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Angela Lansbury collects the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Award for Blithe Spirit at the Olivier Awards 2015 with MasterCard (Photo: Alastair Muir)

Angela Lansbury collects the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Award for Blithe Spirit at the Olivier Awards 2015 with MasterCard (Photo: Alastair Muir)

40 facts about the Oliviers at 40

First Published 30 March 2016, Last Updated 27 April 2020

To celebrate 40 years of the Olivier Awards, discover more about the history of one of the world’s greatest and longest running theatrical prizes’ with our fascinating 40 facts, featuring mentions for much loved performers including Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey, and revealing backstage insights. Now just keep your fingers crossed the Olivier Awards comes up on your pub quiz this week…

1. In total, 837 Oliviers have been awarded over the past 40 years.

2. The awards haven’t always had such a glamorous name… When they were created in 1976 they were named the Society of West End Theatre Awards, or the SWETS for short!

3. The first ever ceremony was held at the Café Royal in December 1976 and broadcast on the BBC.

4. It wasn’t until 1984 that they became the Olivier Awards when the legendary actor, Lord Laurence Olivier, agreed to lend his name to the prize.

5. Contrary to what you might first presume, Olivier never won a ‘performance’ Olivier Award having made his last stage appearance three years before the awards were founded. He was given the Special Award in 1979.

6. His wife, Joan Plowright, has won a performance award. She was named Best Actress for Filumena in 1978.

7. The prize itself has taken various forms over the years. When the awards were inaugurated it was a specially commissioned blue Wedgwood urn.

8. The statuette is now cast from bronze…

9. …takes around five days to make…

10. …and weighs 1.6kg.

11. The Olivier Awards’ red carpet, which will once again be rolled out at the Royal Opera House on Sunday, is 150 metres long.

12. The youngest ever recipients of an Olivier Award are Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Sophia Kiely and Eleanor Worthington Cox. At the ages of just 10 to 12-years-old, the mini quartet shared the Best Actress in a Musical Award for Matilda The Musical in 2012.

13. That show just happens to be the most successful musical in Olivier Awards history with a staggering seven wins.

14. And the most successful play? That goes to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time with an equal seven awards to its name.

15. Hairspray is also a record breaker, receiving the most nominations of any one show when, in 2008, it had 11 nominations. It picked up four wins.

16. If Shakespeare were alive today, he too might just be an Olivier record breaker. In total he would have seen his plays receive more than 60 awards.

17. The award for Best Company performance has been presented only once, in 2009 to the cast of the RSC’s The Histories.

18. Three actors have won the Best Actor in a Musical Award for playing Sweeney Todd: Michael Ball, Alun Armstrong and Denis Quilley.

Michael Ball
19. In 2003 Joanna Riding won the Best Actress in a Musical Award for her performance in My Fair Lady, exactly the same role and production that Martine McCutcheon had won the same award for in the previous year.

20. Declan Donnellan and Richard Eyre are the most successful directors in Oliviers history with four awards each.

21. The oldest recipient of an Olivier Award is Angela Lansbury, who picked up her first Larry in 2015 at the age of 89.

22. Maria Friedman holds the record for the most nominations in the Best Actress in a Musical category with six. She’s won twice.

23. 19 performers have won both an Olivier and Tony Award for the same role in the same production.

24. Five days of rehearsals go into the ceremony’s exclusive performances from nominated shows and special guests.

25. Past special performances have included Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters, ABBA stars Benny and Bjorn and even Barry Manilow!

26. A staggering 700 people play a part in staging the ceremony…

27. …on average, 250 of those will be performers…

28. …that number includes a live orchestra with more than 40 musicians and a 90-strong choir.

29. Kevin Spacey surprised everyone by not only singing Bridge Over Troubled Water on stage at the 2015 Oliviers, but also playing the harmonica.

30. The current Olivier Awards set features 180 giant Larry statuettes made from fibreglass…

31. …designed by Olivier Award winner Es Devlin.

32. Devlin’s incredible set takes 90 hours to build!

33. When winners come off stage after their acceptance speech, they are taken backstage where they’re met with a glass of Champagne and the Official London Theatre team (yes, us) who, as the Olivier Awards official news partner, are the first to interview them.

34. Comedian and actor Lee Evans is the only person to have eaten an Olivier Award live on stage at the ceremony. His, thankfully, was a brilliantly accurate cake version.

Lee Evans
35. While the Olivier Awards takes place in London, for the third year running theatre insiders and British actors working on Broadway will watch a live stream of the ceremony at an exclusive event in New York’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.

36. The theatre panel, who help decide the all-important nominees, see a staggering 100+ productions before making their recommendations.

37. As you’d expect at a theatre event, Champagne features heavily. Around 2,500 glasses of Laurent Perrier Champagne will be served over the course of the evening this year.

38. Of course you need some food to go with that and the awards certainly deliver. There will be nearly 5,800 canapes served at the after party.

39. The after party also features a specially branded Olivier Awards photobooth, where the star-studded guests can take home their own piece of Olivier-branded history.

40. You can find out who wins the Olivier Awards this year by heading to Covent Garden Piazza for a live stream of the ceremony, listening live on new radio station Mellow Magic, getting involved via Social Media or by watching the highlights show on ITV at 22:15. The ceremony will also be shown in full on ITV3 on 4 April at 23:00 and both broadcasts will be available for the following 30 days on ITV Hub.

Visit www.olivierawards.com for full details of the 40th anniversary Olivier Awards with MasterCard ceremony this Sunday and to see a full list of nominees.


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