The awards are returning this year after a two-year hiatus as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Comer wowed the judges playing a lawyer in Prima Facie, a one-woman show exploring how the legal system lets down female victims of sexual assault, and is in the running alongside stars including Sheila Atim, for her appearance in Constellations, and Game of Thrones star Indira Varma who was recognised for her role in The Seagull.
The shortlist is completed by US actress Samira Wiley, best known for Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale, and Ronke Adekoluejo with both women acclaimed for their roles in the National Theatre’s Blues for An Alabama Sky.
Their co-star Giles Terera is also recognised, winning a place on the shortlist for best actor, alongside Shubham Saraf who starred in another National Theatre show — The Father and the Assassin about the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.
James McAvoy’s performance in the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac wins him a place among the contenders, while Lennie James and Paapa Essiedu are included for playing father and son in Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Old Vic.
Jessie Buckley’s portrayal of nightclub singer Sally Bowles in Cabaret sees her shortlisted for best musical performance. She faces competition from Arinzé Kene, who played reggae superstar Bob Marley in Get Up Stand Up!, as well as two of the stars of the Young Vic’s Oklahoma! — Patrick Vaill and Marisha Wallace — with Broadway veteran Sutton Foster recognised for Anything Goes at the Barbican. All four of those shows are in the running for best musical with Spring Awakening at the Almeida completing the shortlist.
The runners for best play include posthumous recognition for the novelist Hilary Mantel who along with actor Ben Miles brought her novel The Mirror and the Light to the stage. Also shortlisted is James Graham for Best of Enemies at the Young Vic as well as Paula Vogel for Indecent, Tyrell Williams for Red Pitch (for which Francis Lovehall is nominated on the emerging talent shortlist) and Anupama Chandrasekhar for The Father and the Assassin.
Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev said: “I am thrilled that we are able to celebrate the best of London theatre after two difficult years. It’s a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of our creatives that they were able to continue making brilliant shows in the toughest of times.”
The winners will be celebrated at a private dinner this year on December 11 and announced in the paper the following day