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Royal Court Plays & Spring Top Olivier Shortlists

The Royal Court has pipped the Donmar Warehouse to lead the shortlists in this year’s 34th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, announced today (See Today's Other News for Full Shortlists). Thanks again largely to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Headlong’s production of Lucy Prebble’s Enron, with six nods apiece, the Court comes tops with 15 nominations, followed by the Donmar – which has dominated the Olivier shortlists for the past two years – with ten and the National Theatre with nine.

The successes at those three subsidised houses helped fuel an exceptionally strong year for drama that saw play attendances up by 26% in 2009 (See News, 27 Jan 2010), and that’s reflected in the Olivier shortlists, with three categories - Best Actor, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Play Revival – extended to six contenders each, rather than the usual four or five.

Jerusalem vs Enron

Enron and Jerusalem, both of which had their London premieres at the Royal Court Downstairs (with Enron having first been seen at Chichester Festival) and are now transferred to the West End, have already vied against one another at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage.com Awards (the results of which are announced this Sunday). At the first two prize-givings, Jerusalem nabbed Best New Play and Best Actor (Mark Rylance) while Enron scooped Best Director for Rupert Goold.

For the Oliviers, the two plays go head-to-head again in those categories, with Enron’s Samuel West up for another Best Actor prize and Ian Rickson nominated once more for Best Director. They also compete for Best Supporting Actor (Jerusalem’s Mackenzie Crook vs Enron’s Tim Pigott-Smith) and Best Set Design (Enron’s Anthony Ward vs Jerusalem Ultz). Enron is also up for Best Lighting Design (Mark Henderson) while Jerusalem’s sixth is for Best Sound Design (Ian Dickinson for Autograph).

In the heavy-hitting Best Actor category, Rylance and West are up against: 79-year-old American legend James Earl Jones for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Brits Jude Law for the Donmar West End Hamlet (who was the steady frontrunner for the same category in the Whatsonstage.com Awards), James McAvoy for Three Days of Rain and Ken Stott for A View from the Bridge.

For Best New Play, Enron and Jerusalem compete with John Logan’s Red, just finished at the Donmar Warehouse and now preparing for a Broadway transfer, and Katori Hall’s Martin Luther King-inspired two-hander The Mountaintop, premiered at the fringe Theatre503 before its West End run at Trafalgar Studios.

Crook and Pigott-Smith are in the running for Best Supporting Actor alongside Burnt by the Sun’s Rory Kinnear and Red’s Eddie Redmayne, while the other Best Director contenders, all for plays, are Michael Grandage for Hamlet (for which he only took up directing duties when Kenneth Branagh had to withdraw), A View from the Bridge’s Lindsay Posner and up-and-comer Bijan Sheibani for Our Class at the NT Cottesloe.

Leading ladies

Keira Knightley, who made her professional stage debut in December, receives an Olivier nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Misanthrope, in which she plays a spoilt American starlet opposite Damian Lewis’ jaded British dramatist. Her competition in the expanded category comes from: Hayley Atwell for A View from the Bridge, Michelle Dockery for Burnt by the Sun, Alexandra Gilbreath for the RSC Twelfth Night, Rachael Stirling for The Priory and Ruth Wilson for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Wilson’s Streetcar co-star Rachael Weisz is nominated for yet-another Best Actress prize for her performance as Blanche Dubois in the Tennessee Williams’ classic at the Donmar (she’s already won the Standard and Critics’ Circle honours, and was a frontrunner in voting for the upcoming Whatsonstage.com Awards). Weisz battles against Gillian Anderson for A Doll’s House, another Donmar production, as well as Imelda Staunton for Entertaining Mr Sloane and Juliet Stevenson for Duet for One.

The six-strong Best Play Revival field comprises: Streetcar, The Misanthrope, A View from the Bridge, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Three Days of Rain and the West End revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. And author Jez Butterworth could potentially scoop Oliviers this year for both Best New Play and Best New Comedy. His other play premiered last year, Parlour Song (also directed by Ian Rickson, this time at the Almeida), is in the running for the latter againt Tim Firth’s adaptation of his own screenplay for Calendar Girls, Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice and Michael Wynne’s The Priory.

Spring still making Music

Despite its short-lived West End season last year, Spring Awakening continues to prove its success on the awards front: it receives the most nominations (seven) for any single production this year. In addition to Best New Musical, the alt-rock musical, which had its UK premiere at the Lyric Hammersmith and then transferred to the Novello, is up for: Best Actress in a Musical (Charlotte Wakefield), Best Actor in a Musical (Aneurin Barnard), Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (Iwan Rheon, Best Choreographer (Bill T Jones), Best Lighting (Kevin Adams) and Best Sound (Brian Ronan).

Spring’s closest musical contender is Trevor Nunn’s Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which transferred to the Garrick Theatre and is now nominated five Oliviers. Night Music similarly vies for Best Actress in a Musical (Hannah Waddingham) and Best Actor in a Musical (Alexander Hanson, now reprising his performance in the Broadway production) and is also up for Best Musical Revival against Annie Get Your Gun, Oliver! and Hello, Dolly!.

The West End’s two screen-to-stage blockbuster arrivals, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Sister Act, both still playing at the Palace and London Palladium respectively, are also up for Best New Musical, along with rock’n’roll compilation show Dreamboats and Petticoats, now at the Playhouse.

Elsewhere, Sister Act star Patina Miller is up for Best Actress in a Musical along with Wakefield, Waddingham, Hello, Dolly!’s Samantha Spiro and former Spice Girl Melanie C, who is the current Mrs Johnstone in long-runner Blood Brothers. And Priscilla’s Tony Sheldon, who plays a transsexual in the Australian hit, is up for Best Actor in a Musical or Entertainment, along with Barnard, Hanson, Oliver!’s Rowan Atkinson and, somewhat oddly, Bob Golding for Morecambe, the one-man tribute to the late comedian Eric Morecambe.

For musicals, the Oliviers do not have separate categories for Supporting Actress and Actor. Three of this year’s four nominees for Best Supporting Role are women, two of them from A Little Night Music: Maureen Lipman and Kelly Price from the Sondheim and Sister Act’s Mother Superior Sheila Hancock vie for the prize with Spring’s Rheon.

Long-runners & other entertainments

Derren Brown, who won an Olivier for his last stage show, is nominated again for Best Entertainment for his latest offering Derren Brown: Enigma, now launching a UK tour. He has competition from two other one-man shows: quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti’s Change and Morecambe.

The special category in this year’s Oliviers, similar to Whatsonstage.com’s Best West End Show, is the Audience Award for Most Popular Show. Five long-runners are shortlisted: musicals Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You, Wicked and one play, War Horse.

There’s just one category this year for affiliate members of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), the body that runs the Oliviers. For Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, the three nominations are: Soho Theatre/Tiata Fahodzi’s Iya Ile (The First Wife), the Tricycle Theatre’s Afghanistan cycle The Great Game and Mike Bartlett’s three-hander Cock at the Royal Court Upstairs. There are two categories apiece for opera and dance.

Scores & omissions

Notable omissions from this year’s Olivier shortlists include: Simon StephensPunk Rock (nominated for Best New Play in the Standard and Whatsonstage.com Awards, but only eligible in the Oliviers’ affiliate categories because it ran in London at the Lyric Hammersmith only), Helen Mirren for her acclaimed title performance in Phedre at the National, the West End revival of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s sell-out production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which last year teamed Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage together for the first time (and became a frontrunner for Theatre Event of the Year in the Whatsonstage.com Awards as a result), and the Old Vic, which is entirely absent from the nominations, despite a year that included the first Bridge Project offerings, The Cherry Orchard and A Winter’s Tale, Sam Mendes’ first London productions since leaving the Donmar Warehouse.

Overall, multiple show nominees in the 2010 Oliviers are: Spring Awakening (seven), Enron, Jerusalem (six each) A Little Night Music (five), A View from the Bridge, Sister Act, Hello, Dolly! (four each), A Streetcar Named Desire, Three Days of Rain, Burnt by the Sun, The Misanthrope, Red, Oliver, Priscilla Queen of the Desert (three each), The Mountaintop, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hamlet, The Priory and England People Very Nice (two each).

Commenting on the shortlists, SOLT president Nica Burns said: "In an outstanding year for drama, a whole new generation of playwrights step into the spotlight. Eight wonderful new plays – challenging, stimulating and inspiring – include two women in their twenties. Mirroring this, the voting for the best acting awards was so close that the nominations had to be increased, with some of the most exciting young acting talent around taking their place alongside some our most acclaimed screen stars. What a memorable year!"

Public tickets to the Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert this Sunday 14 February, priced from £20 to £42.50, are now completely sold out! We are hoping to release a handful of top-price £42.50 reserve tickets this Friday 12 February. If you’d like to be alerted as soon as these are put on sale, please click here join the waiting list!


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