'Black Watch' wins big at Olivier Awards

Shows about French drag artistes and Scottish soldiers took top honors Sunday at the Laurence Olivier Awards recognizing the best of the London stage.

LONDON -- Shows about French drag artistes and Scottish soldiers took top honors Sunday at the Laurence Olivier Awards recognizing the best of the London stage.

Sequin-spangled musical "La Cage Aux Folles" won the prize for best musical revival. Douglas Hodge was named best actor in a musical for his performance as high-stepping transvestite Albin in the show, set in a French Riviera nightclub.

"Black Watch," Gregory Burke's powerfully physical play about a Scottish regiment's experiences in Iraq, took four prizes, including best new play and best director, for John Tiffany. It also won awards for choreography and sound.

The National Theatre of Scotland show has toured the world to acclaim since its debut in a drill hall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2006, finally arriving in London last year.

The Olivier awards, Britain's equivalent of the Tonys, honor achievements in London theater, musicals, dance and opera. Winners are chosen by a panel of theater professionals and members of the public.

No single show dominated the 33rd annual awards at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

Derek Jacobi was named best actor in a play for his memorably ingratiating Malvolio in the Donmar Warehouse production of "Twelfth Night," while Patrick Stewart took the supporting actor prize as the treacherous Claudius in the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Hamlet."

It was Stewart's third Olivier in a career that has ranged from Shakespeare to "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the Bard's history play cycle was named best revival, and their cast took the new prize of best performance by a company.

Margaret Tyzack was named best actress in a play for "The Chalk Garden" at the small but influential Donmar Warehouse.

The prizes for "La Cage" are the latest success for south London's 180-seat Menier Chocolate Factory theater, whose production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" won five Oliviers in 2007 before transferring to Broadway.

"Jersey Boys," the story of 1960s music stars the Four Seasons, was named best new musical. The Tony-winning show opened in London last March, almost three years after its Broadway debut.

Argentine star Elena Roger was named best actress in a musical for playing tragic French chanteuse Edith Piaf in "Piaf." Best supporting performer in a musical was Lesli Margherita for the Gypsy Kings-scored "Zorro."

The prize for best new comedy went to Yasmina Reza's saga of domestic breakdown "God of Carnage."

Pulitzer Prize-winning family drama "August: Osage County" took home just one award, for set design, despite four nominations.

Seventy-nine-year-old playwright Alan Ayckbourn, whose barbed farces have entertained audiences for more than four decades, was given a special award for contribution to theater.

Despite fears that theater will suffer in the recession that is battering Britain's economy, London's West End had a record year in 2008. The city's dozens of commercial and subsidized theaters sold almost 14 million tickets and took in more than 480 million pounds ($675 million) at the box office, according to the Society of London Theatre. Both figures were increases on 2007.

The society's president, Nica Burns, said the West End had had "an outstanding year both onstage and at the boxoffice."

"London's theater is a jewel in the crown of our capital city and its success is a reason to cheer in these uncertain times," she said.