More than 11,000 theatregoers voted in this year’s fifth annual Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, the only major theatre awards in which the paying public decides who and what wins. Amongst those whose work are today rewarded by audiences are Christian Slater, Diana Rigg, Judi Dench, Michael Crawford, Maria Friedman, Nathan Lane, Anita Dobson, Alan Bennett, Trevor Nunn and newcomer Samuel Barnett.

It has been the year of the musicals with the two big openings of autumn 2004 – The Woman in White and The Producers - going head-to-head for the top awards.* Despite scooping the prize for Best New Musical, Best Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical (for Nathan Lane, whose dramatic last-minute replacement of Richard Dreyfuss was also deemed the Planet Hollywood Theatre Event of the Year), Mel Brooks’ The Producers was pipped at the post by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White which swept the board with five wins including Best Actress in a Musical (Maria Friedman), Best Supporting Actor in a Musical (Michael Crawford), Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (Angela Christian), Best Set Designer (William Dudley). In addition, Trevor Nunn won the Best Director prize jointly for The Woman in White and his Ben Whishaw-headed Old Vic production of Hamlet, which also won Best Shakespearean Production.

This year saw the West End treated to Hollywood glamour in the form of Christian Slater (pictured receiving his award), who won Best Actor in a Play for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The production also scooped the Samuel French Award for Best Play Revival. When accepting his prize, Slater told “When I arrived in London, I was advised by everyone that English audiences were very reserved. I didn’t find that at all. Our audiences were incredibly warm, responsive and terrific to play to. I looked forward to going out there every night. This Best Actor Award, voted by all the theatregoers, means a lot.”

In the battle for Best Actress in a Play, Slater’s co-star Frances Barber narrowly lost out (by fewer than 30 votes!) to Diana Rigg, winning for her critically acclaimed performance in Suddenly Last Summer. A fellow Dame, Judi Dench, received Best Supporting Actress in a Play for All's Well That Ends Well. “How lovely to receive an award for something I enjoyed doing so much,” told “Thank you to everyone who voted for me.”

Newcomer Samuel Barnett is celebrating after his double award win for both Best Supporting Actor in a Play and Ms London Newcomer of the Year for his role in the National Theatre production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, " I am so thrilled to receive these awards,” he told “I was really pleased just to be nominated, but to win both awards is beyond anything I imagined. It feels great to have my work recognised and appreciated by the people who love and support theatre." The History Boys also received the award for Best New Comedy, while David Eldridge’s adaptation of Festen won Best New Play.

The newly established venue, the Menier Chocolate Factory, won its first award for Best Fringe Production for the one-man show Fully Committed, now transferred to the West End’s Arts Theatre. Amongst other key wins are: Caroline O’Connor won Best Solo Performance for Bombshells and Anita Dobson received as Best Takeover in a Role for Thoroughly Modern Millie. “I’m thrilled to receive this award, particularly as it’s the people’s vote. When you do a takeover, you don’t get reviewed so this kind of acknowledgement is really important,” Dobson commented when collecting her trophy.

And finally, in the most hotly contested awards category, Best Musical Revival, two Stephen Sondheim hits battled it out until the very final moments last night, but in the end the Watermill production of Sweeney Todd in the West End triumphed over the National’s Travelex £10 season staging of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - by only seven votes! Sweeney Todd, performed solely by a cast of nine actor-musicians, also scooped the prize for Best Ensemble Performance.

The 2005 Theatregoers' Choice Theatre Awards covered the theatre year from 1 December 2003 to 30 November 2004. Productions opened in December 2004 will be covered as part of next year’s awards.

- by Terri Paddock

To view the full list of winners & nominees as well as further
acceptance remarks & voting percentages, click here.

Wherever possible, awards are presented in person to winners. Click here to view more photos of the prize-givings for Christian Slater & Anita Dobson.
And look out for more awards presentations over the coming days & weeks.