Trailer trash and dancing Klansmen bag top award for 'Springer'

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The Independent Culture

A comic opera that features actors dressed as Ku Klux Klansmen dancing in formation was named the best musical of the year last night.

Jerry Springer: The Opera, a spoof of the confessional American television show, won the honour at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards at the Savoy hotel in London.

The National Theatre production stars Michael Brandon, who appeared in the 1980s television detective show Dempsey & Makepeace, as the eponymous television host presiding over a parade of trailer-trash guests. The real Jerry Springer was among the guests who saw the show transfer from the National to the West End this month.

The show beat another National musical production, Anything Goes, to the award.

The best actor award went to Michael Sheen, former partner of the Hollywood star Kate Beckinsale, who recently starred alongside her in the horror thriller Underworld.

He was honoured for his performance in the Donmar Warehouse production of Caligula, in which he plays the Roman emperor. The play, written by Albert Camus, won a second prize for best stage design.

The best actress award went to Sandy McDade for her performance in the Royal Court production Iron. McDade, who has appeared in television dramas such as The Bill, Holby City and Hamish Macbeth, won plaudits from critics for her role as a manipulative murderer who rebuilds her relationship with a grown-up daughter.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, best known for his acting in the BBC drama Casualty, won a £30,000 prize for his other role as a theatrical writer. He took the Charles Wintour award as most promising playwright for his drama Elmina's Kitchen.

The actor shot to fame for his singing on Celebrity Fame Academy earlier this year and releases his album today.

Tom Hardy, an actor best known to sci-fi buffs for his role as Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, was named outstanding newcomer. He collected the prize for two commanding roles: in the Royal Court's production Blood, and as a drug addict and prostitute in Hampstead Theatre's In Arabia We'd All Be Kings.

The director Max Stafford-Clark was handed the annual special award for his lifetime contribution to theatre and dedication to new writing.

A special award funding three years at a London drama school for an aspiring actor or actress was given to Elif Yesil, a Turkish-born UK citizen.

Lord Attenborough took the biennial Patricia Rothermere award for his outstanding support and encouragement of young actors as chairman of Rada for 32 years.

Michael Frayn's Democracy was named best play. It focuses on the German Chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant Gunter Guillaume, who spied on his boss for the Stasi, the East German secret police. The award for best director went to Polly Teale for her expressionistic stage portrait of novelist Jean Rhys in After Mrs Rochester.

Guests at the ceremony included John Hurt, Felicity Kendall, the designer Nicole Farhi, Richard Wilson, star of One Foot in the Grave, and the actress Emilia Fox.

The former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson attended to present Frayn's prize and was the butt of a joke from the ceremony host, Rory Bremner. Bremner said that with the return of political theatre, audiences could look forward "to the forthcoming revival of Peter Mandelson. "I say forthcoming ­ he's coming back and it's the fourth time," the impressionist quipped.

Theatreland winners

Best actor: Michael Sheen (Caligula)

Best actress: Sandy McDade (Iron)

Best play: Democracy by Michael Frayn

The Carlton Television award for best musical: Jerry Springer: The Opera

Sydney Edwards award for best director: Polly Teale (After Mrs Rochester)

Best stage designer: Christopher Oram (Caligula)

Charles Wintour award for most promising playwright: Kwame Kwei-Armah (Elmina's Kitchen)

Outstanding newcomer: Tom Hardy (Blood/In Arabia We'd All Be Kings)

Special Award: Max Stafford-Clark

Patricia Rothermere Award: Lord Attenborough

Patricia Rothermere Scholarship: Elif Yesil