IT is one of the most talked-about and copied new theatre ideas – but its outstanding success is based on the simplest of concepts.

For £10 you get a hot Scotch pie, or a politically-correct veggie version, a choice of a beer or a glass of wine, and an unreserved seat. After less than an hour you emerge back into the sunlight with your head full of new ideas.

Now David MacLennan's innovative programme of lunchtime plays, called A Play, A Pie and A Pint, has been awarded a top theatre critics' award for outstanding achievement in Scottish theatre.

Described by judges as a "completely unexpected explosion of freewheeling theatrical creativity in Scotland", it has presented 250 original short plays in eight years at Oran Mor in Glasgow's west end, most of them performed by tiny casts with minimal props in the informal setting of a pub.

It has earned MacLennan the inaugural CATS Whiskers award, introduced as the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland celebrate their 10th year.

MacLennan said: "I am very touched by this award and recognise that it is really being given to the whole theatrical community in Scotland, whose enthusiasm and support for A Play, A Pie and A Pint has made it their success. We're providing something other theatres can't: great new writing."

With performances starting at 1pm and lasting just under an hour every Monday to Saturday, A Play, A Pie and A Pint has developed a unique relationship with audiences in Glasgow, as well as built long-term partnerships with theatres and companies across Scotland and Europe, including London, as well as New York and Australia. There have been co-productions with theatres in Dundee, Perth, Edinburgh, London and Bristol, and next year Birmingham will be added to the list.

Actors such as Robbie Coltrane and David Hayman, and established writers such as William MacIlvanney, Denise Minah and Louise Welsh have contributed to its success alongside emerging artists.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint has been described as "a phenomenon and a cause celebre", not least because it receives no direct public subsidy.

The plays range from tragedies, monologues and comedies to musicals, and often pack a political punch. MacLennan was co-founder of the left-wing agit-prop 7:84 Theatre Company, and founded the radical Wildcat Stage Productions, the Clyde Theatre in Clydebank and Mayfest, the Glasgow-based arts festival.

Two sharply satirical pantomimes are staged at Oran Mor each year.

More recently, A Play, A Pie and A Pint has galvanised the wider Scottish theatre world – including the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) – into joining it in addressing modern international politics and brokering important cultural exchanges.

Its One Day in Spring season of lunchtime plays has just finished to wide critical acclaim. Distilled from the work of 10 writers from Lebanon, Morocco and Syria, and starring two actors from the Middle East, it allowed Scottish audiences to hear the voices of those who experienced the region's popular uprising and its aftermath.

A season of short plays from contemporary Chinese writers will be produced next year, with the assistance of NTS, a similar offering from Russia is in the pipeline, and MacLennan plans to commission works about the 2014 Referendum in Scotland.

Herald critic Mary Brennan, a judge on the awards, said: "A Play, A Pie and A Pint has gone into areas that most other theatres haven't been able to because they are risky. A cat's whiskers act as a radar and if they go through a space, the rest of the cat will follow. In terms of being adventurous and risk-taking, A Pie and A Pint has gone through spaces other venues haven't contemplated."

MacLennan added: "There was a time when people said agit-prop theatre was past its sell-by date, but I see more young people wanting to write politically engaged work. I believe theatre is an indestructible art form. It's a very interesting time to work in theatre in Scotland.

"The appetite for this kind of theatre was always there. It just needed someone to whet it."

The announcement of the CATS Whiskers winner comes ahead of the awards ceremony, which will take place at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow on Sunday, presented by actor Alan Cumming.