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Olivier Awards nominations: shocks, surprises and lovely moments from yesterday's news

In a crowded year, some shows will always miss out – but there were lovely surprises too

James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan
© Marc Brenner

Ah it feels almost nostalgic to ruminate over Olivier Award nominations. It's been two years since we last watched the names revealed via live-stream, providing a mixture of surprise and, to a certain degree, reassurance that the right sort of talent was being recognised.

Every year brings its own surprises, shocks and cockle-warming celebrations, and this year's list of nominees was no exception. Who will win though? Guess we'll have to wait until 10 April to find out the results!


Shocks

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella – An almost whole-sale rejection of Lloyd Webber's newest musical, Cinderella, was something of an eyebrow-raiser – especially after it garnered some pretty solid reviews and has extended into the new year. The fact the show wasn't nominated in the "Original Score or Orchestrations" category (only one new musical with original numbers was – Back to the Future), will make the sting all the sharper. But nice to see Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's iconic, barnstorming, performance recognised.

The Tragedy of Macbeth – Coming into the nominations we'd, hastily perhaps, drafted up a paragraph hailing the success of Saoirse Ronan and James McArdle for their five-star turn in the hit Shakespeare revival. But that was swiftly deleted when neither was nominated – though it was excellent to see WhatsOnStage Award-winner Akiya Henry on the supporting actress list.

Musical revivalsDespite a dense volume of eligible shows, the Olivier voters only settled for three nominees in this category – compared to some others which went for four or five. Which meant the likes of Carousel or The Last Five Years were left empty-handed – a shame!

Let's talk about sets – Christopher Oram's stellar Frozen costumes were given a well-earned costume nod, but, in a category that was full of heavy hitters – Tom Scutt's radical redesign of the Playhouse Theatre, Derek McLane's reconfiguration of the Piccadilly Theatre, and the sterling effort bringing the ACTUAL OCEAN to the Wyndhams in Life of Pi, plus the sci-fi kaleidoscope at Back to the Future – you almost wish they'd pushed the number of nominees up to five for Oram's massive, winding ice bridge – which might top that Saigon helicopter for best design feat at Drury Lane.


Jack Holden and DJ John Elliott in Cruise
© Pamela Raith


Lovely nods

Cruise – Jack Holden's play was the first new writing after the pandemic and a blistering solo show - it's fantastic to see it recognised, as we pined for last week.

Life of Pi – The critical response was much more tepid than we'd expected considering it'd won the WhatsOnStage Award for Best New Play, so seeing Life of Pi top the play categories with nine nominations felt like a satisfying way to give the technicolour odyssey of a production the seal of approval its West End run needed. The puppeteers doing awesome work on Richard Parker are also deserving contenders in the supporting actor category, while Hiran Abeysekera's incredible central turn picked up a Best Actor nod.

Back to the Future the Musical – Another WhatsOnStage Awards winner making great strides was Back to the Future – receiving the most nominations of any new musical this year. After his WhatsOnStage Award win, it's excellent to see Hugh Coles also bag an Olivier nomination – that guy is going far, we can tell.

Affiliates – Always a cracking way of highlighting the emerging, form-busting work being done outside the main London stages, this year's affiliate category did not disappoint. Igor Memic's Papatango winner Old Bridge, which was received with critical clamour, is a personal favourite, while Kiln's The Invisibile Hand was a masterclass in staging an international thriller from a single jail cell.

Emerging talent – Aside from Abeysekera, Coles and Holden, there are a whole wad of fantastic talents featured on the list – Get Up, Sand Up! star Gabrielle Brooks, Anything Goes' Carly Mercedes Dyer being two obvious names.


Award for least surprising result

In our office sweepstake, we didn't let anyone take Cabaret. Everyone knew it was going to lead the day. The show even sent out new production shots half an hour before the results so we had shiny new photos to celebrate the haul with. Given it is perfectly marvellous, this is hardly a surprise!


Other thoughts

Of the entire list (excluding opera and dance) – five shows have played exclusively at subsidised venues – Macbeth, Spring Awakening, The Normal Heart, Hamlet and Best of Enemies. Only two of these aren't co-produced with other organisations. A couple more – Pi, Constellations, admittedly have subsidised links. But the heavy-hitting commercial shows are ruling the roost, a trend that's been pretty familiar over the last decade.

The fact no other National shows were recognised is something of a surprise (and the one that was was a co-production) not even acting turns in Paradise or Under Milk Wood, or some of the fab shows staged in the Dorfman. It might have something to do with the voting system, as smarter minds than mine have remarked in the past. But does the system need a small shake-up to make sure shows staged in smaller spaces still get a look-in?

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