Irish actress Denise Gough was the toast of London theatre circles on Sunday night after she was named Best Actress at the Olivier Awards, regarded as the 'Oscars' of British theatre.

A delighted Gough won the award for her role in People, Places and Things at the National Theatre's Dorfman Theatre on London's South Bank and in her rousing acceptance speech she told the audience "I'm having the time of my life".

However, she recently revealed that she almost quit acting last year to take up a job as a cleaner in order to make ends meet.

"I had a year out of work before this job," she told the BBC. "I applied to be a cleaner this time last year. That's not joking. That's the truth for many jobbing actors and actresses.

"It would be lovely if we were all in a position to say it's vulgar to talk about money, but most of us have to talk about it because we can't pay our rent when we are out of work."

Cleaning up at Awards ceremonies rather than being a cleaner

Luckily for her, things turned around and her role recovering alcoholic Emma in the Duncan Macmillan play has instead seen her cleaning up at awards ceremonies. Following critical praise for her performance she had already won a Best Actress Award at the Critics' Circle theatre awards in London back in January.

Accepting her Olivier, Gough said that she was "just a bit disappointed" that all the performers nominated in her category were white and paid tribute to the work of black actresses Noma Dumezweni, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Sharon D Clarke . 

The Olivier Awards turned out to be a stellar night for Irish theatre, with a host of other wins for Irish talent.

Dublin's Fishamble Theatre and actor-writer Pat Kinevane won the Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre award for the play Silent at the Soho Theatre.

Fishamble's Pat Kinevane and Jim Culleton

Speaking to RTÉ the play's director, Jim Culleton, said the Olivier judges had praised Silent for exuding "warmth and humanity and passion" in its depiction of mental health issues and homelessness. 

Hangman, a new play by London-Irish writer Martin McDonagh, won Best New Play and Set Design, while Harry Potter star Imelda Staunton, whose parents emigrated to London from Co Mayo, was named Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre. 

President Michael D. Higgins has led tributes to the Irish winners last night.

The Olivier Awards are the most prestigious theatre awards in the United Kingdom and the awards won by Irish nominees are a great recognition and tribute to Irish theatre. 

Imelda Staunton was honoured for her performance in Gypsy

Judi Dench received a record eighth Olivier Award, winning Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Winter's Tale at the Garrick Theatre. The 81 year old is now the most garlanded actor in British Theatre history and has received more Oliviers for acting than any other performer. 

Judi Dench with her record-breaking eighth gong

The Best Actor award went to Kenneth Cranham for his performance in The Father at Wyndham's Theatre, while Mark Gatiss won Best Supporting Actor for Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre, Lyttelton.

The Olivier Awards are presented annually by the Society of London Theatre to recognise excellence in professional theatre in London.