At the movies · Notes from West London

11 Oscar winners on the London stage, and one in Stratford-on-Avon

During the Christmas holidays, prompted by nothing in particular, I was thinking of three productions of “Richard II” that I have seen here in London over the last 20 years, and the actors who played the title role.

The first production, at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003, starred Mark Rylance. The second, in 2005, featured Kevin Spacey during his time as artistic director of the Old Vic. The most recent, at the Barbican in 2016, starred David Tennant. It struck me that the first two actors have both won Academy Awards. Rylance won Best Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies” (2015), Spacey won Best Supporting Actor for “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and Best Actor for “American Beauty” (1999). That got me thinking about how many Oscar winners I have seen on the London stage. The answer, as far as I can tell, is 11, though most of them had not been honoured by the Academy when I saw them.

Back in 2021 I wrote about Ingrid Bergman (a triple Oscar winner) and noted that my mother had seen her on stage in the 1970s. It turns out that I have also seen a triple Oscar winner, but it was many years before he received his first award: Daniel Day-Lewis in 1980, a Bristol Old Vic production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Old Vic in London. He would go on to be the first person to win Best Actor three times: “My Left Foot” (1989), “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “Lincoln” (2012).

I have managed to see a few double Oscar winners over the years: Glenda Jackson in “The House of Bernarda Alba” in 1987 and Maggie Smith in “Lettice and Lovage” in 1988. Between them they had won their four Academy Awards long before these productions. Glenda Jackson won Best Actress twice: “Women in Love” (1970) and “A Touch of Class” (1973). Maggie Smith won Best Actress for “Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1969) and Best Supporting Actress for “California Suite” (1978).

To jog my memory, and confirm which actors I had seen when, I spent a few hours earlier this month going through all the theatre programmes that I have collected over the last 50 years. I knew that on my first trip to the National Theatre, in 1977, I had seen both Paul Scofield and John Gielgud in Ben Jonson’s Volpone. I didn’t realize until checking the programme for that performance that future Oscar winner Ben Kingsley was also in it: three Oscar winners on stage simultaneously, although Scofield was the only one who had already won his award, Best Actor for “A Man for All Seasons” (1966). Gielgud later won Best Supporting Actor for “Arthur” (1981) and Kingsley won Best Actor for “Gandhi” (1982).

I was pretty sure that I had seen Helen Mirren in something in the 1970s, and it turns out it was “Measure for Measure” at the Riverside Studios, in 1979, over 25 years before her Best Actress win for “The Queen” (2006). The other two Oscar winners I have seen on a London stage had both won Best Supporting Actress by the time I saw them: Judi Dench in “All’s Well That Ends Well” (2004) and Vanessa Redgrave in “Orpheus Descending “(1989). They won their respective awards for “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and “Julia” (1977).

The only other Oscar winner that I have definitely seen on stage is Jeremy Irons, in an RSC production of “As You Like It” in Stratford-on-Avon in 1980, but I have never seen him in a London production. He won Best Actor for “Reversal of Fortune” (1990).

I missed out on seeing a number of future Oscar winners in the 1980s. I wondered if I had seen Emma Thompson in “Me and My Girl” in 1986, but she had moved on by the time I saw it. The same was true for Gary Oldman: he had just left the cast of “Serious Money” when I saw it in 1987. Double Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins appeared regularly at the National Theatre in the 1980s, as Lear, for example, and in “Pravda”, written and directed by David Hare, but I have never seen him on stage.

Which other Oscar winners could I have seen? Dustin Hoffman (in a 1989 production of “The Merchant of Venice”), maybe Nicole Kidman (“The Blue Room” In 1998). Were Colin Firth or Jim Broadbent in any shows that I might have gone to? It’s possible that I saw Tilda Swinton in some college production in the early 1980s, but I have no record of it. Olivia Colman and Eddie Redmayne were way after my time.

So, including a Stratford-on-Avon production featuring Jeremy Irons, I have seen a dozen Oscar winners. Some of them, like Paul Scofield and Mark Rylance, I have seen in numerous productions. Here, in order of when I first saw them on stage, is the full list.

First Theatre Production Seen (Year) Performer First Oscar win (Year)
Volpone (1977) Paul Scofield A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Volpone (1977) John Gielgud Arthur (1981)
Volpone (1977) Ben Kingsley Gandhi (1982)
Measure for Measure (1979) Helen Mirren The Queen (2006)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1980) Daniel Day-Lewis My Left Foot (1989)
As You Like It (1980) Jeremy Irons Reversal of Fortune (1990)
The House of Bernarda Alba (1987) Glenda Jackson Women in Love (1970)
Lettice and Lovage (1988) Maggie Smith The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
Orpheus Descending (1989) Vanessa Redgrave Julia (1977)
Macbeth (1995) Mark Rylance Bridge of Lies (2015)
All’s Well That Ends Well (2004) Judi Dench Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Richard II (2005) Kevin Spacey The Usual Suspects (1995)

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