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Olivier Award record-holding women!

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 8 March 2023, Last Updated 15 March 2023

Dame Gillian Lynne at the Olivier Awards 2013Dame Gillian Lynne at the Olivier Awards 2013

Gillian Lynne DBE was the first person to ever be recognised for choreography at the Oliviers, in 1981, in recognition of her incredible work on Cats. She was given a special Olivier Award in 2013 and was made a DBE in the 2014 New Year Honours list. In 2018, the New London Theatre – where Cats had first played – was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre, making her the first non-royal woman to have a West End theatre named in her honour.

This year, we have renamed our choreography award after Gillian Lynne, in honour of not only her outstanding contribution to choreography but the work that she did in getting choreographers the recognition they deserved in the wider theatre world.

Sharon D Clarke, winner of the Best Actress in a Musical AwardSharon D Clarke, winner of the Best Actress in a Musical Award

Only a handful of performers have won in musical and play acting categories throughout their careers – including Sheila Atim, Janie Dee, Sheridan Smith and Imelda Staunton.

Sharon D. Clarke came close to the record by winning two years back to back but…

Dame Judi Dench with one of her eight Olivier Awards

Dame Judi Dench is the only one to win both in one night! In 1996 she won for her performances in Absolute Hell and A Little Night Music. Plus, with 8 statuettes, she’s also got the record for the most Oliviers in total – that’s one full mantlepiece!

These women hold the record for the oldest and youngest Olivier Award-winners ever! Angela Lansbury was nearly 90 when she won her first ever Olivier Award for her role as Madame Acarti in Blithe Spirit. If that doesn’t inspire you to keep going for your dreams, I don’t know what will!

The youngest ever winners of an Olivier Award – at just 10 years old – were Eleanor Worthington Cox and Cleo Demetriou, who won for their shared role as Matilda in Matilda The Musical, alongside Sophia Kiely and Kerry Ingram who were both 12. 

The first Black performer to win an Olivier was a woman; Karla Burns, an American mezzo-soprano singer, won for her performance as Queenie in Show Boat in 1991. She recounted travelling to New York to audition for the role against hundreds of other women with no agent and little professional experience, she went on to take the show to Broadway where she got a Tony nomination and, eventually, the West End.

Caryl Churchill was the first ever woman to write an Olivier Award-winning play. Her play Serious Money won the Olivier Award for Play Of The Year in 1987. She was also the Royal Court’s first female playwright in residence.

She also wrote Top Girls, an all-woman play about the sacrifices a woman has to make to get success in a male-dominated business world, famously featuring a dinner party of iconic historical and fictional women who have achieved great status at a cost.

Marianne Elliott backstage at the 2018 Olivier AradsMarianne Elliott backstage at the 2018 Olivier Awards

Deborah Warner was the first female director to win an Olivier Award in 1988 for her direction of Titus Andronicus, when she was only 28 years old! She went on to win again in 1992 for Hedda Gabler.

The only other woman to have won twice for direction is Marianne Elliott, who won Best Director in 2013 for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time and in 2020 alongside co-director Miranda Cromwell for Death Of A Salesman.

Noma Dumezweni on the Olivier Award red carpet

Noma Dumezweni  was part of the most awarded play in Oliviers history – Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, winning for her role as Hermione. No stranger to the Oliviers, she had won 11 years before for her role in A Raisin In The Sun in 2006. 

She also has the unique accolade of interrupting herself at the Oliviers last year, when she was presenting an award over the top of her own voiceover! You can watch her here, presenting the award for Best New Play to Lolita Chakrabati, the writer of Life Of Pi.

Lolita Chakrabarti accepts the Olivier Award for Best New Play for Life Of Pi. Courtesy of Jeff Spicer/ Getty Images.Lolita Chakrabarti accepts the Olivier Award for Best New Play for Life Of Pi. Courtesy of Jeff Spicer/ Getty Images.


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