Ex-City worker wins Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting

Natalie Woolman

Janice Okoh has won the 2011 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, worth £16,000.

Okoh picked up the prize for her play Three Birds, about three siblings who are home alone in south east London. It was the unanimous choice of the judging panel, which comprised chair Simon Stephens, writer Jackie Kay, Sue Johnston, Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, who is the joint artistic director of the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Bruntwood chairman Michael Oglesby.

Speaking to The Stage, Stephens said: “It is really tricky to get that balance between something that is dramaturgically controlled but has real life and a spirit of defiance to it and this play had both of those things. It felt like this was a playwright who really knew what they were doing.”

Okoh, who worked in the City before she decided to devote more time to writing, said: “It feels crazy, I still can’t believe it. I can’t believe they liked my play because I think it is a hit and miss play.

“[The prize money] is going to help me take more time to write and I probably won’t have to work as much as I planned to now. I can’t wait.”

Three Judges’ Awards worth £8,000 each were given to Alistair McDowall for his play Brilliant Adventures, Gareth Farr for Britannia Waves the Rules and Louise Monaghan for Shadow Play. These were chosen from a shortlist of ten texts.

As part of the prize, all four winners will now develop their plays with the Royal Exchange Theatre, with a view to production. Nick Hern Books will publish all the winning plays that then go onto be produced at the venue.

This year’s competition received a record 2,188 entries, with 52% of entrants applying with their first play. The awards were presented at a ceremony at the Royal Exchange earlier this week.

Speaking about the prize, Stephens said: “I don’t think it is an overstatement to say it is becoming instrumental. The Bruntwood award is a deadline that every playwright I know is aware of – that in itself affects the ecology and affects the landscape of the British playwrights’ world.”

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting was launched in 2005 and since then more than £80,000 has been given in prize money. It is a joint venture between property company Bruntwood and the Royal Exchange Theatre. The 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting will launch in autumn 2012 and open for entries in January 2013.

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