'Billy Elliot' stars make history by becoming youngest Olivier victors

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The Independent Culture

They are the newest kids on the theatrical block but last night they beat one of the biggest stars in Hollywood to top honours.

Teenagers James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower triumphed over Ewan McGregor at the Laurence Olivier Awards, taking the best actor in a musical award for their performances as the miner's son turned ballet dancer Billy Elliot.

They were the youngest actors in Olivier history to win and were also the first victors to take an award jointly. The hit musical received nine nominations and took home four prizes at the ceremony in London, including best new musical for its writers Lee Hall and Elton John.

Other relative newcomers to emerge victorious included Eve Best whose passionate performance in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler secured her the best actress award against competition including previous Olivier winners Clare Higgins, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter. The Almeida production, which transferred to the West End, took four awards, including best director for Richard Eyre and best revival, and was straight theatre's major victor.

But alongside the younger talents, there was space for the veterans, too, as Sir Ian McKellen received the annual special award in celebration of "his outstanding contribution to theatre and his continuing support of the industry". Tomorrow he opens in a new play by Mark Ravenhill at the Donmar Warehouse.

Film director Anthony Minghella's first venture into the world of opera secured him a best new opera production Olivier, for his visually stunning Madam Butterfly with the English National Opera. The troubled ENO company had secured all eight nominations in the two opera categories. The baritone Simon Keenlyside took the outstanding achievement award.

Other results showed that both the commercial and the subsidised theatre could claim to have enjoyed a good year.

Commercial producers could boast success for the American actor Brian Dennehy who was named best actor for Death of a Salesman and for Celia Imrie who won best supporting performance in a musical for Acorn Antiques - the Musical.

But the National Theatre took the new writing prize with Simon Stephens' On the Shore of the Wide World named best new play, while the Tricycle Theatre and Young Vic also secured honours.

Guys and Dolls, the Donmar Warehouse's first musical outside its normal home, was named outstanding musical production. And while its star McGregor proved unlucky, his co-star Jane Krakowkski, of Ally McBeal fame, was recognised.

The winners

Best actress: Eve Best, for Hedda Gabler

Best actor: Brian Dennehy for Death of a Salesman

Best performance in a supporting role: Noma Dumezweni for A Raisin in the Sun

Best new play: On the Shore of the Wide World

Best new comedy: Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras translated by Tom Stoppard

Best entertainment: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Best revival: Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Richard Eyre

Best new musical: Billy Elliot: the Musical by Lee Hall, music by Elton John

Outstanding musical production: Guys and Dolls

Best actress in a musical: Jane Krakowski for Guys and Dolls

Best actor in a musical: James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower for Billy Elliot

Best performance in a supporting role in a musical: Celia Imrie for Acorn Antiques: the Musical!

Best director: Richard Eyre for Hedda Gabler

Best theatre choreographer: Peter Darling for Billy Elliot: the Musical

Best lighting design: Don Carlos

Best set design: Hedda Gabler

Best costume design: The Dog in the Manger

Best sound design: Billy Elliot: the Musical

Outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre of the Society of London Theatre: Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry at the Tricycle

Best new dance production: Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant's Push at Sadler's Wells

Outstanding achievement in dance: Pina Bausch for Nelken and Palermo Palermo at Sadler's Wells

Best new opera production: ENO's Madam Butterfly

Outstanding achievement in opera: Simon Keenlyside for ENO's Billy Budd and the Royal Opera's 1984