Lenny Henry as Othello. (Photo by Nobby Clark)
Two hit plays at the Royal Court dominated the shortlists: Enron and Jerusalem. Battling it out, Jez Butterworth's play about rural England, Jerusalem, was crowned Best Play, and its lead, Mark Rylance, won the Best Actor Award, beating Enron's Samuel West. Enron's prize came in the form of a Best Director gong for Rupert Goold, who directed Lucy Prebble's timely financial drama.
Usually these awards leave you with a sense of "Oh, I should've got tickets to that." Happily, both these shows are transferring to the West End, so stick some theatre vouchers on your xmas list, and get a seat booked before they open in 2010.
The Royal Court's fourth and final prize went to a young writer called Alia Bano, who won the Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright. Her play, Shades, is an irreverent look at the life of a young Muslim woman in Britain.
Rachel Weisz (not at the ceremony, actually, filming The Whistleblower in Romania) took the Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress for her part in a Streetcar Named Desire at the dinky-but-damn-good Donmar, and the Open Air Theatre's revival of Hello, Dolly! beat Spring Awakening, A Little Night Music and Been So Long to win best musical.
And Lenny Henry, despite his obvious experience as a performer, took the Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer for his first theatrical role, Othello. He told the Standard, "I haven't done a play since nativity when I was six so I think it's a pretty good achievement. It's very encouraging to older artists. It feels like a massive stamp of approval." Any late starters out there, take note.
The awards were unusual in that there were no prizes for commercial west end theatre, or for the National Theatre over the river.
But the Evening Standard Theatre Awards are just the beginning of a whole season of shiny silverware. If your favourites didn't feature today, then there's always the Critics Circle Awards, the Theatregoers' Choice Awards and the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards in March. That's a lot of champagne and dignified smiling for the non-winners...