Entertainment & Arts

Dame Helen Mirren wins Standard award for The Audience

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Media captionDame Helen Mirren: "The response to the play was as much to that extraordinary woman"

Dame Helen Mirren has won another award for her portrayal of the Queen.

Dame Helen, who won an Oscar for The Queen in 2007, was named best actress for her performance as the monarch in West End stage play The Audience at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

The best actor prize was given jointly to Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear, for their performances as Shakespeare's Othello and Iago at the National.

Dame Maggie Smith and Lord Lloyd-Webber received special awards.

The former was presented with the Evening Standard Theatre Icon award by actress Kristin Scott Thomas, while the latter was recognised for his contribution to musical theatre.

An emotional Dame Maggie received a standing ovation as she collected her fifth Evening Standard theatre award.

"I know how long I've been working because I saw The Mousetrap before it came into London," observed the actress, who turns 79 next month.

The veteran performer admitted to being "astonished" by the length of her career but said she was "very sad" not to have worked on the stage more often in recent years.

The experience of participating in the National Theatre's 50th anniversary gala earlier this month, she said, "made my heart ache, because I've missed it an enormous amount".

Before the ceremony, Dame Helen said she thought the praise she had received for The Audience was as much for the Queen as for her.

"I did feel very much that the response to the play was as much a response to that person, that extraordinary woman, as it was to my performance," she told reporters.

Other honours were presented to actor Kevin Spacey for his work at London's Old Vic theatre, and to David Walliams for his performance as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Little Britain star received his honour from Dame Edna Everage, who congratulated him on "overcoming a difficult background - parents who couldn't spell Williams".

Image caption Hayley Atwell, Helen McCrory and Grayson Perry wore some of the night's most eye-catching frocks

The best musical category saw a revival of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along win against box office smash The Book of Mormon and the National's production of The Light Princess.

The latter show did not go home empty-handed, however, with its star Rosalie Craig receiving the award for best musical performance at Sunday's ceremony.

The flame-haired actress accepted her honour from Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, who revealed afterwards he had so far rejected attempts to make a "jukebox musical" featuring his band's songs.

"All the ideas so far have been a bit crap so we've said no," the 55-year-old told the BBC News website. "It's got to be good."

Image caption A fur-coated Billie Piper attended with her husband Laurence Fox

Former National Theatre director Sir Richard Eyre was named best director for his staging of Ibsen's Ghosts at the Almeida, beating the National's present and future directors - Sir Nicholas Hytner and Rupert Norris - in the process.

The Almeida had additional reason to celebrate when Lucy Kirkwood won the prize for best play for its production of Chimerica.

Other newcomers celebrated included US actor Seth Numrich, recognised for his performance opposite Kim Cattrall in Sweet Bird of Youth, and Londoner Cush Jumbo, honoured for her one-woman show Josephine and I.

The Beyond Theatre award, meanwhile - presented last year to Danny Boyle for his London 2012 opening ceremony - went to the 2013 BBC Proms and their director, Roger Wright.

Before the ceremony, Kinnear and Lester spoke about the challenges of interpreting Othello for new audiences.

The former said: "It was important that we got on with each other because we're spending an awfully long time ruining each other's lives."

Lester added: "It breathed fresh life into a play that people may have found dated."

Image caption Kinnear and Lester shared the best actor prize for their Othello performances

Homeland star Damian Lewis hosted the awards at London's Savoy Hotel, attended by such luminaries as broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, actor Hugh Grant and singer Tori Amos, composer of The Light Princess's score.

Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands said she and her fellow judges had been "dazzled" by the talent on show this year and had found making their decisions "tougher than ever".

The presence of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and London Mayor Boris Johnson in the audience prompted some attendees to make the case for theatre in the face of arts funding cuts.

"Our theatre is in rude health," said Lewis in his opening address. "Our productions travel the world, putting the best of our culture on display and reaching out to people all over the planet.

Image caption The world of pop music was represented by Tori Amos and Simon Le Bon

"Great theatre really is one of this country's finest exports."

"Theatre is such an important part of British history and British culture," said Dame Helen Mirren. "It's something we should all be very proud of.

"It is genuinely recognised all over the world as the best in the world."

While presenting the award for most promising playwright to Rachel De-lahay for her Royal Court play Routes, actor Dan Stevens expressed himself even more pointedly.

"In a climate in which the government seems to ban even peaceful protests, we may need theatre more than ever to question authority, to interrogate the status quo and to remember the human stories behind the red tape and the barbed wire," said the former Downton Abbey star.

Lord Lloyd-Webber, however, insisted the theatre community itself had a responsibility to do its bit for the medium and its future.

"The thing I passionately believe we all must do is give something back," said the Cats and Evita composer. "It can't just be the government - it's got to be us as well."

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