Triumph for Alan Bennett as 'History Boys' wins six Tonys and equals 50-year record

Not since Arthur Miller's seminal play Death of a Salesman triumphed in 1949 has a single drama stormed the Tony Awards so decisively.

On Sunday night, the power-brokers of American theatre handed The History Boys by Alan Bennett a total of six Tonys, matching the record for Miller more than half a century ago.

Against tough competition - much of it from fellow Brits - the Broadway transfer of one of National Theatre's biggest hits in years was named best play.

Nicholas Hytner, who runs the National in London and took the initial decision to stage the work, was named best director. Its stars, Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, took acting honours against competition which included Ralph Fiennes and Zoe Wanamaker.

Julia Roberts, whose own Broadway debut was panned by the critics, graciously turned up to the ceremony to hand Griffiths his best actor award. She said: "You are insanely talented people."

The final two Tonys went to its designer Bob Crowley and lighting designer Mark Henderson, in a triumphant night for a play that has already won Oliviers and numerous other awards in London.

Reflecting on their victory yesterday, Hytner said they were "absolutely delighted" and very happy with their haul.

He said: "Frances de la Tour looked spectacular and if the orchestra hadn't played, Richard Griffiths would even now be regaling Radio City Music Hall with one of his magnificent anecdotes. It was a great night for the National Theatre."

Hytner extended wide thanks but was particularly effusive in praising Alan Bennett with whom he previously worked on projects including The Madness of King George. He said: "Over the past few years we've done four plays and two movies together and he is the best luck I've ever had." In return, Bennett said simply: "It almost seems unfair to get prizes for something we have so much fun doing."

He had previously won a special Tony in 1963 for Beyond the Fringe, but his work had not been seen on Broadway for more than 30 years until now.

The 72-year-old Yorkshireman's distinctively witty take on the English education system could have seemed somewhat alien to a Broadway audience. Yet theatre-goers in New York have echoed audiences in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong in embracing the play which contrasts different teaching styles with immense wit.

Griffiths plays a maverick but inspirational teacher who wins the adoration of his sixth-formers as they study to win a place at Oxbridge.

The History Boys was not the only British triumph. Ian McDiarmid, the former co-director of the Almeida Theatre best known to film fans as Palpatine in the recent Star Wars films, won a Tony for his performance in the Brian Friel play Faith Healer.

McDiarmid paid tribute to his co-stars, Ralph Fiennes (who lost out as best actor to Griffiths), and Cherry Jones, and to Jonathan Kent, their director with whom he previously worked at the Almeida.

McDiarmid said: "Faith Healer had its debut on Broadway over 20 years ago and it was not a success. I am really proud to be associated with its triumphant return and restoration."

He said there was one word his character used often that seemed appropriate. "He is a London showbusiness manager and, therefore, totally unreliable and prone to wild exaggeration, but it fits the occasion and it's the way I feel tonight - fantastic!"

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LEONARD QUART, PAGE 29

REVIEWS, EXTRA, PAGES 20-21

Prize performance

* THE LONDON PRODUCTION: Two 2004 London Evening Standard Awards for best play and best actor (Richard Griffiths).

Two Critics Circle Awards in 2004 for best new play and best actor (Griffiths).

Three Whatsonstage.com Awards in 2004 for best supporting actor (Samuel Barnett), London newcomer of the year (Barnett) and best new comedy.

Three 2005 Olivier Awards for best new play, best actor (Griffiths) and best director (Nicholas Hytner). The Society of London Theatre's special award for Alan Bennett for contribution to theatre. The South Bank Show Award for Theatre 2005 to The History Boys.

* THE NEW YORK PRODUCTION: Five 2006 New York Drama Desk Awards for outstanding new play, actor (Griffiths), featured actor (Barnett), featured actress (Frances de la Tour) and director.

Four 2006 New York Outer Critics Circle Awards for the play, director, featured actor (Griffiths) and actress (de la Tour).

A 2006 New York Drama Critics Award for best play of the 2005 to 2006 Broadway season.

2006 New York Drama League Award for distinguished production of a play.

Six 2006 Tony Awards for best play, best director, featured actress (de la Tour) and best actor (Griffiths), plus best design (Bob Crowley) and best lighting (Mark Henderson).

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