Cameron Mackintosh dedicates theatre performance to Haydn Gwynne

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Sir Cameron Mackintosh said he is dedicating Friday’s theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends to the “memory and extraordinary career” of Haydn Gwynne.

The actress died at the age of 66 in hospital on Friday morning “surrounded by her beloved sons, close family and friends” after a recent cancer diagnosis.

She had been due to appear in Sir Cameron’s latest musical production at the Gielgud Theatre when the show opened in September, but she had to withdraw beforehand due to “sudden personal circumstances”.

In a statement, British theatre producer Sir Cameron said: “The tragic news that the much loved actress, Haydn Gwynne, has died this morning after a very short illness is an enormous shock; even to those of us involved in Sondheim’s musical celebration Old Friends at the Gielgud, who already knew she was ill and forced to leave rehearsals for a show in which she already had a sensational success at its Gala Premiere last year, stopping the show singing The Ladies Who Lunch. “Haydn was a truly wonderful person, as well as a phenomenally talented actress and singer, so it is a double tragedy for everyone to be deprived of both her spectacular talent and her company so abruptly. “The Company of Old Friends is dedicating tonight’s performance to her memory and extraordinary career.

“As Haydn raised a glass to the audience and said, ‘I would like to propose a toast…’, everyone in the Gielgud Theatre tonight would like to propose a toast to dear Haydn. God bless her.”

Dame Helen Mirren also paid tribute to Gwynne, best known for starring in Drop The Dead Donkey and The Windsors, describing the actress as “a delight as a person and a consummate dedicated actress”.

In a statement to the PA news agency, the 78-year-old added: “I had the huge pleasure of sharing the stage with her, in the play The Audience where, much like the original characters (Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher) we danced a delicate dance together.

“She was both funny and serious at the same time, a brilliant balancing act that her whole career exemplified. We will miss her very much.”

Gwynne had long wanted to be an actress but spent her early adult life in Rome teaching English.

Although she was worried about how her parents might react, at the age of 25 she returned home to pursue her dream.

She made her name in 1990 when she starred as icy Alex Pates in the comedy Drop The Dead Donkey, which earned her a Bafta TV nomination in 1992.

Her role as Dr Joanna Graham in Peak Practice also propelled her to fame.

The actress had a successful career on stage and received two Olivier Award nominations for her performances in West End productions of City Of Angels and Billy Elliot The Musical.

She reprised her role as Billy Elliot’s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson in a Broadway version of the musical and was Tony nominated for her performance.

She secured two further Olivier nominations for her roles in The Threepenny Opera and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.

The actress also took on the role of Thatcher for Peter Morgan’s play The Audience.

Later in her career, Gwynne featured in a number of other royal series including playing Queen Consort Camilla in royal satire sitcom The Windsors from 2016 and later portraying former royal aide Lady Susan Hussey, who resigned from the royal household following a racism row, in the fifth series of The Crown.