Harry Potter and the Cursed Child breaks Olivier nominations record

Show’s 11 nominations including best actor are most for a new play, while Groundhog Day dominates musical categories

Olivier awards 2017: the full list of nominations

It is one of the most wildly popular plays in living memory and now Harry Potter and the Cursed Child could become one of the most lauded after it became the most nominated new play in the history of the Olivier theatre awards.

The two-part play, which imagines Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults waving their children off to Hogwarts, received 11 nominations on Monday including best new play.

Written by Jack Thorne, from an original story by Thorne, JK Rowling and director John Tiffany, the production is that rare beast which theatre producers can only dream of: both crazily popular and adored by critics.

Mark Shenton, associate editor at the Stage and chairman of the Critics’ Circle drama section, recalled first seeing it and being struck at just how good it was.

“The thing with Harry Potter is that it didn’t need to be good ... it’s Harry Potter. But it does have true artistic integrity and that was a revelation, it was a big surprise,” he said.

“It is so rigorously done. It is a popular, commercial and critical success and that is guaranteed into perpetuity. I don’t think I will ever go to the Palace Theatre, unless I go to see it again ... it is not going to close in my lifetime.”

The production is a theatre game-changer in a number of ways. Shenton saw it before its official opening night and “the audience around me were people who had never been to the theatre before. They queued an hour before to get in and were in their seats 15 minutes before it started, the bars were empty. Even more amazingly they were all incredibly attentive and well behaved, nobody was disruptive, everyone was with the story completely.

“It is one of those rare theatre pieces which truly captivated its audience.”

Shenton was not alone. The reviews at the time included Dominic Cavendish who wrote in the Telegraph: “British theatre hasn’t known anything like it for decades and I haven’t seen anything directly comparable in all my reviewing days.” The Times’ Ann Treneman, said: “It’s not the movie of the book. It’s the real deal, live in front of you, so much better than any film could be.”

Just as remarkable is that producers seem to have succeeded in their pleas to audiences to keep the secrets and avoid plot disclosures.

Shenton said much credit must go to the producer, Sonia Friedman, for expertly getting the right team together for the show.

Friedman, who recently topped the Stage’s top 100 theatre power list, produced shows which have gathered a remarkable 31 nominations in this year’s Oliviers. Friedman said she was “bowled over” and congratulated all the people her company had worked with over the year.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which plays in a huge 1,900-seat theatre, is sold out in London for at least a year, although there is a Friday Forty scheme when 40 tickets are released costing £40 on an agonising first-come first-served online basis. Or people could try Broadway, where it is due to open in the spring of 2018.

The nominations include three of the actors including Noma Dumezweni, who was initially the subject of bigoted online reaction because she is a black actor cast as Hermione Granger. In the movies she is played by the white actor Emma Watson.

Rowling has pointed out that Hermione’s race or skin colour is never mentioned in the books. She told the Observer: “I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione ‘turned white’ – that is, lost colour from her face after a shock – that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.”

Among the other Harry Potter nominations are Jamie Parker for his portrayal of Harry as an adult in the best actor category, a shortlist completed by Ed Harris for Buried Child, Tom Hollander for Travesties and Sir Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land, his 10th Olivier nomination.

Anthony Boyle, who plays Scorpius Malfoy in the Harry Potter play, is nominated for best supporting actor and will compete against Freddie Fox for Travesties, Brian J Smith for The Glass Menagerie and Rafe Spall for Hedda Gabler.

Director John Tiffany is nominated twice in the best director category, for Harry Potter and for his other major project of 2016, The Glass Menagerie. His rivals for the prize are Matthew Warchus for Groundhog Day at the Old Vic and Simon Stone for Yerma at the Young Vic.

Elsewhere in the Olivier 2017 nominations, announced in central London by two of last year’s winners, the actors Denise Gough and Matt Henry, it was a good day for the Old Vic’s production of Groundhog Day, which led the musical nominations with eight. Close behind was Jesus Christ Superstar with sixand Dreamgirls with five.

The best actress in a play category includes Billie Piper for herpowerful performance in Yerma – described by critics as “devastating”, “earth-quaking” and “breathtakingly uninhibited”. She will be up against Glenda Jackson, who ended her 25-year absence from acting with one of the toughest stage roles, King Lear; and Cherry Jones for The Glass Menagerie and Ruth Wilson for Hedda Gabler at the National.

The best actress in a musical category sees Glenn Close, for Sunset Boulevard, up against Amber Riley for Dreamgirls, Sheridan Smith for Funny Girl, and the five women who make up the Girls in Gary Barlow’s new Calendar Girls musical, The Girls.

The awards, established in 1976 and taking Laurence Olivier’s name from 1984, also celebrate opera and dance.

The English National Opera, still trying to recover from its many and well documented off-stage problems, continues to do well on stage and won five nominations including Akhnaten and Lulu in the best new opera category.

It also had two productions nominated in the outstanding achievement category.

This year’s awards will take place at the Royal Albert Hall in west London on 9 April, in a ceremony billed as the biggest yet. Kenneth Branagh, whose company was in residency at the Garrick Theatre in London last year, will receive a special award.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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