Angela Lansbury’s triumphant West End theatre return was capped with an Olivier Award tonight 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 in the same stage almost a century ago.
She was named best supporting actress 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.”
There was joy for Scarborough-born Penelope Wilton, who won best actress, earning the Downton Abbey star her first ever Olivier Award having received six nominations over the years.
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 award came on the back of critical acclaim for her performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. One national newspaper critic wrote: “Always impressive when playing characters of determination and integrity, Wilton’s facility for self-composure and stillness draws you in when she seems to be doing almost nothing.
“She relays the story – often employing direct-to-audience address – in a poignant cross between retrospection and relived anticipation.”
The show, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, central London, 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, featuring actors Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, was named best comedy. Mark Strong was named best actor for his performance in A View From The Bridge.
Speaking to reporters backstage, Strong said he did not expect to win but his triumph made him want to keep working on the stage. 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.”
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 gong 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 award 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.
Earlier, stars including Nicole Scherzinger, nominated for best supporting actress in a musical for her role as Grizabella in Cats, Gemma Arterton and James McAvoy walked down the red carpet at the event - the biggest in theatreland.
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 the 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.”
Speaking backstage, Davies said he was already making plans for another musical.