The Crucible wins coveted theatre award after year of critical success

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The Independent Culture

The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which is best known as the home of snooker, was named Britain's theatre of the year last night.

The Crucible won the coveted title at the Barclays Theatre Awards after consistent critical success under its artistic director, Michael Grandage, who splits his time between Sheffield and the more glamorous Donmar Warehouse in London.

Grandage took over at the Crucible last year and, at a time when many regional theatres are struggling financially and critically, has lured some of Britain's finest actors to perform in a programme that has mixed classics with new works.

Joseph Fiennes, star of the film Shakespeare in Love, played Edward II in Marlowe's play of the same name this spring. Next year, Kenneth Branagh will make his return to the stage after a decade's absence when Grandage directs him as Richard III.

The theatre of the year title, regarded as one of the most important of the annual awards presented by the Theatrical Management Association, is designed to recognise "the inspirational aims and achievements of venues throughout the country with particular emphasis on a theatre's role in its wider community".

It was presented during a ceremony at the Royal Court theatre in London attended by actors including Penelope Wilton, Sir Donald Sinden, Siobhan Redmond and Nichola McAuliffe, all of whom work in theatre but are best known for television appearances.

The actor of the year award produced the most striking result when Paterson Joseph, who starred in the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Company's production of Les Blancs, beat Simon Russell Beale's acclaimed Hamlet with the National Theatre and Samuel West's highly praised Richard II for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Best actress went to Kate O'Toole for her performance in Three Tall Women at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Abi Morgan's play Splendour won best new play and best director for Vicky Featherstone.

Best musical went to an adaptation of The Gondoliers at the Watermill, West Berkshire Playhouse. The award for the most welcoming theatre was won by the Arts Theatre, Cambridge, and the most outstanding achievement in opera went to the Welsh National Opera's production of The Queen of Spades. Rambert Dance Company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, scooped the outstanding dance award for She Was Black.

The awards promote excellence in regional theatre. National productions are eligible if they go on tour.

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