The Evening Standard Theatre Awards, presented in a ceremony at the National's Olivier Theatre today, saw The Producers take the honour of ITV London Best Musical, in a category that also included the revivals of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (seen on the Olivier stage) and Sweeney Todd (originally at Trafalgar Studios and now at the New Ambassadors).

Britain's longest-established theatrical prize-giving ceremony, the awards today celebrated their 50th anniversary. Promoted by the London tabloid newspaper and judged by a panel of theatre critics, other key winners include:

* For Best Play, The History Boys, by Alan Bennett (continuing in rep at the Lyttelton), in a category that also included Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (originally seen at the Almeida and subsequently at the Apollo) and Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman (at the Cottesloe).

* For Best Actor, Richard Griffiths (for his performance in the National's production of The History Boys), in a category that also included Douglas Hodge for Dumb Show and Stanley Townsend for Shining City, both seen at the Royal Court.

* For Best Actress, Victoria Hamilton for Suddenly Last Summer at the Albery, in a production which transferred from Sheffield's Lyceum theatre, in a category that also included Pam Ferris for Notes on Falling Leaves (seen at the Royal Court), and Kelly Reilly for After Miss Julie (seen at the Donmar Warehouse).

* The Sydney Edwards Award for Best Director, Rufus Norris for Festen (orginally at the Almeida and currently at the Lyric) in a category that also included Luc Bondy for Cruel and Tender (seen at the Young Vic) and Simon McBurney for the Complicite/NT production of Measure for Measure (seen at the Olivier as part of the £10 Travelex season).

* For Best Designer, collectively set designer Ian MacNeil, lighting designer Jean Kalman and sound designer Paul Arditti for Festen (originally seen at the Almeida and currently at the Lyric); in a category that also included Hildegard Bechtler for Iphigenia at Aulis (seen at the Lyttelton) and Paul Brown for The False Servant (seen at the Cottesloe).

* The Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer, went to Eddie Redmayne for The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (originally at the Almeida and subsequently at the Apollo), in a category that also included Dominic Cooper for His Dark Materials (in the original staging last Christmas at the Olivier) and The History Boys (currently at the Lyttelton), Romola Garai for Calico (seen at the Duke of York's) and Ben Whishaw for Hamlet (seen at the Old Vic).

* The Charles Wintour Award for New Playwriting, that comes with a £30,000 bursary jointly donated by Lord Rothermere and Anna Wintour in memory of their father who, as a former Evening Standard editor, instigated the awards), Owen McCafferty for Scenes from the Big Picture, in a category that also included David Eldridge (for Festen, originally at the Almeida and now at the Lyric) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz for The Night Season, seen in the Cottesloe).

In addition, three special 50th anniversary awards were presented:

* To an insitution: National Theatre
* To a playwright: Harold Pinter
* To a performer: Dame Judi Dench

In addition to those honoured today, amongst those who attended the Evening Standard Theatre Awards as presenters of awards were Jonathan Pryce, Patricia Routledge, playwright Mark Ravenhill, Samuel West, Peter Hall, Christian Slater, Kim Cattrall, Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell, Dame Diana Rigg, Claire Bloom and Fiona Shaw. Amongst those in the audience were Elaine Paige, Janie Dee (with actor husband Rupert Wickham and newborn baby in attendance, too, as they had all been at the Theatregoers’ Choice nominations lunch), Donald Sinden, Felicity Kendal, Zoe Wanamaker, Charles Dance and Jason Donovan. Live performances were also given of a song from Simply Heavenly, performed by the cast, and by Leigh Zimmerman of The Producers, who performed a two-song tribute to the Broadway songwriters Fred Ebb and Cy Coleman, both of whom died this year.

Host Rory Bremner was on hand with lots of impersonations and quips throughout, including one about the 11 categories that awards were being presented in – “We’ll be busier than David Blunkett on Father’s Day”.

Amongst the most popular awards of the day, Dame Judi Dench took a standing ovation from the entire auditorium when she collected her 50th anniversary special award to a performer, while four of the five current and past directors of the National Theatre – Nicholas Hytner, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre and Peter Hall – jointly took to the stage to receive the National’s own honour as recipient of the 50th anniversary special award to an institution.

After the awards ceremony was complete, a buffet lunch was served to the guests in the Lyttelton Circle foyer.

Highlights of the ceremony will be broadcast on ITV London on Wednesday 15 December 2004 at 11.30pm.

- Mark Shenton