The Inheritance, an epic but intimate story of modern gay lives, was a big winner yesterday at British theatre's Olivier Awards.

Matthew Lopez's drama about young men in New York a generation after the Aids crisis was named best new play at a ceremony in London.

Director Stephen Daldry and star Kyle Soller also won awards, as did the play's lighting.
Lopez said he was "overwhelmed and overjoyed" by the transatlantic success of his seven-hour epic, which had its world premiere last year at London's Young Vic Theatre.

"We've seen a lot of Brits come over and take home Tonys," Lopez said backstage, clutching his statuette, a bust of the late actor Laurence Olivier. "It's only fair."

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The musicals Come From Away and Company led this year's race for recognition at the Oliviers, with nine nominations apiece.

Come From Away, about the Newfoundland town of Gander that hosted thousands of travellers stranded by cancelled flights after the 9/11 attacks, was up for best new musical at Britain's equivalent of Broadway's Tony Awards.

A gender-switched production of Stephen Sondheim's Company was nominated in categories including best musical revival.

A revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I starring Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe, which began life at New York's Lincoln Centre, had six nominations.

Laura Wade's Home I'm Darling, about a 21st-century couple trying to live a perfect 1950s life, was named best new comedy. A production of Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke was named best revival.

Spanish-British actress Patsy Ferran was crowned best actress in a play for her performance in Summer and Smoke as a woman consumed by love.

Ferran beat a talented field of nominees that included Gillian Anderson for All About Eve and Sophie Okonedo for Antony and Cleopatra. Founded in 1976, the prizes honour achievements in London theatre, musicals, dance and opera. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theatregoers.

Sally Field, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Hiddleston and Wendell Pierce were among stars who walked the red carpet before the black-tie ceremony at London's Royal Albert Hall.

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This year's show also saluted long-running musicals The Lion King and Mamma Mia, each celebrating 20 years in London's West End. Matthew Bourne — the choreographer behind an iconic production of Swan Lake — was to receive a lifetime achievement honour, presented by Prince Charles' wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

- AP