The inaugural Theatre503 Playwriting Award took a surprise turn today as the judges announced not one but two winners of the much sought-after prize, which had received over 1,600 aspiring applicants from 41 countries. Due to the generosity of The Richard Carne Trust and an anonymous donor, Theatre503 was able to offer both playwrights a substantial prize of £6,000 and the guaranteed production of their work at the Battersea venue in 2015.
The winning scripts, And Then Come the Nightjars by Bea Roberts and Valhalla by Paul Murphy, were both highly acclaimed by the judging panel of seven senior industry figures, including Dennis Kelly (writer of Matilda the Musical) and Roy Williams (Suckerpunch, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads), as groundbreaking works in completely opposing artistic styles and subjects.
And Then Come the Nightjars depicts a deep and tender relationship between two men as their farms and livelihoods take sharply different directions amidst a rural backdrop of a damaged economy, animal disease and government interventions in farming. The writer is currently commissioned by the BBC and has had work staged at Bristol Old Vic. Valhalla is a tense psychological thriller set in a world where men have become gods, but gods have become dehumanised. It follows a couple as they struggle to understand fully the consequences of past actions that aimed to better the world, but now threaten to destroy them. The London-based writer has previously had work shown at Theatre503 through the Rapid Write Response initiative.
Paul Robinson, Artistic Director of Theatre503 commented, “It is now fairly widely acknowledged that Theatre503 is a writer’s best first chance and we’re really proud of our unique place in the industry. We launch more first-time playwrights than anywhere in the country. We read and report on more unsolicited scripts than anywhere in the country. We also provide more opportunities for first-time writers to get their work seen by a live audience than anywhere in the country.”
The judging panel revealed that it had taken nearly five hours of fierce debate to come to what was said to be the only decision that everyone felt happy leaving the room with (Steve Harper, Literary Manager at Theatre503). They highly commended the choice of plays on the shortlist and the intentions of Theatre503 to find production opportunities not only for the two award-winning plays, but all the plays on the shortlist.
Today also saw the announcement of the successful applicants for the 503Five Writer Residency Scheme, which offers five emerging playwrights 18-month long professional training programmes. The successful applicants were; Chloe Todd Fordham, an astonishingly talented new writer who came to Theatre503’s attention through the 503 Playwriting Award, for which she was shortlisted; Brian Mullin, a unique transatlantic voice relocated to London, who is the dramaturg for Babakas Theatre Company whose first production Our Fathers toured internationally; Vinay Patel, a writer of unquestionable talent (True Brits, Freefall) who offers a strong voice from the local community and whose eyes look to the world at large; Ella Greenhill, a writer previously commissioned by Theatre503 under their 503 Futures initiative and who was selected for the Bush Theatre Kudos Initiative in 2013 and has had work shortlisted for Theatre Centre’s Adrienne Benham Award and the Internationalists Playwriting Competition; and Nessah Muthy, a distinctive voice who has been developing on the new writing scene in the last couple of years and who has developed and staged work at the Royal Court Theatre and with Kali Theatre Company.
The Awards ceremony was held at the Jerwood Space on Friday 28th November 2014. This biennial award has been made possible by the generous support of The Richard Carne Trust, Curtis Brown Creative and Arts Council England. The shortlisted plays for the Playwriting Award were:
Lands End by Chloe Todd Fordham – a debut play examining teen suicide and the wreckage imposed on the families left behind. Chloe is completely new to the landscape of new writing in the UK and unquestionably a fearless dramatic voice of the future. Acedian Pirates by Jay Taylor – a debut full-length play from an actor and playwright currently starring in the RSC’s Hilary Mantel adaptations. The play poses powerful questions about the moral and ethical pressures placed upon soldiers whose experience in the field may contradict the commands that have put them there. Trim Palace by Courttia Newland – set in an urban barbershop, this play follows the family, business and community travails of Martin ‘Trim’ Brennan’, a reformed ex-con. Courttia has previously been shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award and had shows at The Tricycle, The Lyric Hammersmith, Soho and Edinburgh Festival.
Khardal by Victor Lewnieski – a complex tapestry of lives in present day Syria, exploring the very real dangers of life amidst a people’s uprising, alongside an almost mystical world of those who agitate and instigate the events. Victor is from New York, where he has had some success as a playwright.
Judges: Dennis Kelly (Writer)
Henry Hitchings (Critic – The Evening Standard)
Tanya Ronda (Writer)
Roy Williams (Writer)
Chris Campbell (Literary Manager – Royal Court)
Erica Whyman (Deputy Artistic Director – RSC)
Lily Williams (Curtis Brown)
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