Arts: National in clean sweep of awards

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The Independent Online
Former National Theatre director Sir Richard Eyre won two accolades and saw his company carry off the main prizes at yesterday's Evening Standard Drama Awards. David Lister, Arts News Editor, watched another moment of triumph for Sir Richard.

It was the biggest clean sweep in the 42-year history of the event.

Sir Richard Eyre was presented with a special award by actor Paul Scofield for the decade of his directorship, 1988-1997, and was also named best director for his productions of King Lear and The Invention of Love at an awards ceremony in which the National featured strongly.

Ian Holm was named best actor for his National Theatre King Lear, and Tom Stoppard collected the best play trophy for The Invention of Love.

Patrick Marber took the best comedy award for Closer - another NT production - and the award for best musical went to Lady In the Dark by Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin and Moss Hart, which was staged at the National.

A highlight of the awards ceremony came when Dame Maggie Smith presented the best actress award Eileen Atkins for her performance in A Delicate Balance at the Haymarket Theatre, where she co-stars with Dame Maggie. Ridiculing a report that the two of them were not speaking, Dame Maggie recalled how they had known each other since their youth, and had deliberately sought a play to act in together. Such rumours were, she suggested, a hazard for actresses. "No one ever says, `ooh have you heard Othello's not getting on with Iago,' " she observed.

While the awards ceremony had its usual upbeat atmosphere, much of the talk among the actors and actresses attending was about the current Equity strike in which many of them are involved. Union members are refusing to do voice overs and other commercials for television following a decision by the Institute of Practioners in Advertising to reduce drastically repeat fees, cutting substantial earnings for many performers.

The award for most promising playwright went to Conor McPherson for The Weir, staged by the Royal court.

Jonathan Harmsworth, son of Lord Rothermere, chairman of The Daily Mail and General Trust, publishers of the Evening Standard, introduced The Patricia Rothermere Award, created by Lord Rothermere in memory of his first wife.

It is a two-part award. The first part went to Dame Judi Dench in recognition of her services to theatre. The second, a scholarship allowing a drama student to take his or her place at drama school when they had no other funding, was won by 23-year-old Mark Rice-Oxley from Liverpool.

Ned Sherrin hosted the ceremony at The Savoy Hotel, central London.

Sir Richard Eyre's King Lear is to be filmed for BBC2's Performance programme. The three-week shoot, with Ian Holm as King Lear and most of the Royal National Theatre production cast unchanged, starts on Monday. It will be screened next year.

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