Who would have thought that what started in 1957 with the role of Ophelia as part of the Old Vic company in Liverpool would culminate days after her 76th birthday with Dame Judi Dench being named “the greatest stage actress of all-time“. Might have had something to do with her seven Laurence Olivier awards along the way in addition to some pretty stellar classic roles. Her most recent role was as Tatiana in a Peter Hall production of A Midsummers Night’s Dream.
The award was the culmination of a 10-week reader pole conducted by The Stage, the industry “Bible”, which began with industry experts being asked to name their top-10, a nearly impossible task given the list could include individuals from any point in history and be from any country in the world. That’s where the readers came in with their charge of selecting their top stage actor of all-time. Dame Maggie Smith was second to Dench with Sir Ian McKellan fourth and Sir Laurence Olivier taking fifth.
Upon hearing of the news, Dench commented, “I’m completely at a loss for words, but it’s one hell of a thing to live up to.”
Over the years, Dame Dench and the Daily Telegraph‘s critic Charles Spencer had a love-hate relationship. Prime example occurred last year when Spencer criticized aspects of her performance in Madame de Sade. Dench responded by sending a letter which Spencer treasures to this day. He explains the relationship that spawned such a fabulous response.