Garry Mitchell was the big winner at today s Evening Standard Theatre Awards, the first of the major London theatrical awards for the 2000 season. For the first time in the Awards 45-year history, big money was up for grabs and Mitchell collected it – all £30,000 – when he won the award for Most Promising Playwright for his play The Force of Change, currently playing at the Royal Court Downstairs.

Other big winners were choreographer Matthew Bourne and his Adventures in Motion Pictures dance company, which won the Best Musical Event award for The Car Man, its retake on Bizet s Carmen.

Trevor Nunn s troubled National Theatre won an impressive five out of the nine awards, two for Joe Penhall s NHS investigation play Blue/Orange, which played earlier this year at the Cottesloe. It won Best New Play – an award that was withdrawn from last year s awards due to the perceived lack of original drama – as well as the Best Newcomer Award for star Chiwetel Ejiofor. The play is due to transfer to the Duchess Theatre in the new year.

Other NT award-winners were Simon Russell Beale who scooped Best Actor for his Hamlet and Paoli Dionissotti who earned Best Actress for her role in Zinnie Harris Further than the Furthest Thing, which finishes its run at the Cottesloe tomorrow. Bunny Christie won the Best Designer award for the Birmingham Rep/National co-production of Tennessee Williams Baby Doll.

The Best Comedy award went to Marie Jones sell-out success, the Irish two-hander Stones in His Pockets, formerly at the New Ambassadors and now at the Duke of York s Theatre. And Michael Grandage won the Best Director award jointly for Passion Play at the Donmar Warehouse and for As You Like It at the Lyric Hammersmith.

The awards were presented at a star-studded lunchtime ceremony hosted by comedian and playwright Ben Elton today at the Savoy. In attendance were many stars of stage and screen including Maggie Smith, Macaulay Culkin, Dougray Scot and Zoe Wanamaker.