Bruntwood Prize

Every two years, the Royal Exchange organises the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.  Over the years it’s produced some excellent plays – recently the superb Yen, Britannia Waves the Rules, Mogadishu and Brilliant Adventures all spring to mind.  It’s launched the careers of several well known writers.  Above all, it’s a competition based purely on merit; scripts are submitted and judged anonymously.  Everyone has, in theory, an equal chance (but playwriting, like any technical skill, gets better the more you practice).

The Bruntwood Prize operates on two levels.  At its most visible, ten writers make the shortlist and this year five were selected for Prizes.  Looking at the biographies for the shortlisted playwrights there’s a fair mix of experience.  The least experienced appears to be the eventual winner Katherine Soper with her play Wish List about ‘trying to survive when every system is against you’.  And that is what is so life-changing about this award.  But at a second level, this award encourages many hundreds more people to become better writers.  There were 1,983 entries; many would never have written a full length play.  Support from the Royal Exchange, both in terms of physical and online workshops, is superb.  You don’t see it on the day, but the Bruntwood Prize has a huge effect at all levels of play writing, especially in the North West.

Nicholas Hytner reiterated play writing maxims – urgent, bold, authentic, totally individual voices.   And the shortlist does reflect the issues around us and playwrights’ responses to them; childhood dependence on medication, isolation, parental alienation, political protest, zero hours contracts.  But more than ever, audience interaction is key; the audience have to feel in some way part of the story.  And two themes that came out strongly from the excerpts we saw from each play were the importance of storytelling, and the increasing use of direct address to the audience, not as a monologue but as part of a scene with other actors.  As Chloe Todd Fordham, who was placed third with Sound of Silence says ‘I ask the audience to consider music as a human right’.

For winning playwrights, one recent development that makes this such a fantastic prize is the increased use of co-production.  Each of the five prize winning plays will go into production at the Royal Exchange, mainly performed in the studio but hopefully at least one will make the main house.  After that, each play will move on to one or two more theatres in the UK that have helped to produce the show.  It’s an amazing opportunity for a rising writer.

New writing will always be important.  We need new voices in theatre, and we need to be able to address the important issues in the world around us for theatre to remain relevant.  Winner in 2011, Alistair McDowell’s recent Pomona has shown how the Prize can come full circle back to filling main houses in Manchester with high quality, innovative theatre.  The Bruntwood Prize is an asset to British theatre.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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