Listen to this year's Irish Times Theatre Awards ceremony, presented by Janet Moran and Nyree Yergainharsian and recorded live at Dublin's National Concert Hall - you can also watch the videos that accompanied this year's awards ceremony...

Watch: The Pre-Show Entertainment, with Janet Moran and Nyree Yergainharsian...

Below, IT Theatre Awards judge Paula Shields introduces this year's ceremony...

John Steinbeck said that theatre requires tough and devoted people. Well, Irish theatre…

In 2018, you made more than 140 new productions, and we, the Irish Times Theatre Awards panel, took on the brilliant crazy task of going to see them!

It has been our pleasure to go on the road with you, whether to a Donegal pier, last summer in the rain, for Foyle Punt – or to the Everyman in Cork for How It Is, a Beckett production from Gare St Lazare that surprised us at every turn!

Across the board, wherever we went, the highest calibre of actors, directors, producers, writers, designers and technicians came out to play. I’m going to look at the year through themes in writing – but we all know it takes a village to make a text live on stage.

Watch: The Year In Irish Theatre, 2018

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2018 began with two young guys trapped on a roof in the west of Ireland in a play called, If We Got Some More Cocaine, I Could Show You How I Love You, by John O’Donovan. It ended with Thirst, four middle-aged guys trapped in the imaginings of Flann O’Brien, after-hours in a Dublin pub.

In between, female experience came to the fore, not surprising in the year we voted to repeal the 8th, and testament also to the continuing impact of the Waking the Feminists campaign, as well as the MeToo movement.

New writing put the female body on stage, tales of shame, guilt, violence, and resilience in plays from Pom Boyd, Tara Flynn, Deirdre Kinahan, Gina Moxley, Mark O’Rowe, Margaret Perry, and in Meadhbh McHugh’s adaptation of Asking For It.

Fine productions of older classics showed that our gaze as an audience has also changed, whether it is the plight of 18-year-old Sive in John B. Keane’s drama, about to be married off against her will to an elderly farmer, a trade we call trafficking nowadays, or the predicament of young Sharon in The Snapper. The crisis of her pregnancy outside marriage feels historical now. Instead, issues of consent seem more urgent in the idea of such a young woman with a much older man.

Above all, to watch Marina Carr’s harrowing masterpiece, On Raftery’s Hill, in the week after the Belfast rape trial last May was to feel how vital, electrifying, and to the moment theatre can be at its best.

A serious year, then, in which other prevailing social ills were also front and centre. New plays explored the most vulnerable lives among us, people affected by homelessness, addiction and mental ill-health, in shows like Shelter by Cristín Kehoe, The Lost O’Casey by ANU and The Man Who Fell To Pieces by Patrick J. O’Reilly.

There were, of course, lighter moments, wonderful comedy in Furniture by Sonya Kelly, the aforementioned Snapper, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Watch: Special Tribute winner Eoin Roe - a celebration

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Like Shakespeare, revivals of Beckett, Joyce, and Martin McDonagh are always with us, and this is no bad thing. It was a rarer pleasure to see Tom Kilroy’s Double Cross – a chilling study in identity politics, from 1986 – given new life by the Lyric Theatre and the Abbey.

2018 was also a major year for opera - with the arrival on the scene of a new company, the Irish National Opera, who gave us 7 new productions, 1 revival and plenty of nationwide touring. In 2017, new work accounted for 3 out of the 4 best opera nominations at these awards, by any standard, an astonishing achievement. This year, the shortlist reflected a strong festival in Wexford and an exciting first programme from Irish National Opera.

Finally, a word on the four productions nominated by us as Best In Show: Grief is the Thing with Feathers, How It Is, The Lost O’Casey and Richard III – studies of disintegration, personal and political, of tumult and loss in a time of chaos, of our ability to keep on keeping on, to quote my beloved Dylan. They were brilliantly disorienting, beautiful and unforgettable.

At this point, we’d like to acknowledge the support of Gerard McNaughton and TileStyle, generous sponsors of these awards, and to thank Claire Looby, Hugh Linehan and all at the Irish Times, who kept the faith with theatre on this island even in the years when they had no sponsor, and who continue their commitment.

140 shows, Irish theatre. Whether you make the shortlist in the end or not, your work is seen, your work is valued, your work is argued over… And we know the work goes on. We hope you enjoy the evening. Many thanks!