Olivier Awards 2023 winners: Jodie Comer and Paul Mescal take home top gongs

Paul Mescal and Jodie Comer took home the top acting prizes at the prestigious award show. Credit: PA

Jodie Comer and Paul Mescal have secured top gongs for their West End debut performances at the Olivier Awards, while an adaptation of My Neighbour Totoro dominated at the biggest night in British theatre.

The Killing Eve star won best actress at the Royal Albert Hall ceremony on Sunday for her role as Tessa in Prima Facie, a one-person production by Suzie Miller, which also won the coveted best new play award.

After receiving critical acclaim for her West End debut at the Harold Pinter Theatre, 30-year-old Comer will be taking the play to Broadway later this month.

During her acceptance speech, Comer said: “I’m so overwhelmed. This play has changed my life. I am so grateful and I have so many people to thank.

“To Suzie Miller for writing the most exquisite play I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

“One thing I would like to say to any kids who haven’t been to drama school, who can’t afford to go to drama school, who have been rejected from drama school, don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t possible.

“It might take the stars to align and you to be met with generous, kind, patient people, but it is possible.

“Mum, Dad, I love you, and my Grandad is 82 today so happy birthday.”

The Almeida Theatre production also picked up the prestigious award for best revival and Anjana Vasan won best actress in a supporting role for her turn as Stella in the play directed by Olivier winner Rebecca Frecknall.

Meanwhile, Mescal fought off tough competition from David Tennant for Good; Tom Hollander for Patriots; Rafe Spall for To Kill A Mockingbird; and Giles Terera for Blues For An Alabama Sky.

The 27-year-old scooped the top acting prize for his turn as Stanley Kowalski in the new stage adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Jodie Comer outside the Royal Albert Hall. Credit: PA

During his acceptance speech, 27-year-old Mescal thanked his mother, who is receiving treatment for cancer, adding: “I hope you get better.”

He later added in the winners' room that he hopes the award helps keep his “unwell” mother’s spirits high, as well as his father who is “looking after her” at home.

"My mum’s unwell at the moment, so hopefully it’ll give her a little bit of a lift and dad as well who is looking after," he said.

“It kind of feels maybe narcissistic or egotistical to assume that that will help anything, but I hope that it does.”

Lee Curran, Rebecca Frecknall, Dwane Walcott, Patsy Ferran, Anjana Vasan and Paul Mescal attending the Olivier Awards.

Speaking about his success from starring in Normal People to an Oscar nomination for his role in Aftersun, he said: “It’s silly. I feel like I hear people say it all the time, but it doesn’t feel real. This doesn’t feel at all real.

“But it’s kind of happening at such a rate that there is no time to stop and think, this is a phenomenal feeling."

The big winner of the night was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s enchanting new stage adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated film My Neighbour Totoro which dominated the theatre awards.

Beverley Knight also picked up the award for best actress in a supporting role for her performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia. Credit: PA

The coming-of-age adaption landed six of the nine prizes it was nominated for, including the Noel Coward Award for best entertainment or comedy play and the Sir Peter Hall Award for best director.

It was among a plethora of musicals, plays and operas which received recognition during the ceremony hosted by Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham on Sunday.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! won best musical revival for its sell-out run at the Young Vic, while also winning Arthur Darvill best actor in a musical for his turn as Curly McLain.

During his acceptance speech, 40-year-old Darvill said: “My goodness this is very overwhelming.”

He said to his cast mates: “It’s a privilege to be on stage with you. (We) have created such an incredible piece of theatre.

“Growing up I was very lucky, I had incredibly supportive parents… I had an amazing drama teacher who is still teaching and is very inspiring.”

Arthur Darvill in the press room after winning the Best Actor in a Musical award for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! Credit: PA

A total of six productions from The Almeida Theatre triumphed on the night, with Will Keen scooping best supporting actor for Patriots, and Tammy Faye garnering two awards in acting categories – Katie Brayben for best actress in a musical and Zubin Varla for best actor in a supporting role in a musical.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge, which is set in Sheffield and premiered in the city in 2019 before moving to London this year, took home best new musical while Richard Hawley and Tom Deering won the award for best original score or new orchestrations for the production.

Hawley, 56, dedicated the honour to “fallen comrades” including bass player Steve Mackey from Pulp “who we lost a month ago” after meeting on the first day of infant school.

He added: “We stayed friends and brothers all the way through, I will miss him my whole life.”

As well as performing twice during the ceremony, Beverley Knight also picked up the award for best actress in a supporting role in a musical for her performance as Emmeline Pankhurst in Sylvia at The Old Vic.

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During her acceptance speech, the emotional 50-year-old said: “Emmeline Pankhurst stood on this stage and said ‘I incite this meeting to rebellion’ and she told the women in the room, be militant in your own way and that was in 1912.

“The next year they banned the social political union.

“One hundred years later we stand on this stage, we have reclaimed the power for those women. I want to thank with all my heart the Old Vic for giving us a second bite on this one.”

Knight added: “Big up Wolverhampton youth theatre who gave me a chance when I was an 11-year-old.”

The ceremony also celebrated Sir Derek Jacobi, who was given the lifetime achievement award for his outstanding contribution to theatre throughout his career.

Sir David struggled to hold back tears before giving an impressive speech name-dropping a number of famous people including Dame Shirley Bassey and Laurence Olivier, whom the ceremony is named after.

The show culminated in a tribute to Special Award recipient Dame Arlene Phillips, with a performance from Grease The Musical – a production she famously choreographed.

A total of 16 of the 18 winners won their first Olivier on Sunday, organisers said.

The star-studded ceremony featured performances from all the best new musical nominees including Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye as well as from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and Sister Act.

Late entertainers including Paul O’Grady, Nicholas Lloyd Webber and Darius Danesh Campbell were remembered at The Olivier Awards 2023, along with Dame Angela Lansbury, Dame Hilary Mantel, Burt Bacharach, Bernard Cribbins and Kay Mellor.

The Olivier Awards 2023 were being broadcast on ITV1 and ITVX from 10.15pm to 12.20am.