THERE was an 89-year-old acting legend, a former X-Factor judge turned musical star, and more than one dame.
The red carpet was rolled out at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London last night as theatreland celebrated with the prestigious Olivier awards.
Top stars including Scottish actor James McAvoy, singer Nicole Scherzinger and House of Cards star Kevin Spacey were among those to turn out for the event.
Spacey was presented with a special award by Dame Judi Dench, for his outstanding contribution to the Old Vic. The Oscar-winning actor became the theatre’s artistic director in 2004 and steps down later this year.
McAvoy lost out in the best actor category for his role in The Ruling Class to Mark Strong, who won for his performance in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.
Speaking to reporters backstage before the ceremony, Strong said he did not expect to win but his triumph made him want to keep working on the stage.
Here I am creeping up to 90 and I feel a million dollarsAngela Lansbury
He said: “That is what theatre is about. If it’s good, it allows us to examine ourselves, why we behave the way we do.
“In an age of technology which is full of screens, whether they’re phones, computers or whatever, we need a bit of that, we need a bit of the live experience.”
Angela Lansbury’s triumphant West End return was capped with her first ever Olivier award for best supporting actress as the veteran star said her win left feeling like “a million dollars”.
The 89-year-old’s performance at the Gielgud Theatre saw her follow in the footsteps of her mother, Moyna Macgill, who made her debut on the same stage almost a century ago.
She won for her performance in Blithe Spirit which saw her return to London theatre for the first time in 40 years.
Accepting the award, she said: “I simply can’t believe it.”
The actress, who was given a standing ovation, said: “I can’t remember a lot of things these days but I can remember my lines.” She told the audience that theatre was “life and I’m glad that I’m still in it” and thanked them, saying: “Here I am creeping up to 90 and I feel a million dollars.”
Penelope Wilton won best actress. Her performance as a mother whose lawyer son was imprisoned by the Nazis in Taken at Midnight saw her triumph over stars including Gillian Anderson and Kristin Scott Thomas.
The show, at the Royal Opera House opened with a performance from the cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical before host Lenny Henry welcomed the audience.
The first award, for best revival, was presented by Russell Tovey and Anne-Marie Duff to A View from the Bridge, before The Play That Goes Wrong was named best comedy.
The award for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre went to Ben Monks, while Howard Harrison won the Olivier for lighting design for his work on City of Angels at Donmar Warehouse.
The honour for sound design was given to Gareth Owen for Memphis the Musical before a performance by the cast of Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon.
Costume designer Christopher Oram won next for his work on the stage versions of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
Es Devlin, who is currently designing the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, won the award for set design for her work on Nether.
The best actor in a supporting role was presented by Sherlock duo Mark Gatiss and Amanda Abbington and went to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies actor Nathaniel Parker who plays King Henry VIII.
La Soirée was this year’s winners of the best entertainment and family award, with the outstanding achievement in dance going to choreographer Crystal Pite.
The musical Wicked won the This Morning audience award, before former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne performed one of the songs from his musical Here Lies Love.
Ivo Van Hove, who directed Strong in A View from the Bridge, was named best director.
Kinks frontman Ray Davies won the award for outstanding achievement in music for Sunny Afternoon which is based on his string of hits with the band.
Accepting his award, he paid tribute to the people who had inspired songs including Waterloo Sunset, Dead End Street and See My Friends. He said: “People are the source of my material, so next time you’re sitting in a park and see someone like me looking at you, don’t phone the police. I’m just writing about you.
“The world is a wonderful place to be in for people.”