Shakespeare figured heavily at this year's TMA Theatre Awards, announced at a ceremony held last night (19 October 2003) at London's Hampstead Theatre, where A Midsummer Night's Dream was a particularly big winner, scooping three prizes for two different productions.

With its all-male staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream, now playing at the West End's Comedy Theatre, Edward Hall's Propeller company won the award for Best Touring Production for the second year running (following last year's Rose Rage, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy, which also transferred to the West End). A second, Bristol Old Vic production of the bard's comedy won two more awards - Best Director for David Farr and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Lyndsey Marshal (who played Hermia).

Two more Shakespeare-related awards were: Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Andy Serkis who played Iago in the Manchester Royal Exchange production of Othello; and, last but not least, Best Actor for Timothy West taking the title role in English Touring Theatre's King Lear.

When asked by awards presenter Sandi Toksvig why he thought Shakespeare had done so well, ETT artistic director Stephen Unwin, collecting West's award, replied: "He's a very good writer who does hold big audiences." With slightly more tongue in cheek, Bristol Old Vic's Simon Reade, collecting the Best Director prize on behalf of his joint artistic director Farr, deemed the bard "a promising writer."

Other major awards were: Best Actress for Eileen McCallum in If Only at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum; and Best Musical for Sweet Charity at Sheffield Crucible.

Last night's ceremony was attended by numerous theatre luminaries who, in addition to various winners, included actors Sian Phillips, Glynis Barber, Kelly Reilly, Clive Rowe, Sian Thomas, Anita Dobson, actor-playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, actor-director Richard Wilson and Hampstead artistic director Anthony Clark.

Presented by the Theatrical Management Association and formerly known as the Barclays Awards, after the high street banking group whose lead sponsorship ended last year, the TMA Awards, unlike most of the UK's prizes for theatre, do not focus on London and the West End. They are the only nationwide awards for excellence in regional theatre. Over 1,000 productions throughout the country were seen in the course of the judging year, which ran from 1 September 2002 to 31 August 2003.

The Theatrical Management Association is a trade association that represents over 300 member organisations involved in the creation, presentation and management of professional theatre, opera and dance in the UK. Its annual awards were established in 1990.

- by Terri Paddock


The full list of nominations is as follows. Winners are denoted in bold:

BEST ACTRESS: Selina Boyack for Stitching, The Bush Theatre and The Red Room at The Bush and on tour; Anna Jane Casey for Sheffield Theatres' Sweet Charity at the Crucible; and Eileen McCallum for If Only, Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, Edinburgh.

BEST ACTOR: Richard Dormer for Hurricane, Ransom Productions, Belfast on tour; Stewart Porter for The Fever, Citizens' Theatre Company, Glasgow; and Timothy West for King Lear, English Touring Theatre in association with Malvern Theatres on tour.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Sarah Ball for After Mrs Rochester, Shared Experience in association with Northampton Theatres on tour; Lyndsey Marshal for A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic; and Alexandra Mathie for The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, Edinburgh and Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Bob Barrett for After The Dance, Oxford Stage Company and Salisbury Playhouse, on tour; Tam Dean Burn for Scrooge, Citizens' Theatre Company, Glasgow; and Andy Serkis for the Royal Exchange Theatre Company's Othello.

BEST DIRECTOR: David Farr for A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic; Jimmy Fay for Tinderbox's The Chairs in Belfast and on tour; and David Mark Thomson for Pleasure And Pain, Citizens' Theatre Company, Glasgow.

BEST DESIGNER: Julian Crouch, Phil Eddols, Colin Grenfell and Stephen Snell for The Hanging Man, Improbable Theatre in a co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse, Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Lyric Hammersmith and Weiner Festwochen in association with Pomegranate Arts; Ruari Murchison for Racing Demon, The Absence Of War and Murmuring Judges at Birmingham Repertory Theatre; and Nancy Surman for Barbarians at Salisbury Playhouse.

BEST TOURING PRODUCTION: A Midsummer Night's Dream, a Watermill Theatre production by Propeller; After Mrs Rochester, Shared Experience in association with Northampton Theatres on tour; and Prime Productions' Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, adapted by Alastair Cording.

BEST NEW PLAY: Darwin In Malibu by Crispin Whittell at Birmingham Repertory Theatre; Terrorism by Vladimir and Oleg Presnyakov at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court; and The Breathing House by Peter Arnott, Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, Edinburgh.

BEST SHOW FOR CHILDREN & YOUNG PEOPLE: Grimm Tales based on Grimm's Fairy Tales, adapted by Carol Ann Duffy, dramatised by Tim Supple, produced by the Dukes in Williamson Park, Lancaster; The Story Of The Little Gentleman by Lars-Erik Brossner and Tomas von Bromssen, based on the book by Barbro Lindgren, Catherine Wheels' Theatre Company in association with Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh; and Tom's Midnight Garden adapted by David Wood from the book by Philippa Pearce, Library Theatre Company, Manchester.

BEST MUSICAL: The Young Vic and the Royal National Theatre Studio's Simply Heavenly, book and lyrics by Langston Hughes, music by David Martin; Sheffield Theatres' Sweet Charity, book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano; and The Gondoliers book and lyrics by W S Gilbert, music by Arthur Sullivan at Chichester Festival Theatre.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson for her performance in Theodora at Glyndebourne; Jephtha at Welsh National Opera; and Tristan Und Isolde at Glyndebourne.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE: George Piper Dances' CRITICS' CHOICE ***** programme which brought the A-list of today's choreographers to the British public in an innovative way; Henri Oguike, choreographer, for embodying in his small company the highest standards in dance, live music and lighting; and Matz Skoog, ENB's Artistic Director, for his enterprise and daring in commissioning new British work.

MOST WELCOMING THEATRE: Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh; Octagon Theatre, Bolton; and Salisbury Playhouse.

ECLIPSE AWARD: (an Arts Council England award for combating racism) mac; the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; and Warehouse Theatre, Croydon.

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN REGIONAL THEATRE: (no nominations) Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire.