The awards celebrate and reward the best young classical stage actors in Britain under 30 years old. The actors are nominated and awarded by a panel of judges made up of theatre professionals. Originally, the criteria for a classical role was roles in plays written up until 1904, the year Chekhov died.
The awards are run jointly by the Sunday Times newspaper and the National Theatre.
Established in 1991 in the year following the death of Ian Charleson, the awards are presented in May each year.