The Empty Space/Peter Brook Awards, now in their 16th year, were presented today in a lunchtime ceremony at the Theatre Museum, with Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory and the Finborough Theatre all receiving awards.

The Awards are made by London Theatrereviews and the Theatre Museum to honour a body of work rather than an individual production, and are presented in recognition of the pioneering concepts or innovations that, in the spirit of the legendary director Peter Brook in whose honour they are named, are achieved by venues who perform in smaller studio spaces and receive comparatively little or no public funding. There is prize money for the winners and nominees, as well as a further award, the Mark Marvin Rent Subsidy Award, which is made to productions rather than venues and is intended to go towards funding the rent required to give the production a further life. An additional new award was introduced this year in memory of Dan Crawford, founder of the King’s Head Theatre who died in July (See News, 14 Jul 2005), to honour pub theatres.

At today’s ceremony, the Gate Theatre took the award (and £2000 prize money) for established studio venue in a category that also included Dalston’s Arcola and the Drum Theatre in Plymouth (both of which received £350 for their nominations). Presenting the award (collected by the Gate’s producer Tali Pelman), Mark Shenton - Whatsonstage.com contributing editor and Sunday Express critic and one of the judging panel alongside fellow critics Lyn Gardner (Guardian), Dominic Cavendish (Daily Telegraph) and Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) - paid tribute to the theatre with these words:

“Notting Hill's tiny but powerful Gate Theatre has had golden ages before, most notably when Stephen Daldry launched his career here, and the theatre was kept on the map through the solid work of such successors as Laurence Boswell, David Farr and Erica Whyman. But now, under the inspired leadership of Thea Sharrock, it is having another golden age. It has, once again, become an essential part of the fabric of theatrical London, both in the productions she directs herself, like a Chilean play called Tejas Verdas in which she transformed the theatre into a promenade forest, or with the audacious and innovative work of associate director Daniel Kramer with shows as variously disparate and difficult as Buchner's Woyzeck and the Broadway musical Hair. In the process, the Gate has also demonstrated both how mutable an empty space it is, and even more importantly, how artists can work within it to create theatrical magic when it is filled by actors and audience and the collective imaginations of both of them.”

The award for Up-and-Coming theatre, presented to theatres who are either still struggling for recognition after years of productions with experienced artistic directors at their helm or are recently opened venues with up-and-coming artistic directors, went to the Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory, whose co-director David Babani collected the £1500 cheque. The Menier is also up for a Most Promising Newcomer award at this year’s Evening Standard Drama Awards (See News, 10 Nov 2005). £350 each went to Empty Space nominees Shunt at the London Bridge Vaults and Islington’s puppet theatre the Little Angel.

Four productions were in contention for the Mark Marvin Subsidy Award of £1500; the prize went to Adverse Camber’s 412 Letters to help get it staged at the Union Theatre. Finally, the new Dan Crawford Pub Theatre Award was presented to the Finborough in Earl’s Court.

West End producer Peter Wilson and producer/theatre owner Nica Burns joined the judges in presenting the awards at a ceremony that was attended by such West End luminaries as Julian Glover (currently appearing in Richard II at the Old Vic), Anna Carteret, Tim Piggott-Smith and Fenella Fielding.