The director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, led a rally to protect public funding of the arts following a double win at the 58th London Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
Hytner made a passionate plea for the Government to consider the economic and cultural riches that theatre offers when accepting the Lebedev Special award for his dynamic directorship of the South Bank powerhouse.
Before a star-studded audience that included Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Tinie Tempah, Gemma Arterton, Ruth Wilson, Cara Delevingne, Adrian Lester and Colin Firth, he said: "I have been lucky in that for the length of my directorship of the National, it has been by and large properly funded. I know that a lot of other London theatres don't have it so good and theatres outside London have it even worse.
"Now we are being told to expect less funding and this is completely nuts. It makes no economic sense whatsoever. You only have to look at the South Bank and remember what it was like 20 or 30 years ago. These days there is such a creative buzz. Look at the businesses that have sprung up in the neighbouring areas; look at the money pouring in."
Judi Dench, who was honoured with the Moscow Art Theatre's Golden Seagull award for her contribution to world theatre, and Danny Boyle, who picked up the Beyond Theatre award for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, both also spoke of the need for greater funding for the arts.
Nick Payne, just 29, became the youngest person to win the Best Play award for his witty drama Constellations. Simon Russell Beale was named best actor for his portrayal of Stalin in Collaborators, the blackly comic drama at the National's Cottesloe.
Damian Lewis presented Hattie Morahan with the Natasha Richardson award for best actress for her interpretation of trapped housewife Nora in A Doll's House at the Young Vic. The event, sponsored by Burberry and which took place at the Savoy Hotel, was presented by the actor James Corden and co-hosted by London Evening Standard chairman and owner Evgeny Lebedev, Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey and American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.