Learn more about Imelda Staunton's career ahead of 'Hello, Dolly!'

Imelda Staunton returns to the West End in summer 2024 to star in a major revival of Jerry Herman's classic musical Hello, Dolly! at the London Palladium.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Hello, Imelda! One of the buzziest West End openings of 2024 sees the incredible Imelda Staunton starring in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s beloved musical Hello, Dolly!. The revival, directed by Dominic Cooke (who worked his magic with Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre), plays at the London Palladium from July.

Staunton takes on the iconic role of indomitable matchmaker Dolly Levi, previously played by the likes of Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Mary Martin, and Bette Midler. She’s joined in this London revival by an amazing cast featuring Jenna Russell, Andy Nyman, Tyrone Huntley, and Harry Hepple.

Herman’s wonderful score includes enduring numbers like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Elegance,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and the great title number. Get ready for Staunton’s next great performance by looking back at her remarkable career on stage and screen.

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Imelda Staunton’s beginnings

Imelda Staunton was born in north London in 1956. Her parents – first-generation immigrants from Ireland – worked as a hairdresser and a labourer, and the family home was over her mother’s salon. They were a musical clan, too: her mother could play the fiddle and the accordion.

Staunton first took an interest in acting while at school, playing roles such as Polly in The Beggar’s Opera. She auditioned for several drama schools and won a place at RADA, graduating in 1976.

Imelda Staunton on stage

Staunton made her professional start performing at venues like Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, and playing starring roles early on – such as George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. She then began her successful association with the National Theatre, returning to The Beggar’s Opera to play Lucy Lockit in 1982. That scored her the first of her 13 Olivier Award nominations.

A major revival of Guys and Dolls that same year at the National Theatre saw Staunton win acclaim and another nomination for her Miss Adelaide (taking over the role from Julia McKenzie) and introduced her to her husband Jim Carter.

Staunton won her first Olivier in 1985 for her work in two shows: Emlyn Williams’s The Corn is Green at the Old Vic and Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval at the National. In 1988, she played Sonya in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the West End, and she scored another Olivier nod for her Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the Barbican.

Her intense interpretation of Sondheim roles began with an Olivier-winning Baker’s Wife in the original London production of Into the Woods at the Phoenix Theatre in 1990. However, the next few years saw Staunton mainly appearing in plays, such as Yasmina Reza’s Life x 3 at the National, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane in the West End, and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance at the Almeida Theatre.

But in 2011 came Staunton’s definitive Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd, opposite Michael Ball, at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and then 2014 saw her astonishing Rose in Gypsy – first at Chichester, then in the West End. Both saw Staunton win more Olivier Awards.

Staunton returned to drama for a towering Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the West End in 2017, then switched back to Sondheim for the landmark revival of Follies at the National Theatre, playing Sally. Most recently, she appeared in the new version of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the Bridge Theatre, in 2020.

Follies - LT - 1200

Imelda Staunton in film

Staunton made her big-screen debut in the 1986 historical movie Comrades. She appeared in the British ensemble film Peter’s Friends in 1992, and she had supporting roles in the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson-led Much Ado About Nothing in 1993, and the Thompson-led and scripted Sense and Sensibility in 1995.

More Shakespeare followed with the film adaptation of Twelfth Night in 1996, and then the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love in 1998, in which Staunton played nurse to Gwyneth Paltrow’s noblewoman. She added her voice to 2000 animation Chicken Run (and is returning for its upcoming sequel), and appeared in Stephen Fry’s Evelyn Waugh adaptation Bright Young Things in 2003.

However, it wasn’t until 2004 that cinemagoers really saw what Staunton can do. She played the title role, a backstreet abortionist in 1950, in Mike Leigh’s searing drama Vera Drake; the film won the Golden Lion at Venice, while Leigh and Staunton were both nominated for Oscars and won BAFTAs.

Staunton was memorably creepy as the villainous Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in 2007, and she reprised the role in its sequel The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 in 2010. She also reunited with Leigh in 2010 for Another Year, and was part of a magnificent ensemble in the British film Pride in 2014.

Staunton voiced Aunt Lucy in the Paddington films in 2014 and 2017 (and is set to do so again in the upcoming Paddington in Peru). She played a fairy in the Maleficent films in 2014 and 2019 and joined the Downton Abbey cast for its big-screen outings in 2019 and 2022.

Imelda Staunton in A Lady of Letters, part of the Talking Heads series

Imelda Staunton on TV

Staunton’s TV career began with an episode of the Playhouse anthology series in 1982. Guest roles followed, including in The Singing Detective in 1986, and she starred in the romantic comedy series Up the Garden Path from 1990-93.

Staunton led the black comedy If You See God, Tell Him in 1993, the American TV drama Citizen X in 1995, and the British sitcom Is It Legal? from 1995-98. She also guest-starred in the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and she played The Prioress in the TV adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1998.

More period drama followed with David Copperfield in 1999, Cambridge Spies in 2003 (in which Staunton played The Queen Mother), Fingersmith in 2005, and Cranford in 2007. Staunton also played Louisa Durrell in My Family and Other Animals in 2005.

Staunton guest-starred in the horror series Psychoville in 2010 and played The Interface in an episode of Doctor Who in 2011. The following year, she won acclaim – and an Emmy nomination – for playing the wife of Alfred Hitchcock in HBO’s The Girl.

Staunton once again teamed up with Michael Ball for Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang in 2014, and, in 2020, she starred in the thriller Flesh and Blood, performed one of Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, and joined the cast of comedy series Trying.

Most recently, Staunton took on her biggest TV role to date: playing Elizabeth II in the fifth and sixth seasons of royal drama The Crown on Netflix. Staunton got a Golden Globe nomination for her regal portrayal of the late monarch, and she reprises the role for the final instalment of the series this month.

It will be a right royal pleasure to see Staunton back on stage in Hello, Dolly! – her first musical since that wonderful Follies. Tickets are bound to go fast, so don’t wait too long to plan your trip in 2024.

Book Hello, Dolly! tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Imelda Staunton in Follies at the National Theatre (Photo by Johan Persson)

Imelda Staunton in Lady of Letters at the Bridge Theatre (Photo by Zac Nicholson)

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