Lenny Henry honoured at Critics' Circle Theatre Awards

Lenny Henry talks about making the switch from comedy to drama

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Lenny Henry has been honoured by top theatre critics for his latest stage role in August Wilson's classic American drama Fences.

The comedian, a relative newcomer to stage acting, picked up the best actor prize at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for his "titanic performance" as anti-hero Troy Maxson.

Henry told the BBC the play had been "a massive emotional journey".

He said: "Every day was like a therapy session, but with lots of laughter."

The play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 and is considered one of the great American dramas of the 20th Century.

The character of Troy, a former baseball star but now a garbage man in Pittsburgh, has been played by actors such as James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne.

"If I'd thought about that going in I wouldn't have left the house," joked Henry.

He won rave reviews when the play toured the UK after opening at the Theatre Royal, Bath, and later transferred to the Duchess Theatre in London.

Theatre Critics' Circle chairman Mark Shenton noted Henry's "amazing renaissance" as a stage actor with earlier roles in Othello and The Comedy of Errors.

"In Fences, it was a titanic performance in a great production of a really good play," he said.

Now in their 25th year, the awards took place at London's Prince of Wales Theatre on Tuesday lunchtime.

Chimerica set Es Devlin won an award for Chimerica's spinning cube set design

Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica, about an American photojournalist who captures a moment in history at China's Tiananmen Square in 1989, scooped three awards.

It won five star reviews when it premiered at the Almeida Theatre, and later transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre.

It was named best new play, while Lyndsey Turner won best director and Es Devlin won best designer.

Shenton described Chimerica as "a genuinely daring and original piece of theatre making".

Playwright Kirkwood said: "I've heard from people who were in Tiananmen Square on that day who've said it's really important that this story is told."

'Thrilled'
Lesley Manville Lesley Manville picked up the best actress award for Ibsen's Ghosts

Lesley Manville won the award for best actress for her role as Mrs Alving in Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, at the Almeida, and now at the Trafalgar Studios.

"It is a big classic role and I couldn't be more thrilled to have it at this time of my life," she said.

The 90-minute play, directed by Richard Eyre, is said to be so intense that audiences sometimes don't know if they should clap at the end.

"You can feel the atmosphere in the audience at the curtain call, they are as shaken up and drained as we are," Manville said.

There was a double victory for Rory Kinnear, best known on the big screen for his role as M's right-hand man in the James Bond films.

He won the prize for best Shakespearean performance, as Iago in Othello at the National Theatre.

He also shared the most promising playwright prize for his debut play The Herd, at London's Bush Theatre, about tensions at a family gathering.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge was also named winner in the same category for Fleabag, a one-woman show about an angry, sex-obsessed young woman.

The prize for best musical went to The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic Theatre.

The award for most promising newcomer went to Kate O'Flynn in Port at the National Theatre.

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