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The WhatsOnStage nominations show British theatre is in rude health

As the WhatsOnStage Awards approach, Sarah Crompton reflects on just how much variety there is on the UK stage at the moment


(© Eddy Hamamci/Flickr/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Forget the Oscars! This Sunday night sees the glittering awards ceremony that marks a high point of our year here at WhatsOnStage.

Looking at the list of nominees – voted for, uniquely among stage awards, by you, the audience – I am struck afresh by just how various and thrilling the past year has been in British theatre. Any awards ceremony that has Andrew Garfield, Andrew Scott, Bryan Cranston, David Tennant and Martin Freeman as its Best Actor candidates has got to be something to shout about.

British theatre at the moment has something to suit every taste

This strength in depth is bolstered by the range of plays from which they are nominated – a classic (Hamlet), a modern classic (Angels in America), the rethinking of a film (Network), the rethinking of a play (Don Juan in Soho) and a brand new piece (Labour of Love). The same is true when you look at the Best Play category itself, plays that cover the broadest ground from cut-throat life in a Manhattan office (Gloria), to Rupert Murdoch's takeover of The Sun (Ink), to the state of the Labour party with added romance (Labour of Love), to the Middle East peace process (Oslo) and the Northern Ireland Troubles (The Ferryman). All human life really does seem to be here.

As for the musicals list, well you'd have to be a Puritan not to smile at nominations that encompass Bat Out of Hell, Cilla, and Everybody's Talking About Jamie, with The Band and Young Frankenstein thrown in for good measure. Plus a revivals list that can take in its warm grasp the sophisticated sadness of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, the melancholy of Fiddler on the Roof, and the pure joy of 42nd Street, Five Guys Named Moe and a revival of Hair that comes somewhere in the middle.

Whatever the economic difficulties theatre is facing, quality still wins

I think this is the strength of British theatre at the moment. There really is something to suit every taste – drawing in audiences. A friend last week asked me to recommend my top plays in London and I found the list went on and on. Gratifyingly, for me, if not for him, most of the shows that I suggested he see (in the same week he asked me) were booked out. That suggests that whatever the economic difficulties theatre is facing – and it will be interesting to see how buoyant the West End is when the latest annual figures come out in March – quality still wins. Popular well-made shows sell out.

There is brilliant work going on Off-West End and in the regions too – a fact recognised by categories in the WhatsOnStage Awards. Your preferences lean towards musicals and entertainments, but that is only to be expected at a time when the news is pretty grim and theatre offers an escape as well as a mirror to our times. What's heartening is that all across the country, people still put a trip to the theatre in their diary as a good way to spend their time. Despite decades of prophecy about its death, the stage is in the rudest of health and showcasing performances to make you laugh, cry and want to dance along. It is this spirit that Sunday's awards will be celebrating.

The 18th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards take place at the Prince of Wales Theatre on Sunday 25 February. Watch our stream live from the red carpet on Facebook from 6.15 that evening.