A grand day of triumph for the Donmar

The Donmar Warehouse, which has just 250 seats, produced the winning performances in the best actor and best actress categories of the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards yesterday.

And Michael Grandage, its artistic director, was named best director for the Donmar's production of the musical Grand Hotel and also for the West End transfer from the Sheffield Crucible of his acclaimed production of Don Carlos, by the German writer Friedrich Schiller.

Grandage, who also directed the Donmar's version of Guys and Dolls starring Ewan McGregor this year, said that to win so many awards was very exciting.

"It turned out to be a real vote of confidence for what we've done in the past 12 months. We try to do a broad diet of work and for that to be recognised is very satisfying," he said.

"We want to be clear that we would still be very proud of this work if we hadn't won, but it's always nice when people go, 'Congratulations.'"

Joseph Fiennes, who is appearing in the play Epitaph for George Dillon, presented the best director's award, saying: "There are a few remarkable directors who have a great creative streak and then simply go on streaking ... Today we have another remarkable director in our midst."

The best actress award went to Harriet Walter for her performance as Elizabeth I in Mary Stuart, the second Schiller hit in London this year after Don Carlos.

She beat competition including Kristin Scott Thomas and Clare Higgins to win the award, which was presented by Richard Griffiths, the actor who has become the scourge of mobile phone abusers in theatres.

She said: "Awards don't alter things in the sense that you can go out on stage and think, 'Right, I'm terribly good, I don't have to work any more.' But they do make you feel you have been appreciated in some way."

Simon Russell Beale was named best actor for his performance as an indecisive university don in Christopher Hampton's play The Philanthropist, beating Derek Jacobi's performance in Don Carlos and Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman to the honour.

Hampton accepted the award for Russell Beale, who is in New York preparing to play King Arthur in the Monty Python musical Spamalot.

In a star-studded ceremony at the Savoy in London attended by Sir Elton John, Patrick Stewart and Gillian Anderson, Billy Elliot, in which a miner's son becomes a ballet star, beat competition from Mary Poppins and The Big Life to be named best musical.

Sir Elton, who worked on the musical with the lyricist Lee Hall and the director Stephen Daldry, said it was "one of the most enjoyable things I've ever been involved with. I am from another world but I've some experience of theatre and the more I work [in theatre] the more I love it."

Mary Poppins had the consolation prize of taking the best design award for Bob Crowley.

The Home Place by Brian Friel won the best play prize against competition including Two Thousand Years, Mike Leigh's hotly anticipated new work at the National Theatre.

A new venue, the Menier Chocolate Factory, won the special Milton Shulman award for outstanding newcomer after a string of highly-acclaimed productions. And the veteran playwright Arnold Wesker presented the £30,000 cheque that goes with the Charles Wintour award for most promising playwright to Nell Leyshon, whose tale of Somerset cider apple orchards, Comfort Me With Apples premiered at the Hampstead Theatre.

A special award was presented to the Royal Court, which will next year celebrate its 50th anniversary, for presenting new plays and exerting an enormous international influence on the development of young writers.

The winners


The Home Place, Brian Friel (Gate Theatre Dublin; Comedy Theatre)


Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace)


Simon Russell Beale, The Philanthropist (Donmar Warehouse)


Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart (Donmar Warehouse)


Michael Grandage, Don Carlos (Sheffield Theatres production; Gielgud Theatre) and Grand Hotel (Donmar Warehouse)


Bob Crowley, Mary Poppins (Prince Edward Theatre)


Menier Chocolate Factory, co-directors David Babani and Danielle Tarento


Nell Leyshon, Comfort Me with Apples (Hampstead Theatre)


The Royal Court Theatre

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