Sheridan Smith and Rupert Everett shine at theatre awards

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It was the role that Sheridan Smith said took her far outside her comfort zone.

Now her Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic has won her the best actress in a play prize at Sunday's Whatsonstage.com awards.

Rupert Everett took the honours for best actor in a play for his role as Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss.

The awards, voted for by theatre audiences, were announced at a ceremony at London's Palace Theatre.

More than 60,000 people took part in the voting across 27 categories.

Start Quote

Culture is everything and it runs from razzmatazz like this evening down to a lonely anguished poem.”

End Quote Danny Boyle, picking up the award for theatre event of the year for the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Steven Sondheim's blood-soaked musical Sweeney Todd, which ran last year at the Adelphi, converted all of its five nominations into wins, including best musical revival.

Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton won the best actor and best actress in a musical prizes for their respective roles as the demonic barber and the pie-making Mrs Lovett.

Speaking to the BBC backstage, Ball said of his character: "I loved the fact that he was so dark, it's something that people probably hadn't anticipated I would do - and to play opposite Imelda was an absolute masterclass for me."

Sweeney Todd also won the best director prize for Jonathan Kent and best lighting design for Mark Henderson.

At last year's awards, the musical won best regional production for its original run at Chichester Festival Theatre.

The prizes for best supporting roles in a musical went to Tim Minchin and Melanie C, who played Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene in the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett and Michael Ball as Sweeney Todd (Photo: Tristram Kenton) Sweeney Todd was a hit with critics at the Chichester Festival Theatre

The former Spice Girl, who previously appeared in musical Blood Brothers, said: "I really want to thank the theatre community because I feel that you've watched my performances without prejudice, and I really appreciate that."

Among the other winners on the night were Danny Boyle's Olympics Opening Ceremony, which was named theatre event of the year.

Accepting the award, along with some of the performers from the ceremony, Boyle thanked the audience for celebrating the cultural element of the show.

He said: "That culture is everything and it runs from razzmatazz like this evening down to a lonely anguished poem, and it's really important that all our children have access to that culture all the time."

'Disgrace'

Stephen Fry won best supporting actor in a play for his return to the stage - after a 17 year absence - as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

The all-male Globe production, along with Richard III, has just completed a sell-out West End run at the Apollo Theatre. The double bill won best ensemble performance, while Twelfth Night also won best Shakespearean production.

Heather Headley as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard The Bodyguard, adapted from the hit film, was named best new musical

In his videoed acceptance speech, Fry said: "I am simply astonished. Seventeen years ago, I left this country in disgrace having run out of a play [Cell Mates] and I thought I might never return to the stage again."

The most hotly contested category at the 2013 awards was for best actress in a play, where just 0.9% of the public vote separated winner Sheridan Smith (Hedda Gabler) from runner-up Billie Piper (The Effect).

Hedda Gabler is often cited as one of the greatest female dramatic roles in theatre.

"I loved doing the play and I did feel slightly out of my depth," Smith told the BBC after collecting her award. "Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic and [director] Anna Mackmin believed in me way more than I believed in myself, so they dragged through it. I'm so pleased I did because I've achieved something that I would have never taken the risk to do."

Smith's former Two Pints co-star Natalie Casey won the best supporting actress in a play for the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, which also won Best Play Revival.

Rupert Everett won the best actor prize for his portrayal of Oscar Wilde in the revival of The Judas Kiss, which has recently transferred to the Duke of York's Theatre following its run at Hampstead Theatre and on tour.

Everett said: "I'm absolutely thrilled. He's a character who has held a great fascination for me - he's a very romantic character and a great punctuation point between the 19th and 20th century."

Written by David Hare, The Judas Kiss examines Wilde's relationship with his lover Lord Alfred Douglas (played by Freddie Fox) and focuses on two moments in Wilde's last years - the eve of his arrest at the Cadogan Hotel, and a night in Naples after his release from prison.

Other awards went to The Bodyguard, which was named best new musical, and to the National Theatre's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for best new play.

Playwright Simon Stephens, who adapted Mark Haddon's best-selling novel, joked on stage: "It's a remarkable thing to win an award for popularity - normally people leave my plays in a state of terror!"

Curious Incident reopens next month at the Apollo Theatre with Luke Treadaway reprising his role as the protagonist with Asperger's syndrome.

The late Marvin Hamlisch, who died last August, was also honoured with the inaugural prize for best original music for his score for the 2002 Broadway musical Sweet Smell of Success, which received its UK premiere at London's Arcola Theatre.

Hamlisch's widow, Terre Blair, who flew into London to collect the award said: "Marvin did not write this music for money and Marvin did not write this music for fame, he wrote music for you, the audience, and that's why this award would mean more to Marvin than any other."

"2012 has been a hugely successful year for both the country and the theatre industry, and I am pleased to see Danny Boyle's Olympics legacy lives on in the artistic world," said Terri Paddock, managing and editorial director of Whatsonstage.com.

She added: "Chichester Festival Theatre has proven itself a major player in the theatre world, as its domination of this year's shortlists, and in particular, the musical categories, demonstrates.

"We will all be closely watching the 2013 line-up at Chichester to see what the next big hits in the West End could be."

The awards, now in their 13th year, were hosted by comedians Rufus Hound and Mel Giedroyc.

The full list of winners in all 27 categories is on the Whatsonstage.com website.

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