The annual Laurence Olivier Awards - the West End equivalent of Broadway's Tony Awards - are to be presented this year at a lunchtime ceremony on Monday, Feb. 16 at London's Albery Theatre. The ceremony will be followed by an exclusive lunch, held at a nearby restaurant. The ceremony and lunch will be recorded by video and highlighted extracts will be broadcast by the BBC.
Nominations are expected to be made at a meeting Jan. 15 and announced Jan. 16.
The awards, which have been presented annually since 1976, are sponsored by American Express and administered by the Society of London Theatres. They are widely regarded as the most important of the year's annual clutch of theatrical prize-giving, which include the even longer running Evening Standard Drama Awards, presented by the daily newspaper of that name, that were already presented at the end of November.
The Evening Standard Drama Awards are unusual in announcing only winners, not nominees; the Olivier Awards, named in honor of the late British classical actor, in contrast announce four hotly contested nominations for each category in which they are presented, decided by a panel made up of professional judges and members of the theatregoing public who are specially chosen (after extensive interviews and sample reviews have been submitted) for the job.
In the same way that the Golden Globe Awards act as an interesting precursor to the Oscars, the Standard Awards winners are invariably at least nominated for Oliviers. Front-runners are therefore expected to include Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love (Play of the Year); Patrick Marber's Closer ( Comedy of the Year); Richard Eyre (Director of the Year, for his productions at the National which included King Lear, Amy's View and The Invention of Love); Ian Holm (Actor of the Year, for his performance in the title role of the National's King Lear); and Eileen Atkins (Actress of the Year, for her performance in Albee's A Delicate Balance). The Standard's odd choice of Musical of the Year, the 1941 show Lady in the Dark, may also be considered in the same light by the Olivier panel (on the basis that it has previously been unseen in London), but in a year which has not seen many new musicals survive, the panel may also be expected to consider Disney's Beauty and the Beast and two new American musicals seen in limited runs at the Donmar Warehouse, The Fix and Enter the Guardsman.
Other front-runners for the above awards may include:
Play of the Year: Amy's View by David Hare; A Letter of Resignation by Hugh Whitemore
Comedy of the Year:Popcorn by Ben Elton
Director of the Year: Sam Mendes (Othello at the National and The Front Page at the Donmar Warehouse); Matthew Warchus (RSC's Hamlet); Howard Davies (National's Chips with Everything); and Peter Hall (Old Vic season)
Actor of the Year: John Wood (The Invention of Love); Alex Jennings ( Hamlet); Michael Gambon (Tom and Clem)
Actress of the Year: Judi Dench (Amy's View); Maggie Smith A Delicate Balance); Zoe Wanamaker (Electra).
The Oliviers also include a number of categories not covered by the Standard. Outstanding Performances in Supporting Roles are cited, and may include Greg Hicks (for his work at the Old Vic last year in several roles), and Michael Bryant and Paul Rhys (both notable in the National's King Lear). There are also awards specifically for performances in musicals (presented to leading actor and actress respectively, for which citations may be expected for Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall in Chicago, Maria Friedman in Lady in the Dark, and Sian Phillips in Marlene; and Jerry Lewis inDamn Yankees, John Barrowman and Philip Quast in The Fix, and Henry Goodman in Chicago). Other categories embrace musical revivals (for whichChicago and Damn Yankees are sure to be cited) and choreography (for which Broadway's Ann Reinking for Chicago and Rob Marshall for Damn Yankees are most likely to be mentioned). Design awards are also presented for sets, costumes and lighting. Finally, the Olivier Awards also recognise the Most Outstanding Achievements in Dance and Opera, in separate awards to each genre.
-- By Mark Shenton