It's the 30th year for the Laurence Olivier Awards, the biggest and arguably the most coveted item of recognition and achievement for London theatre. Presented this year by Richard "I don't believe it!" Wilson, the gala night on 26th February will mean the gathering of a thousand luvvies all congratulating one another in loud, extremely well pronounced, carefully projected tones. It's the annual Oscars for the theatre, but with far less of the red carpet grandstanding; after all, it's the art that is important, not the dresses, darling.
This year's awards are mainly tied up by Billy Elliot which has nine nominations, closely followed by Guys and Dolls which has eight. Ewan McGregor has been nominated for Best Actor for Guys and Dolls but he is up against the three in one nomination from Billy Elliot - all three boys who share the lead role will also have to share the Olivier if their joint effort to bring the role to life wins for Best Actor.
Despite the influx of Hollywood stars coming over to London to tread our boards in order to "get back to what the business really means, my first love that is live performance, oh, stage acting has always been where my heart is despite all these years of being manicured in the back of a limo as I shop in Beverly Hills between films", there is a reassuringly serious list of serious stage actors up for the Oliviers this year. Val Kilmer, Rob Lowe, Woody Harrelson all did good jobs while in our West End but it's names like Derek Jacobi, Harriet Walter, Janet McTeer, Brian Dennehy, Phyllida Lloyd and Richard Eyre who have been nominated for their work in last year's London theatre.
Theatre is constantly called ailing and ill-attended, a redundant art form that continues to be elitist and exclusive. And yet the nominations list here proves all of that wrong: every production mentioned has been important in a year of genuine, real-life drama for London. All the shows nominated (and many that didn't make the list) have been meaningful to their audiences, whether it was the joyful escapism of Guys and Dolls, Acorn Antiques and The Big Life or the welcome weightiness of Mary Stuart, Death of a Salesman or Heda Gabler. And it is that meaningfulness that will be recognised in February.
For a full list of this year's Laurence Olivier Awards nominations, please click here.