Twelve months ago theatres in the Midlands were celebrating a year full of successes and awards. Now many venues are looking back on another year of triumphs although they must be facing 2009 with trepidation as the economic downturn casts an unwelcome shadow over their buildings and budgets.

Let's start though with the triumphs of 2008.

It's been another bumper year for the Stratford-based Royal Shakespeare Company - and not just because of a certain David Tennant. Before the former Doctor Who graced the Courtyard stage, the RSC marked the culmination of the two-year History Cycle by staging all eight histories in the order in which Shakespeare's audiences would have seen them.

As the histories transferred to London, Stratford theatregoers experienced a fairly ordinary, modern-dress The Merchant of Venice, a magical Gregory Doran revival of A Midsummer Night's Dream and an energetic, funny The Taming of the Shrew.

Then of course came Hamlet and Love's Labour's Lost with David Tennant's casting leading to a greater rush for tickets than there is for fresh vegetables in supermarkets on Christmas Eve. Many fans have been unable to see Tennant in Hamlet in London because of his back problem. As a reviewer I had to wait for press tickets for Stratford because everyone was clamouring for them. It was definitely worth the wait.

It's been a cracking year for Birmingham Rep, with its autumn-winter programme pulling in 52% more people than the corresponding 2007 season.

Earlier in the year the Rep gave us a wonderful production of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea with an astonishing performance by Claire Price. Mike Britton's two-tier, stunning set won the TMA award for best design. Price's performance deserved at least a nomination for best performance.

A revival of Tom Stoppard's spy thriller Hapgood starring Josie Lawrence and a Wuthering Heights with the unconventional casting of Antony Byrne as Heathcliff were other highlights of the Rep's 2008.

In the East Midlands, Nottingham Playhouse has entered its 60th anniversary year in tremendous shape.

The Playhouse's production of The Burial at Thebes became the theatre's first to go on a transatlantic tour, being well received in South Carolina and Connecticut.

The two-part adaptation of War and Peace went on tour here and was nominated in the TMA awards as best touring production while the first British staging of On the Waterfront, directed by Steven Berkoff, proved a hit in both Nottingham and at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I also enjoyed Giles Croft's gripping production of Vertigo and the rarely performed Breaking the Silence by Stephen Poliakoff.

Elsewhere, Coventry's Belgrade began to reassert itself as a venue for quality drama, especially with Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage with Iain Glen and Imogen Stubbs which was directed by Trevor Nunn in the 250-seater B2 auditorium. I found the production "astonishing"; one of the high spots of the year anywhere in the Midlands.

The Staffordshire theatre-in-the-round the New Vic at Newcastle-under-Lyme, which I described 12 months ago as a "real jewel", had another good year with quality productions all the way through from Amanda Whittington's Be My Baby to the seasonal show Arabian Nights.

Buxton Festival Fringe was the biggest ever, with 126 entrants staging a huge variety of arts events which generated £300,000 for the local economy.

On the downside, Derby Playhouse made the headlines for all the wrong reasons again. Its continuing financial problems after both Arts Council England and Derby city council withdrew their grants amid allegations of bad management meant that the theatre was able to stage only one production, The Killing of Sister George. Creditors have given the board another six months to sort themselves out and the company hopes to stage shows again from the autumn. But there are major question marks against their plans in the current financial climate.

The East Midlands seems almost certain to lose another venue in March when Lincoln's Theatre Royal is due to close after the city council stopped its financial backing. Director Chris Moreno reckons more than 100 groups have offered to save the venue but so far none of them has put forward a convincing case.

On an optimistic note, Leicester's £61m flagship theatre Curve finally opened its doors - well behind schedule and well over budget. The coming 12 months will determine whether the artistic policy can find an audience or whether the building will turn into a glossy but underused white elephant.

There's no doubt that 2009 will be an incredibly testing year for all venues. Theatres in the Midlands though appear strong enough to stand up to the challenge.