The Award was established by The Shakespeare Guild in 1994. Previous recipients include F. Murray Abraham, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kevin Kline, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave OBE and Sir Patrick Stewart. Last year’s honor, the first to be presented at the U.K. Theatre Awards, was bestowed posthumously to Sir Donald Sinden. Atkins made her first appearance after drama school at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and went on to appear with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic and the National Theatre. She has performed many contemporary plays at the Royal Court, in the West End and on Broadway, where she has been nominated for a Tony Award on four occasions — for The Killing of Sister George in 1967, for Viva! Vivat Regina! in 1972, for Indiscretions in 1996 and for The Retreat from Moscow in 2004. She has won two Drama Desk Awards: for Outstanding Solo Performance for A Room of One's Own in 1991 and an Honorary Award in 1995. She has won three Olivier Awards, two for Best Actress for her performances in Honour and The Unexpected Man. Following a CBE in 1990, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001 for Services to Drama.
For further details about the U.K. Theatre Awards, including a full list of nominations and the 12 regional and national winners of the My Theatre Matters! Most Welcoming Theatre Award 2015 in association with Smooth Radio, visit www.uktheatre.org/awards.