Twenty-six-year-old Mariah Gale has won her second major acting prize of the year. To her Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Newcomer, she has now added the 2006 Ian Charleson Award.

Now in their 16th year, the annual Ian Charleson Awards are presented for outstanding performances by young actors (under the age of 30) in classical roles (defined as ones in plays written before 1904). The 2006 awards lunch took place on Friday 12 May 2006 at the National Theatre, which collaborates with the Sunday Times newspaper to present the awards each year. The prize, in memory of Scottish actor Ian Charleson, is worth £5,000.

Gale won the Ian Charleson accolade for her work as Viola in Twelfth Night at Regents’ Park, Annabella in Tis Pity She’s a Whore (pictured) at Southwark Playhouse and The Last Waltz at the Arcola Theatre. She was presented with the award at a National Theatre lunch, sponsored by the Sunday Times and hosted by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner.

Sinead Matthews, 25, won the second prize of £1,500 for her roles as Hedvig in The Wild Duck and Polly in You Never Can Tell. The third prize of £500 was presented to Benedict Cumberbatch, 28, for his role as Tesmen in Hedda Gabler opposite Eve Best at the Almeida and in the West End. Peter Bramhill, Michelle Dockery, Edward Hogg, Rory Kinnear, James Loyce, Lyndsey Marshal, Caitlin Mottram and Nicholas Shaw all received commendations.

Gale is currently appearing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar in Stratford, where she will also star as Miranda opposite Patrick Stewart as Prospero in The Tempest in July as part of the year-long Complete Works festival.

At the NT awards lunch, John Wood presented Gale with her prize while, in addition to nominees, others in attendance included Ian McKellen, Jeremy Irons and Harriet Walter.

The Ian Charleson Award commemorates the life of the late actor, a veteran of the RSC and the National who found fame on screen in Chariots of Fire and who died from Aids in 1990 at the age of 40, having just played the title role in Hamlet at the National Theatre. Previous award winners include Lisa Dillon (who also achieved the ‘double whammy’ with the Critics’ Circle two years ago), Alexandra Gilbreath, Claudie Blakley, Dominic West, David Oyelowo, Emma Fielding, Lucy Whybrow, Rupert Penry-Jones, Toby Stephens and Tom Hollander.

- by Caroline Ansdell