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Mark Shenton: Hamilton aside, 2018 Olivier nominees show a shift back to subsidised sector

Janie Dee, Imelda Staunton and Zizi Strallen in Follies at the Olivier. Photo: Tristram Kenton Janie Dee, Imelda Staunton and Zizi Strallen in Follies at the Olivier. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This year’s nominees for the Olivier Awards reaffirm that the biggest show of the year was, inevitably, Hamilton.

The musical could now potentially see its record 11 Tony wins in 2015 nearly matched by 10 Olivier awards. It has received a record-breaking 13 nominations, but three nominees share the best supporting actor in a musical category and two compete against each other for best actor in a musical.

Hamilton review at Victoria Palace Theatre, London – ‘world-shattering’

However, even if Hamilton has become the year’s commercial juggernaut, it is far from the only show in town that has been noticed by the Oliviers. In fact, after last year’s nominees indicated a decided shift away from subsidised houses to shows in more commercial spaces – not least thanks to Sonia Friedman’s record 31 nominations across six productions – it’s also notable how many of this year’s nominees originated at subsidised theatres.

Many were either in partnership with commercial producers (like The Ferryman, co-produced be Friedman and Caro Newling for Neal Street Productions at the Royal Court before transferring to the Gielgud) or transferred by them to West End houses after runs at the Almeida (for Hamlet and Ink) and Sheffield’s Crucible (for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie).

Olivier nominations: The National is back

The National’s revival of Sondheim’s Follies, with 10 nominations, helped put the National back on the awards map after a slow year last year (when it secured only seven nominations overall), along with the plays Oslo, Network and its revival of Angels in America, to make a total of 22 overall.  However, the Royal Shakespeare Company was, for the second year running, completely shut out, as was Shakespeare’s Globe. Indeed, the most striking omission for me was the absence of any nominations for the Globe’s exquisite production of Romantics Anonymous – to my eyes and ears one of the great new musicals of the last year; likewise passed over was the brave and sometimes brilliant The Grinning Man, transferred from Bristol Old Vic to the Trafalgar Studios.

Musicals, including plays with music like Girl from the North Country (originated at the Old Vic and now at the Coward) and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, took the lion’s share of nominations overall, even if the first of the latter was designated a musical while the second was designated as a play (earning Audra McDonald – the most decorated performer in Broadway history, with six Tony wins to her name spread across each acting category for plays and musicals – her first Olivier nod). Young Frankenstein, which like Hamilton and Lady Day originated on Broadway but unlike them was completely overhauled for the West End, also secured three nominations, though notably not for its leading actor Hadley Fraser.

Olivier nominations: Wives outperform husbands

Also missing from the list of nominees for best actor in a musical: Philip Quast and Peter Forbes for their performances in Follies, though both the women playing their wives, Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee, received nominations. Staunton also achieved a second nomination (for best actress in a play) for her performance as Martha in the revival of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter. Should Staunton win both of the awards she is up for, she would match Judi Dench’s 1996 achievement when she won both for Absolute Hell and A Little Night Music, both seen at the National.

Follies to return to National Theatre and release cast recording

While Imogen Poots was also recognised for her supporting performance in Virginia Woolf, both of the men playing their husbands were also passed over – Conleth Hill and Luke Treadaway, despite blisteringly good work.  Of course, the line has to be drawn somewhere and nominations lists can’t be endless. But other striking omissions were Mike Bartlett’s Albion for best play and Victoria Hamilton for her performance in it, and Drew McOnie for his sensational choreography to this year’s Regent’s Park musical On the Town (though the production did pick up a best musical revival nomination). Also unrecognised, surprisingly, were any of the performers in An American in Paris; both Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope had received Tony nominations when they originated their roles on Broadway.

Olivier nominations: where will the go next?

Though these and other categories clearly had a surfeit of potential nominees, others are underpowered – most strikingly best new comedy, which includes a new version of a comedy by Moliere, originally premiered in 1668, alongside a brief Christmas run for Mischief Movie Night at the Arts, an Off-Broadway import of Dry Powder for a short season at Hampstead Theatre and James Graham’s Labour of Love. Graham has a second nomination for best new play with Ink.

And, if one of the main aims of an event such as this is to provide a marketing platform for shows, then Angels in America and The Ferryman, both readying for Broadway transfers, could definitely benefit in prestige and status from wins on April 8, as could Follies, which is scheduled to return to the National.


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