Two leading figures in British theatre - director Peter Hall and actor Simon Russell Beale - are receiving Freedom of the City of London, in recognition of their services to drama.

Hall is receiving the honour in a ceremony at the Guildhall today (18 November 2010) ahead of his 80th birthday next week, while Beale, who can currently be seen on the West End stage in Deathtrap, will receive his on 10 January 2011.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Peter Hall said: "I feel greatly honoured at becoming a Freeman of the City of London and being part of a tradition that stretches back across the ages. The City of London Corporation has a distinguished history of arts patronage - even if Shakespeare and his players did find themselves dispatched to the other side of the River! - and today, it is one of the most significant arts funders in the UK, for which all of us in the creative professions should be grateful."

Hall - who was knighted in 1977 - has been an internationally celebrated figure in theatre, opera and film for the last 55 years. He was the founder and director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1960 to 1968, director of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1988 (where he returns in January to direct Twelfth Night), and artistic director of Glyndebourne Opera from 1984 to 1990.

Simon Russell Beale’s extensive stage credits include Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse; Julius Caesar at the Barbican; The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Old Vic; Jumpers at the National Theatre and the Piccadilly Theatre; and Spamalot at the Palace Theatre and on Broadway. His long association with the National Theatre includes Volpone, Othello, Richard III, Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, Humble Boy, The Life of Galileo, Major Barbara and, most recently, London Assurance.

He said: “It has been my good fortune that the City of London has played an important part in my life. For six years, I was a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where one of our more memorable and exciting duties was to sing for the Lord Mayor of the City of London after The Lord Mayor’s Show. Many years later, I trained briefly at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, a wonderful college that has turned out so many great actors and musicians. It is a particular and humbling honour for me to receive the Freedom of the City of London, and I feel very proud.”

The Freedom of the City of London, which is believed to have begun in 1237, is usually offered to individuals by the City of London Corporation to pay tribute to their outstanding contribution to London life. However, many of the so-called traditional privileges associated with the Freedom, such as “driving sheep over London Bridge” or “being hanged with a silken rope”, no longer exist.

Simon Russell Beale will speak on behalf of this year's adopted charity, The Theatrical Guild, at the launch of the 2011 Whatsonstage.com Awards, which will be held for 500+ industry guests at Cafe de Paris at lunchtime on Friday 3 December 2010.