From Dame Judi Dench to Imelda Staunton to McDonagh
West End theatre has a lot of Irish in its DNA as last Sunday night’s Olivier Awards demonstrated.
President of Ireland Michael D Higgins praised the Irish nominees and winners for the company they kept: “The Olivier Awards are the most prestigious theatre awards in the United Kingdom and the awards won by Irish nominees are a great recognition and tribute to Irish theatre.”
Dame Judi Dench won a record eighth Olivier for her best supporting actress role as Paulina in Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of The Winter’s Tale.
Dame Judi, known for playing M in James Bond and Philomena among many, many roles, has said in the past said she was particularly well-prepared for playing Philomena “because me ma and her family were all from Dublin”.
No-one has won as many Oliviers, or Society of West End Theatres Awards as they were when they started forty years ago as Dame Judi has. Kenneth Branagh, who recently returned to theatre from a particularly lucrative foray into directing blockbuster movies, was born in Belfast.
The musical Gypsy won the most awards on the night for a single production. Its four prizes included best actress in a musical for Imelda Mary Philomena Bernadette Staunton whose family are from Mayo. Her mum Bridie Staunton ran a hairdressing business played fiddle in Irish showbands.
Gypsy also won best musical revival, best lighting design best supporting actress in a musical for Lara Pulver. Wexford actress Denise Gough won best actress for her performance as a recovering addict in People, Places and Things, recently opened in the West End after a sellout run at the National Theatre last year. She beat Gemma Arterton and Nicole Kidman.
In her acceptance speech she attacked the lack of racial diversity among nominees: “In a year where we have seen progress made in racial diversity on our stages it’s just a bit sad that in this category it hasn’t been represented.” Earlier, MC Michael Ball had said London theatre is far ahead of cinema and Hollywood in diversity.
The Royal Court’s production of London Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Royal Court production of Hangmen was named best new play and also won for Anna Fleischle’s set design.
The English National Opera’s head of music Martin Fitzpatrick accepted the prize for outstanding achievement in opera for its chorus’s and orchestra’s performances of The Force of Destiny, Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk and The Queen Of Spades at London Coliseum.
Irish theatre company Fishamble: The New Play Company and actor/writer Pat Kinevane won Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre award for their production of Silent – a one-man show written and performed by Kinevane at the Soho Theatre in 2015.