The best actor award went to Ian Holm for his towering performance, soon to be repeated on television. And Richard Eyre was named best director.
The two stars of the musical Chicago, Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall, were pitted against each other for the best actress in a musical award. Lemper won and in customary awards ceremony style immediately paid a tearful tribute to her co-star.
Zoe Wanamaker was named best actress for her role in Electra, while Patrick Marber's comedy of contemporary sexual mores, Closer, won best play, beating two men he acknowledged as lifelong influences, Tom Stoppard and David Hare.
Ian Holm is one of many star names supporting the Independent and Independent on Sunday's Save The Arts Campaign. And, not surprisingly, at a time of continuing financial crisis in the arts, the awards ceremony at the Albery Theatre in London had a political flavour. Compere Clive Anderson, took a swipe at the Government for its arts funding record. He said it had been an eventful year for the arts with the opening of London's Globe Theatre showing audiences what it would have been like to visit a theatre in Shakespeare's day. And he added: "The new Labour Government showed us what arts funding must have been like in the Middle Ages."
When the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, took the stage, he countered: "Can I just say that the Middle Ages didn't last forever." He was not allowed the last word, though. Clive Anderson retorted: "We should be all right in three or four hundred years, then."
There was a significant remark from Mr Smith after Paul Daniel, music director at English National Opera, had won an award. Mr Smith, who a few months ago had caused alarm by indicating the ENO might have to move in to the Royal Opera House, said simply as he came on to the stage: "Long live the English National Opera," causing those present to believe that threat must have been rescinded.
Mr Smith also made a plea to retain one of Britain's most famous theatres, the Old Vic, as he paid tribute to the men who had kept it alive. He was presenting a special award to father and son Ed and David Mirvish, Canadian owners of the Old Vic, to mark their work in restoring and running the 180-year-old building.
The theatre closed its doors in December and is now up for sale. Mr Smith said: "Please don't rush into a disposal of the Old Vic and give all the rest of us a chance to come forward with good high-quality proposals for it to run as a theatre, with a vital role to play in London's life."
Other awards included: Best actor in a musical - Philip Quast in The Fix; Best new musical - Beauty And The Beast; Best theatre choregrapher - Simon McBurney in The Caucasian Chalk Circle; Best set designer - Tim Goodchild for Three Hours After Marriage; Best performance in a supporting role - Sarah Woodward in Tom & Clem; Best supporting performance in a musical - James Dreyfus in Lady In The Dark; Best new dance production - L'Allegro, Il Penseroso Ed Il Moderato by Mark Morris Dance Group and English National Opera.