The subsidised theatre sector swept the board, with the Young Vic enjoying particular success with three awards.
Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Young Vic artistic director David Lan said: "It's great when something you started out by saying 'I really want to do it, I really want to see it, and I think I know what I'm doing' turns out to be a success. All the three winning productions sold out, which was fantastic, and A Doll's House is coming back in April."
Shakespeare's Globe also received special recognition for its Globe to Globe season, which saw it stage all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in 37 different languages.
Globe to Globe producer Tom Bird said the season, which is also nominated for Theatre Event of the Year in the Whatsonstage.com Awards, passed in a "big, joyous, anxious blur". He revealed that three of the productions - Isango Ensemble's Venus and Adonis, Marjanishvili's As You Like It and Belarus Free Theatre's King Lear will return to the Globe later this year.
Elsewhere, the Menier Chocolate Factory's acclaimed revival of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along was named Best Musical, while Lucy Prebble's The Effect scooped Best New Play. In an emotional acceptance speech, Prebble said the play, which centres on an anti-depressant drug trial, was "written from my wounds".
Lester, who will soon play Othello at the National Theatre, said: "Critics are in a very powerful position. There are some whose work I read who are audacious and sincere in everything they write, and through their work you can improve your own. Then there are some who can abuse that power, but I steer clear of them."
Chakrabarti added: "It was interesting to read what the critics thought of the play - although I didn't agree with everything, I thought overall they did a great job."
The winners were announced during a lunchtime ceremony at the Prince of Wales Theatre hosted by Critics' Circle chairman Mark Shenton. Comedian Arthur Smith was again on hand to introduce proceedings in his own inimitable style.
Check back later for further coverage, including interviews and photos. Disagree with the critics? You have until 31 January to vote in the 2013 Whatsonstage.com Awards
THE CRITICS' CIRCLE THEATRE AWARDS 2012 WINNERS
Best New Play
The Effect by Lucy Prebble - Cottesloe Theatre at the National, in a co-production with Headlong
The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical (new or revival)
Merrily We Roll Along - Menier Chocolate Factory
Adrian Lester in Red Velvet - Tricycle Theatre
Hattie Morahan in A Doll's House - Young Vic
The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens
Benedict Andrews for Three Sisters - Young Vic
Miriam Buether for Wild Swans - Young Vic, in a co-production with American Repertory Theater & Actors Touring Company
Most Promising Playwright
Lolita Chakrabarti for Red Velvet - Tricycle Theatre
The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer (other than a playwright)
Denise Gough for Desire Under the Elms - Lyric Hammersmith
Shakespeare's Globe for Globe to Globe