Olivier awards nominations: the ones that got away

Thumbs Up

We're nearly there.

The announcement of the nominees for this year's Olivier awards marks the beginning of the end of the theatrical gong-giving season, which started last autumn with the Evening Standard prizes and this year spools into late April, when the Oliviers will be announced. Thank goodness for the summer break, when the ritual back-slapping briefly stops.

As always with awards, I'm more interested in who's left out than who is included. Take, for instance, the best actress category. The nomination of Hattie Morahan (who has already won Evening Standard and Critics' Circle awards for her Nora in A Doll's House) alongside Helen Mirren, Billie Piper and Kristin Scott Thomas looks uncontroversial. But how could the judges possibly nominate Scott Thomas and not her colleague Lia Williams, since they alternate the two female roles in Pinter's Old Times? It looks like a calculated snub to Williams who, in my view, gives the most groundbreaking performance of the show.

And, while we're on the subject, how come Laurie Metcalf doesn't get a look-in for her sensational performance in Long Day's Journey Into Night? There are five nominees for best actor, so why not throw in a fifth for best actress? I thought Metcalf was much the best of the various Mary Tyrones I've seen: she stripped the character of the usual poetic mystery and charted in horrifying detail the degrading process of her drug-dependence. Maybe the performance was just too realistic for the Olivier judges. Or maybe they thought Metcalf, a dedicated alumna of Chicago's Steppenwolf, wasn't a starry-enough name.

Another startling omission, in my book, is Benedict Andrews in the best director category. I have no quarrel with the actual nominees: Stephen Daldry for The Audience, Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jeremy Herrin for This House and Simon McBurney for The Master and Margarita. But Andrews's production of Three Sisters at the Young Vic was on a different plane: a radical re-staging that stripped away the barnacled accretions of the years and allowed us to see a great play in all its agonised beauty. It was true to the spirit, if not the letter, of Chekhov, and incidentally contained in Vanessa Kirby's Masha another of the year's most haunting female performances.

One final omission hits me: that of Lucy Prebble's The Effect from the best new play category. Prebble's study of love, depression and the limits of neuroscience was over-diagrammatic in places but, in a far-from-dazzling year for new plays, it was utterly absorbing and raised lots of big questions. I suspect The Curious Incident will romp away with armfuls of awards but, for me, it was marred by elements of cloying kidult cuteness. My instinct is that the battle for best new play should have lain between James Graham's parliamentary This House and The Effect but, with signal obtuseness, the Olivier judges haven't even nominated the latter. Heigh-ho.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Michael Billington, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 26th March 2013 14.10 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010