Entertainment & Arts

Adrian Lester named best actor at Critics' Circle Theatre Awards

Adrian Lester and Hattie Morahan at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards
Image caption Adrian Lester and Hattie Morahan took the best actor and actress prizes

Adrian Lester has been honoured by top theatre critics, two weeks after being made an OBE in the New Year's Honours list.

The Hustle star was named best actor at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for his role as pioneering African-American actor Ira Aldridge in Red Velvet.

Lester's wife Lolita Chakrabarti, who wrote Red Velvet, won the prize for most promising playwright.

Lucy Prebble's The Effect at the National Theatre won best play.

Prebble's follow-up to her 2009 hit Enron stars starring Billie Piper in a story about love and clinical drug trials.

The winners were announced at a lunchtime awards ceremony at the West End's Prince of Wales Theatre.

Lester said he had been fascinated by the "great story" of Ira Aldridge - a young, black American actor who caused a sensation at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1833 when he took over the role of Othello after famous actor Edmund Kean collapsed on stage.

The Birmingham-born actor is currently preparing for his lead role in the National Theatre's 50th anniversary production of Othello.

Directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner, Lester is joined by Olivia Vinall as Desdemona and Rory Kinnear as the treacherous Iago.

Rehearsals begin in February. "At the moment I'm doing endless research, and doing the school run!" said Lester.

He also admitted that he was still getting used to his OBE for services to drama.

"No-one's told me what it entails. But it was wonderful over the Christmas period to be able to tell my mum and aunt and uncle and cousins. The reaction was amazing - I've never heard squealing like it!"

Chakrabarti, who researched and wrote Red Velvet over seven years, said the challenge had been telling "a dramatic story, not a biopic". She revealed she is currently in talks on a screen adaptation.

Image caption Simon Russell Beale received his award for best Shakespearean performance

London's Young Vic theatre picked up three prizes at Tuesday's ceremony. Hattie Morahan won best actress for A Doll's House, Benedict Andrews was best director for Three Sisters, and Miriam Buether won best designer for Wild Swans.

"What thrills me about receiving these three awards is that each of these shows was a major gamble for us - and all three sold out, including an extension of Three Sisters, resulting in our best performing year ever," said David Lan, the Young Vic's artist director.

He went on: "To grow you have to take risks, and risk needs investment - of imagination, of courage, of skill and also of money.

"At a time when risk and experiment is threatened by, amongst other things, a decline of confidence in the power of public investment in the arts, it's heartening to have our critics endorse the opinion of our audiences who snapped up every seat for these shows."

Morahan described her best actress win for Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House as "an honour and a thrill".

She will reprise the role when the play is revived at the Young Vic in April and said it would be "an opportunity to have another crack at what is an extraordinarily rich part".

The new musical award went to Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by Maria Friedman.

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's musical charts the turbulent relationship between three friends over three decades, starting in 1980 and travelling backwards in time.

David Babani, the Menier's artistic director, said: "It has the backbone of a musical comedy but is actually quite serious subject matter. It's traditionally had troublesome productions, but I think the piece itself is nothing short of genius."

A special award went to Shakespeare's Globe theatre for the Globe to Globe festival - which saw 37 plays performed in 37 languages.

Festival director Tom Bird said: "Things like this are great for taking stock and reflecting on what an extraordinary thing that it was. Logistically, it was a colossal challenge."

Theatre Critics' Circle chairman Mark Shenton told the BBC: "It's apparent from our winners that subsidised theatre rules. Theatre funding is under great threat again, and once again this list demonstrates how important subsidy is.

"The special award for the Globe, which operates without subsidy, shows that it can be done the other way round."

Simon Russell Beale's performance in the title role in Timon of Athens, at the National Theatre, won him the award for best Shakespearean performance.

Most promising newcomer was Denise Gough for Desire Under the Elms at London's Lyric Hammersmith.

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