Sir Ian McKellen has been given the outstanding contribution to British theatre prize at the UK Theatre Awards.
The actor, 77, was honoured both for championing diversity and for his commitment to theatre, including touring productions.
Sir Ian’s career has spanned more than six decades and has seen him perform at theatres around the country.
He joins Sir Matthew Bourne, Timothy West and Prunella Scales as recipients of the trophy.
Also among the top winners was Paapa Essiedu, who was the first black actor to portray Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).
He scooped the award for best performance in a play for the RSC’s production of the Bard’s Danish tragedy.
“It’s significant in that the RSC is a national organisation that should represent everyone in our country regardless of your creed, colour, religion, sexuality, whatever,” he said, according to the BBC.
“As such you would expect something like this to have happened before. But I think it was really important that it was happening now and we were really proud of the work that we did.”
Theatre veteran Vanessa Redgrave was also honoured at the ceremony at London’s Guildhall, picking up the prestigious Gielgud award for excellence in the dramatic arts.
The actress, 79, has starred in more than 35 productions in London’s West End and on Broadway, in a career lasting six decades.
She joins the ranks of previous recipients of the award including Sir Ian, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh and Lynn Redgrave.
Established in honour of the English actor Sir John Gielgud, the Gielgud award has been given sporadically since 1996.
The award for best musical production was shared by Sheffield Theatres’ productions of Show Boat and Flowers For Mrs Harris, both directed by Daniel Evans.
Clare Burt, who played Mrs Harris, received the award for best performance in a musical, while Rebecca Trehearn collected best supporting performance for Show Boat.
Lez Brotherston also won the design prize for his work on the two musicals.
Best new play went to Cuttin’ It by Charlene James, which was a Young Vic/Royal Court Theatre co-production with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sheffield Theatres and The Yard Theatre.
Raz Shaw received the award for best director for Wit, a Royal Exchange Theatre production, while best touring production was awarded to The Herbal Bed, which was directed by James Dacre and co-produced by Royal and Derngate, Northampton, English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston.
Best show for children and young people went to The Hobbit, a The Dukes production that was performed outdoors in Williamson Park, Lancaster.
The award ceremony, compered by award-winning actor Lesley Manville, also saw prizes given out in opera and dance categories.
The Royal Opera and Guildhall School of Music and Drama won for 4.48 Psychosis in association with the Lyric Hammersmith.
The achievement in dance award was given to Gary Clarke for Coal.
The Mill at Sonning was announced as the overall winner of the public vote for the UK’s most welcoming theatre, in association with Smooth Radio.
President of UK Theatre Fiona Allan said: “The UK Theatre Awards celebrate the world-class theatre that is performed on stages across the country and demonstrates the breadth and depth of outstanding talent.
“It is also important that we recognise the venues and the teams that run them.
“As centres of artistic and creative excellence, our local theatres are a vital part of all our communities.”