Awards-goers mingle in the gallery space at HOME before the ceremony: image via @HOME_mcr

It was that time of year again! Specifically, the third time that a Youth Panel award has been presented at the Manchester Theatre Awards ceremony. The great and good of the Manc theatre world gathered again at HOME – the venue for the awards for a second year running – and the space was abuzz with anticipation as the ceremony got going.

The Royal Exchange had a bumper year, taking home many of the biggest awards, including Best Production for Breaking the Code and Best Actor for its star, Daniel Rigby. The Exchange show Wit secured the Best Actress award for Manchester mover-and-shaker Julie Hesmondhalgh, while its studio production Wish List performed a clean sweep of the studio categories.

Justin Moorhouse once again had the audience laughing between award presentations, keeping the afternoon flowing smoothly – though the special entertainment segments which peppered the programme were a tad hit and miss. None of them could live up to the hilarity of the opening number, which saw Sarah-Louise Young and Daniel Cainer perform a specially penned ode to the Awards with in-jokes galore.

In the Youth category, I’m happy to say that the panel awarded its prize to NOTHING by the Royal Exchange Young Company. We called it “a truly compelling watch”, “chillingly plausible” and simply “fantastic” – you can read Georgina Wells’s review of the show here at the MTA site.

Memorable moments of this year’s ceremony included awards presenters acknowledging the vital contribution to theatre of technical and behind-the-scenes workers, and urging everybody to join a trade union – right on! Later, the MTA panel honoured the performances of two sets of young actors – the Scouts in To Kill a Mockingbird and the Michaels in Billy Elliot – and we got to hear thank-you speeches from talented young people barely tall enough to see over the lectern. An emotional Elizabeth Newman, artistic director at the Bolton Octagon, talked about theatre as “dancing in the rain”, while Matthew Xia of the Royal Exchange described how theatrical art can tell the stories of those most marginalised in society. “They try to put us down,” he said, “but still we rise.”

Another year of brilliant theatre has shown the world that Manchester can boast a truly inspirational artistic scene. Here’s to the next one! And, since I and many others were delivering quality #content with our live-tweeting during the event, I threw together a Storify of the youth panellist’s eye view. It features the first ever tweets from our new MTA Youth twitter account, which you can find at @MTAwardsYouth! And that’s not the last innovation to come from the youth panel this year – watch this space…