Judi Dench wins record eighth Olivier award

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.

Kenneth
Kenneth Cranham (Andre) and Kirsty Oswald (Laura) in The Father by Florian Zeller. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Kenneth Cranham was named best actor for his powerful portrayal of a man suffering from Alzheimers in Florian Zellers The Father. The play, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, has had an interesting journey, beginning its UK life at Baths Ustinov Studio before transferring to the Tricycle in Kilburn and finally to the West End last year, earning a shower of five-star reviews along the way. It opened for a second West End run last month ahead of a national tour.

Cranham is a familiar face from TV and film, but has only now, aged 71, received his first major acting award. He won from a shortlist that also included Cumberbatch, Branagh, Lester and Rylance.

He said he was nominated for an Olivier 21 years ago when he was the boy up against Paul Scofield, Robert Stevens and Paul Eddington. Im now the old one. At last Ive got the bloody thing! When you get your hair trimmed and get fitted with a nice suit you want to avoid the bridesmaid syndrome.

The best actor in a supporting role went to Mark Gatiss for his performance in Patrick Marbers adaptation of Turganevs Three Days in the Country at the National.

In the musical sections, Gypsy was the stand-out winner. It won Imelda Staunton the best actress in a musical prize, as well as best musical revival, best lighting design and best supporting actress in a musical for Lara Pulver. Kinky Boots won best new musical, best costume design and best actor in a musical for Matt Henry as the drag diva Lola.

Dancers
Lin-Manuel Mirandas In the Heights at Kings Cross Theatre took three Oliviers. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The hip-hop musical In the Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre also picked up an eye-catching three awards: choreography for Drew McOnie, best actor in a musical supporting role for David Bedella, and an outstanding achievement in music prize for the show as a whole.

It was a good night overall for the National Theatre and its director Rufus Norris, who has been in the job for just over a year. Its productions won four awards, including best revival for Ma Raineys Black Bottom, by August Wilson, which explores the politics of race through the prism of the blues.

Martin McDonaghs comedy Hangman, which opened at the Royal Court, won best new play. It beat People, Places and Things, The Father and Farinelli and the King.

In the opera categories, the ENO and its chorus, which almost went on strike last month in a pay dispute, won the outstanding achievement award for three productions at the Coliseum: The Force of Destiny, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and The Queen of Spades.

The ENOs head of music Martin Fitzpatrick, who accepted the award, said: Obviously I very much hope it will give the orchestra and chorus a lift after a tough time. I think it will give them the confidence to remember what the important things are and that is the performances.

The Royal Opera Houses Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci was named best new opera production.

Opera
Vivian Tierney in ENOs production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Photograph: PR

Wayne McGregors Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House won best new dance production, and the Italian prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri won the outstanding achievement award for her performances at the ROH.

Other awards included Robert Icke winning best director for Oresteia at the Almeida. The Phantom of the Opera won the audience award, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical won the entertainment and family award, and Nell Gwynn won best new comedy.

The ceremony at the Royal Opera House, hosted by Michael Ball, saw performances from Cyndi Lauper, Jack Savoretti and a finale with 15 Olivier winners in What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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