81-year-old cements position as an all-time stage great with best supporting actress award, as Denise Gough wins best actress
She is one of Britains most loved and decorated actors, with a 60-year career that has seen her lauded as one of the finest Shakespeareans of her generation and most peoples favourite Bond boss.
On Sunday, her position as one of the all-time stage greats was cemented when she was awarded a record eighth Olivier award. The prize, given at a ceremony at Londons Royal Opera House, means the 81-year-old has won more than any other individual before her.
Dame Judi Dench won best supporting actress for her performance as Paulina in The Winters Tale, starring alongside Kenneth Branagh in his companys production at the Garrick Theatre. It adds to the awards she won in 1977 for her role in Macbeth, 1980 for Juno and the Paycock, 1983 for Pack of Lies, 1987 for Antony and Cleopatra, 1995 for A Little Night Music, 1996 for Absolute Hell, and the special award she received in 2004.
The 2016 Oliviers ceremony also brought significant success for Chichester Festival Theatres West End transfer of Gypsy, which won the most awards for a single production; and for the National Theatre, which came away with four prizes.
Among the actors to miss out were Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adrian Lester and Mark Rylance, who had a possible film-television-theatre treble in his sights after his Oscar for Bridge of Spies and Bafta TV nomination for Wolf Hall.
Dench made her professional stage debut at the Old Vic in 1957 and her win on Sunday was not a huge surprise. Some critics were disappointed by Branaghs take on The Winters Tale, in which he starred as Leontes and co-directed with Rob Ashford, but there was universal praise for his co-star.
Time Out called her the shows saving grace, while the Times hailed her as the star of the show. She alone appears to be natural, nuanced, sane, holding the stage whenever shes on it.
Asked how she felt about the award Dench said: Im rather overcome, actually I didnt expect it. I made a bet with my grandson and Ive got to pay out now well go out to supper.
Dench said she last acted in the Winters Tale in 1969 at Stratford, doubling as Hermione and Perdita, when Brenda Bruce played Paulina. I didnt take enough notice, she recalled. Working with Branagh had been a joy, she said, although she remembered waiting in the wings for the final scene and realising shed forgotten to put on her skirt under her long coat. Ken Branagh laughed like nobody Ive ever seen, he was no help to me at all.
Dench also said she thought Tom Hiddleston would make a good Bond, although it was a huge mantle to take on.
The best actress award went to Denise Gough for her mesmerising performance as an alcohol- and drug-abusing actor who checks herself into rehab in People, Places and Things.
Duncan Macmillans play began at the National Theatres Dorfman before transferring to the Wyndhams. There has been much praise for the play, but it is Goughs performance that is most talked about, with critics using words such as titanic and emotionally shattering and, the in the case of the Observers Susannah Clapp, career-changing.
It has certainly been that, given that Gough had nearly given up on acting after a year of rejections before she landed the part. Times were really tough, she told the Sunday Times. And I was thinking, I cant afford to go on living like this. In my mid-20s, I was, like, Fuck it, Ill do waitressing. But I found it too depressing.
Gough won from a strong shortlist that also included Kidman, Gemma Arterton, Janet McTeer and Lia Williams. The play also won best sound design for Tom Gibbons.
Accepting her award, Gough questioned the all-white shortlist in her category when there were such amazing performances in the past year from Noma Dumezweni in Linda at the Royal Court, Marianne-Jean Baptiste at the National and Royal Court, and Sharon D.Clarke in Ma Raineys Black Bottom.
If you think it is hard being a white woman in the arts, being a non-white woman is even more difficult, she said, adding: When people are giving storming performances they need to be recognised We need things to change. Kids coming up who want to be actors, they need to see themselves represented.
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