Glenda Jackson, Billie Piper and Ruth Wilson
Glenda Jackson, Billie Piper and Ruth Wilson
© Manuel Harlan/Johan Persson/Jan Versweyveld

Years ago in my theatre-going life, I was a a judge on the Olivier Awards. It was such a pleasure. At a time when I adored theatre but didn't quite have enough money to see everything that I wanted to see, I found myself able to enjoy an entire year of all that was on the London stage. here was a glorious sense of completeness about it.

The judging meetings were fun too. With so many people and opinions around the table they were invariably long, good-humoured, and fiercely debated. Those meetings came back with vivid clarity when I saw the Olivier Award nominations. It's quite easy to imagine the kind of conversations that resulted in the group nominations for all of the stars of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour in the best supporting actress category (though who are they supporting if not themselves?) and all of the girls in The Girls in the best actress in a musical category. It is impossible to separate the effect of such performances, and so I rather admire the brazen compromise.

The best play contenders are almost impossible to compare with each other

The awards committee might like to consider extending the idea to the final results. Some categories look absolutely impossible to call. Who could put a skinny sheet of paper between the performances offered by Glenda Jackson returning to the stage after a 25 year absence to be a memorable King Lear and the great Broadway actress Cherry Jones making a long awaited West End debut with a definitive performance in The Glass Menagerie. And how can you compare them with the outstanding work offered by Ruth Wilson in a rethinking of Hedda Gabbler or Billie Piper tearing her heart out in Yerma. It's impossible. Give it to them all I say.

The same is true in the best revival category, which lists in Travesties, Yerma, This House and The Glass Menagerie four truly outstanding revivals of exceptional plays.

A different dilemma arises in the best play category. It hasn't exactly been the best year for new writing but these four contenders are each in their way outstanding. Yet they are almost impossible to compare with each other. This affliction also besets the always tricky best entertainment and family section which has ended up pitting Cinderella, a pantomime, and Peter Pan, a family show, against The Red Shoes, a pure dance work, and David Baddiel's profound My Family Not the Sitcom. It's like comparing eggs with peaches.

It's easy to imagine the conversations that resulted in the group nominations

In the end, the only real question on the night will be how many of its record-breaking 11 nominations Harry Potter and the Cursed Child converts into prizes.As I argued when it swept the boards at the WhatsOnStage Awards, it is an incredibly worthy winner, full of genuine theatrical magic as well as appealing to an obvious audience fan base.

But as these nominations show, its dominance is part of a richly rewarding year in theatre. There has been something to suit every taste. The eventual awards will inevitably not quite reflect that. Choices must be made and that judges' room will be full of even more heated arguments as the judges weave their way towards final decisions. For once, I am glad I am not there.

Read the full list of nominations here


The Olivier Awards are announced on Sunday 9 April.