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Olivier Awards 2016 with MasterCard logo

Olivier Awards 2016 with MasterCard logo

40 years of award-winning theatre

First Published 5 July 2016, Last Updated 6 July 2016

The Olivier Awards with MasterCard celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and what better way to mark the occasion than with a summer party at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum – which is just what we did last night!

Winners past and present were invited to celebrate 40 years of award-winning theatre at the iconic London venue, which is also the current home of the 40th anniversary collaboration, the Curtain Up! Exhibition. The exhibition was open for a private viewing on the night, and runs at the V&A until 31 August.

Guests included Patrick Stewart, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mark Strong, Simon Callow, Noma Dumezweni and Denise Gough.

For a selection of snaps from the event, see our gallery here

In recognition of the landmark anniversary, we dug through the archives and pulled together this list of 14 things that just might surprise you about the last 40 years of the Olivier Awards.

Special Awards

  • The very first Special Award was given to the ‘Save London Theatres’ campaign in 1976. The campaign famously held a 72-hour vigil at the Shaftesbury Theatre, with actors forming a human chain to prevent it from being knocked down.
  • The second Special Award went to Harry Loman, stage door keeper at the Criterion Theatre.

Record Breakers

  • The most Olivier Awards ever won by a musical was Matilda The Musical in 2012 with seven, including Best New Musical.
  • The most Olivier Awards ever received by a play was The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time in 2013, also with seven awards including Best New Play.
  • The youngest winners of an award are the quartet of young actresses who led the cast of Matilda The Musical; Eleanor Worthington Cox, Cleo Demetriou (both 10), Sophia Kiely and Kerry Ingram (both 12), who shared the Best Actress In A Musical Award in 2012. Prior to this, the record was held by three actors playing Billy from Billy Elliot The Musical.
  • The oldest winner of an Olivier Award is Dame Angela Lansbury. At age 89 she picked up the Best Supporting Actress Award for Blithe Spirit in 2015. 

Theatre Legends

  • Designer William Dudley has won the most awards for a non-performer, with seven to his name.            
  • Dame Judi Dench has won the most awards of anyone. Seven competitive awards, plus the lifetime achievement Special Award.
  • Dame Judi also holds the distinction of being the only actress to win both dramatic and musical acting awards in the same year (1996) for her performances in Absolute Hell and A Little Night Music.
  • The Phantom Of The Opera is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year in London’s West End. It is also the longest-running musical in Broadway history, still going strong after an incredible 27 years.

Triple Threats

  • Performers who have won in both the play and musical categories are Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Pryce, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Judi Dench, Sheridan Smith and Janie Dee.
  • Hairspray won all three musical acting awards in 2008 – Best Actor and Best Actress In A Musical for Michael Ball and Leanne Jones, and Best Supporting Performance In A Musical for Tracie Bennett.


  • There are just a handful of roles that have picked up an award on more than one occasion:

Miss Adelaide – Guys And Dolls (1982 and 2006)
George – Sunday In The Park With George (1991 and 2007)
The Baker’s Wife – Into The Woods (1991 and 1999)
Eliza Doolittle – My Fair Lady (2002 and 2003)
Frau Schneider – Cabaret (1994 and 2007)
Nicely Nicely Johnson – Guys And Dolls (1982 and 1997)
Sweeney Todd – Sweeney Todd (1980, 1994 and 2013)
Mrs Lovett – Sweeney Todd (1980, 1994 and 2013)

And finally…

  • Four awards have only ever been presented once. Among them is the Most Promising Newcomer In A Play Award, which went to Tom Hiddleston in 2008.

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