Why does the Bruntwood Prize matter?

Yesterday the winners of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize were announced at a ceremony at the Royal Exchange.  In effect there were six winners; an overall Prize Winner, three Judges Awards and two plays selected for development support.  It is likely we will see at least four of these performed at the Royal Exchange either in the studio or on the main stage over the next couple of years.  But why does this prize matter?

In a world that is becoming increasingly judgemental and polarised, there are few media left where it is permissible to explore some of the biggest questions of our age.  Yet the live play allows us to create complex and challenging characters that ask questions of us individually.  To do that well we need strong, original voices.  As it is judged anonymously, the Bruntwood Prize focuses on the voice and not the background of the writer.  Perhaps you didn’t like Wish List, or How my Light is Spent, but it’s impossible to argue that these weren’t original and well written.  And for many people these plays had a huge impact.  After all, for every ‘classic’ from the last four hundred years, there were hundreds of plays that moved theatre forward, asked questions, but didn’t stand the test of time.  We need to build a critical mass of plays for the really great material to emerge.

Furthermore, theatre is a dynamic art form, and the Bruntwood Prize adds to the question of ‘what will future theatre look like?’  Parliament Square played with form and structure in a way that may appear groundbreaking when we look back.  The most interesting theatre is coming not from the established greats of British theatre, but from the emerging and recently established writers (both young and old), and of course the devised theatre companies.   What the Prize offers is the chance to explore your own writing (30% of entries had never written a play before) and then for the winners, the dramaturgical support to hone their ideas for a live audience.  Many of the long listed plays will be performed independently in smaller venues.  The sum total of play writing experience that the Prize engenders is phenomenal.

The winners are an eclectic mix.  Tim X Atack’s Heartworm focuses on a young woman who rents a room and announces that this used to be her bedroom.  Electric Rosary by Tim Foley looks at the arrival of a robot in a convent as a proxy for how we deal with technology (and possibly AI).  Sharon Clark’s Plow asks how we treat a lone woman walking across America in our social media obsessed world.  King Brown by Laurie Nunn takes up the contemporary issues of inherited dysfunction and toxic masculinity with a play set in Australia in 1972.  Special commendations were given to Joshua Val Martin for This Is Not America, looking at the decision of one man to go to Mars, and Rebecca Callard for A Bit of Light, tracing the consequences of a woman’s separation from her children.

As for me, I am most excited about Electric Rosary.  Apart from climate change, the effect of invasive technology on our lives has the potential to change the way we live more than anything else.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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