Two years ago, Richard Bean sparked the National Theatre's first ever onstage protest amid accusations that he had written a racist play. Last night he triumphed at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, winning "Best Play" for not one but two of his works.
The controversy that surrounded England People Very Nice, a satire on immigration, did not deter Mr Bean, a 54-year-old former occupational psychologist and stand-up comedian from Hull, from tackling controversial subjects. One of the plays honoured at the Standard awards night was The Heretic, a black comedy about climate change staged by the Royal Court. The other was One Man, Two Guvnors, a slapstick adaptation of an 18th-century Venetian play starring James Corden that triumphed at the National Theatre and has since moved into the West End. It will open on Broadway next year.
Mr Bean, who wrote his first play in his late 30s and describes himself as a "liberal hawk," was targeted by protesters carrying placards during a discussion about England People Very Nice at the NT in 2009. He defended that play – which attracted critical acclaim as well as anger – saying: "If you can't write about young Bangladeshis – they are English, they were born here – then what you're saying is that a living writer can't write about England."
Meanwhile Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch shared the Best Actor prize for their double act in the National Theatre's production of Frankenstein, in which, under the direction of Oscar winner Danny Boyle, they alternated in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The judging panel of theatre critics said it would be "invidious" not to reward both actors, whose performances won rave reviews.
Kristin Scott Thomas, best known for her film work, was recognised with the Lebedev Special Award for her return to the stage in Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the Comedy Theatre, only her fourth British theatrical role.
In the outstanding newcomer category, US actor Kyle Soller beat out his wife Phoebe Fox, whom he met while studying at RADA.
THE WINNERS AND WHAT THE CRITICS SAID ABOUT THEM
Best play (joint)
The Heretic, Royal Court
"Richard Bean is one of drama's most wittily maverick voices" The Independent **** / One Man, Two Guvnors National's Lyttelton
"One of the funniest productions in the National's history"
The Guardian *****
Grief, at the National Theatre's Cottesloe
"Brilliant though it often is, Grief casts a potent pall of desolation that lingers long after the show itself is over" The Telegraph ****
Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket
"Quite stunning... never overdoes the brassiness"
The Guardian ****
Best actor (joint)
Frankenstein, National's Olivier
"A quantum leap for his reputation" The Times ***** / Jonny Lee Miller
"Physically wild, free of the slightest self-consciousness"
The Times *****
Lebedev Special Award
Kristin Scott Thomas
Betrayal, Comedy Theatre
"Heart-breaking here in a performance of exquisitely nuanced emotional vulnerability and pain" The Independent