Judi Dench has been named the "Greatest Stage Actor of All Time" by readers of The Stage newspaper today (16 December 2010).
Of the ten actors on the list, the top four are all current performers – Maggie Smith (2), Mark Rylance (3) and Ian McKellen (4) – with the late Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson at spots 5, 6, 7 and 10 respectively. Two more living actors, Michael Gambon (8) and Vanessa Redgrave (9), complete the list.
Commenting on the distinction, Dench said: "I'm completely at a loss for words, but it's one hell of a thing to live up to." Stage deputy editor Alistair Smith said: "Any search like this will be subjective – and does somewhat favour the living performers in the shortlist - but Judi Dench is a very worthy winner."
The Stage shortlist was drawn up by a panel of 16 experts, including director Richard Eyre, Equity president Malcolm Sinclair, playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, Society of London Theatre president Nica Burns, former critics Benedict Nightingale and Nicholas de Jongh and Geoffrey Colman, head of acting at Central School of Speech and Drama, which sponsored the poll. These were then voted for by nearly 900 readers over ten weeks on The Stage website.
Whatsonstage.com conducted a similar poll in 2002, though that was limited to living actors and divided into two categories - "Today's Stage Greatest" and, for up and coming talent, "Tomorrow's Stage Greatest" – and separated males and females. Judi Dench also came top of our list of Today's Greatest Actresses (with 46% of the vote) followed in the leading five by Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren.
The Whatsonstage.com Greatest Actors list was led by Alan Rickman, Kevin Spacey, Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and David Suchet. As for those then identified as the biggest names of subsequent generations, many of whom now work primarily on screen, there were Colin Firth, Ralph Fiennes, Alex Jennings, Samuel West and Toby Stephens for actors, and Rachel Weisz, Samantha Bond, Emma Fielding, Harriet Walter and Victoria Hamilton.
At the time, Whatsonstage.com also asked visitors to shortlist the Greatest Musical Actors and they identified Michael Crawford, Michael Ball, Jonathan Pryce, Philip Quast and Hugh Jackman amongst the male leads, and Elaine Paige, Ruthie Henshall, Maria Friedman, Joanna Riding and Janie Dee amongst the women.