allam.

Musical head-to-head

As in the Whatsonstage.com Awards, the big musical battle is being waged between Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s follow-up to The Phantom of the Opera, with seven nominations (the most of any production this year) despite an initially lukewarm critical response, and Broadway screen-to-stage transfer Legally Blonde with five. The productions vie against one another for Best Actress in a Musical (Love’s Sierra Boggess vs Blonde Sheridan Smith), Best Actor in a Musical (Ramin Karimloo vs Alex Gaumond), Best Supporting Role in a Musical (Summer Strallen vs Jill Halfpenny) and the big one, Best New Musical.

The magic number is three for the year’s other big musical offerings: the Donmar’s Sondheim at 80 offering of Passion (including Best Actress in a Musical for Elena Roger and Best Musical Revival), the National’s UK premiere of Fela! (including Best New Musical and Best Actor in Musical for Sahr Ngaujah, the Menier Chocolate Factory transfer of Sweet Charity (including Best Supporting Role in a Musical for Josefina Gabrielle and Best Musical Revival) and the Howard Goodall-scored adaptation of Erich Segal’s Love Story, transferred from Chichester (Best New Musical and Best Actress and Actor in a Musical for, respectively Emma Williams and Michael Xavier).

Michael Xavier has this year’s distinction of being the only actor twice-nominated in the 2011 Awards (Bob Crowley gets the nod for both costumes and set for Love Never Dies). In addition to his Love Story nomination, as in the Whatsonstage.com Awards, he’s shortlisted for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for the Open Air’s production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which is also shortlisted for Best Musical Revival.

In the Best New Opera category, normally a shut-out between English National Opera and the Royal Opera House, OperaUpClose’s modern English-language version of Puccini’s La Boheme, which started life at Kilburn’s tiny Cock Theatre before transferring to Soho, weighs in with Elegy for Young Lovers, at the Young Vic co-produced with ENO, Complicity’s A Dog’s Heart at ENO, and Adriana Lecouvreur at the ROH.

Entertainment & long-runners

Though not staged in a traditional SOLT venue (normally a criterion for eligibility), The Railway Children, which transformed the former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station, pulls into the shortlists in the Best Sound Design and Best Entertainment categories. In the latter, it’s up against two children’s Christmas shows, Katie Mitchell’s devised NT staging of Beauty and the Beast and Potted Panto, and stage thriller Ghost Stories, still scaring up audiences at the West End’s Duke of York’s.

Following Whatsonstage.com’s lead, the Oliviers are continuing with their publicly voted category for long-runners, run in conjunction with BBC Radio 2 and now officially renamed the BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award. All long-runners, with the exception of last year’s winner Wicked (18 shows in total), are eligible in 2011. The shortlists will be revealed on Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 show on 27 February, and the winner presented by Paige and members of the Wicked cast at the ceremony on 13 March.

Scores, omissions & more key dates

Notable omissions from this year’s Olivier shortlists include: Jenny Jules for her Critics’ Circle Award-winning performance in Lynn Nottage’s Ruined at the Almeida, Zoe Wanamaker in All My Sons, Simon Russell Beale in London Assurance (or Deathtrap, which sees only Hugh Vanstone nominated for Best Lighting Design), Best Director regular in recent years Rupert Goold, the Old Vic’s lauded revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing starring Toby Stephens, the premiere of Laura Wade’s politically charged Royal Court play Posh, and both of impresario Cameron Mackintosh’s 2010 offerings, his 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables, which returned home to the Barbican, and the Public Theater revival of Hair, which he transferred to the West End with its complete Broadway cast.

Overall, multiple show nominees in the 2011 Oliviers are: Love Never Dies (seven), After the Dance (six), King Lear (five), Legally Blonde (five), Clybourne Park (four), End of the Rainbow (four), Fela! (three), Passion (three), Sweet Charity (three), The White Guard (three), Design for Living (two), All My Sons (two), Ghost Stories (two), Hamlet (two), Into the Woods (two), The Little Dog Laughed (two), The Railway Children (two), Sucker Punch (two) and Tribes.

The 35th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, sponsored by MasterCard, will take place on Sunday 13 March 2011 at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with live coverage on BBC Radio 2 and via the red button on BBC television. Ahead of that, key dates are: 14 February, host announced; 22 February, nominees’ lunch at the Haymarket Hotel; 27 February, Radio 2 Audience Award shortlist announced; late February, details about public tickets released; and 4 March, the winner of this year’s Special Award, normally bestowed for a lifetime’s contribution and announced on the night, revealed ahead of time.


Public tickets to the 2011 Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert on Sunday 20 February at the Prince of Wales Theatre are now completely sold out! We are hoping to release a handful of top-price £47.50 reserve tickets on Friday 18 February. If you’d like to be alerted as soon as these are put on sale, please click here join the waiting list!