The Women’s Prize for Playwriting, produced by Ellie Keel and Paines Plough, today announces the five finalist scripts for The Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2023, selected from 1,002 entries. Launched in 2019, the Prize is designed to celebrate and support exceptional playwrights who identify as female or non-binary by providing them with a national platform.
The Prize is for a full-length play (defined as over 60 minutes in length), written in English, and the winning playwright wins £12,000 in respect of an option for Ellie Keel Productions and Paines Plough to co-produce the winning play. The Prize is sponsored by Samuel French Ltd, a Concord Theatricals company, who are the official publishing partner of the prize, and by commercial theatre producers Fiery Angel. The Founding Sponsor is the leading recruitment agency, PER.
In its inaugural year, two First Prizes of £12,000 were awarded. Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me by Amy Trigg premiered at Kiln Theatre to critical acclaim in May 2021, directed by Charlotte Bennett. An audio version was produced by Audible the following month. You Bury Me by Ahlam, directed by Katie Posner, had a staged reading at the Lyceum Theatre in August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Co-produced by Paines Plough, The Women’s Prize for Playwriting, 45North, The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and The Orange Tree Theatre, in association with Bristol Old Vic, You Bury Me premiered in Spring 2023 to critical acclaim. Consumed by Karis Kelly was the 2021 winning script, and the play is currently in development, with further details to be announced.
Ellie Keel, Founder Director of The Women’s Prize for Playwriting, today said, “After 1002 submissions and an incredibly strong Longlist and Shortlist, it feels slightly surreal to have reached this final stage! The depth and breadth of all five plays is incredibly impressive, and I cannot wait to hear the judges’ thoughts on them in January. At WPP we feel incredibly lucky to be working with writers at the very top of their game in terms of craft and concept. Choosing one winner will be very hard, but I hope and believe that all five plays will have a future life. Theatres, directors, producers – please read these plays and meet the writers, who are all brilliant.”
Katie Posner and Debo Adebayo, Joint Artistic Director and Deputy Artistic Director of PainesPlough,commented: “Reading for the Prize this year has been a truly enriching experience and a privilege. Over 1000 writers shared their work, writers of unquestionable talent who we will continue to champion outside of the parameters of the Prize. Getting to the final five was never going to be an easy task, especially from a shortlist of plays that were superb, ambitious and thrilling. We could not be prouder to submit these five plays to our esteemed panel of judges who now have the task of selecting a winner. They are of astounding quality, from edge of the seat thrillers, to highly provocative, visual and magically real dramas. A huge congratulations to all the finalists. To us, they are all winning plays that we know would bring joy to audiences and fill theatres. Lastly, another thank you to the shortlisted writers and all the writers who submitted this year, and to the incredible team of readers we have worked with, we are emphatically grateful to you all for sharing your work with us.”
The judges for this year’s Prize, chaired by the newly appointed Artistic Director of the National Theatre Indhu Rubasingham, are journalist Samira Ahmed, playwrights April de Angelis and Chris Bush, actor Noma Dumezweni, literary agent Mel Kenyon, journalist and critic Anya Ryan, Head of Play Development at the National Theatre, Nina Steiger, and Guardian Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner.
The finalist plays are:
- Bellringers by Daisy Hall
- LUMIN by Emma Gibson
- Intelligence by Sarah Grochala
- The Angels Were Worms by Shaan Sahota
- King Troll (The Fawn) by Sonali Bhattacharyya
The winner(s) will be announced at a ceremony at the London Library on Friday 19 January 2024.
By Daisy Hall
In a thunderstorm, two bellringers wait for lightning to strike. There is an old belief that the sound of church-bells can dispel a thunderstorm. In a time of worsening storms, it is Aspinall and Clement’s turn to ring the bells. The risk of being frazzled is high, but when the world is falling apart, perhaps it is a risk worth taking. Bellringers is set in a bell-tower over the course of an evening, as Clement and Aspinall pass the time waiting for a storm to reach them. It is a surreal, dark, comic play about love, community, and being young at the end of the world.
Daisy Hall is a playwright based in Cardiff. Her work tends towards the surreal, and her heroes are all comedians. In 2023, she was selected for the Royal Court’s Longform Writers’ Group. She loves books about natural history and The Beatles.
By Emma Gibson
The pigs are stressed, Liv won’t eat, and Ma wants everyone to follow the Constitutions.
Set in a modern commune on the outskirts of the Chihuahuan desert, this new thriller about our need for community interrogates the increasingly blurred line between delusion and belief.
Julian, a New York-based investigative journalist arrives at LUMIN, a self-sufficient community on the outskirts of the Chihuahuan desert, to investigate the story of a young woman (Clancy) who has recently run away from a cult. As Julian learns more and more about LUMIN, from both Clancy’s Ma and her daughter Liv, he begins to realise that things are not as they appear. Why are the pigs so stressed? Why has Liv stopped eating? And why is Ma so determined to avoid answering his questions? As he suffers through a terrible night of sickness from a possible poisoning, he begins to get answers – but also reveals the personal tragedy that is affecting his ability to see ‘the truth.’ In the final moments, what is really happening at LUMIN is revealed, and we learn why Julian must save Liv – and himself.
Emma Gibson is a playwright, actor and director. She was runner up for the ATG Playwriting Prize with Platform Presents in 2023. She was the winner of The Pittsburgh Public’s new play competition, 2021. She has been a finalist for many new play awards, and her plays have been produced around the world.
By Sarah Grochala
When a Victorian female computing pioneer tries to make a career for herself as a serious scientist, her path is blocked by men in every direction.
She gets the chance to try again – in different times and places – but realises that there’s more at stake than her own thirst for fame…
London. 1840s. Ada Lovelace (inventor of computer software and AI pioneer) is determined to forge a career for herself as a serious scientist, but finds every path blocked by men. Even when they work with her, they’re against her. Ridiculed and desperate, she dies with all her ambitions unfulfilled. But this, it turns out, is only one of many ends. In an unexpected twist of fate, she finds herself repeatedly reincarnated and gets the chance to try for fame again, first as Grace Hopper (creator of COBOL) in 1940s America, and then as Steve Jobs in 1980s Silicon Valley. Eventually, confronted with the destruction of all her work by a shady tech billionaire, she realises that it’s the very nature of intelligence (artificial or not) that she should be fighting for.
Sarah Grochala is a neurodiverse Anglo-Polish playwright who writes female-led dramas exploring the darker aspects of life with humour and heart. She’s best-known for her Amnesty award-winning play S-27, but also writes audio episodes of Dr Who, specialising in stories featuring alien invasions in historical settings, and robots – sometimes both.
THE ANGELS WERE WORMS
By Shaan Sahota
It’s 1618, and the Italian miller Menocchio won’t put his trust in corrupt ‘educated experts’. He can see what’s real, he can see what’s right – and is put on trial by the Roman Inquisition for his theory that the planets formed from curdling cheese.
A courtroom drama set in the Roman Inquisition, a time when only a few experts have the education to correctly interpret sacred data – and they use it to tell ordinary people how to live. But the miller Menocchio has lived through a tech revolution in the form of a printing press, and has access to information that used to be inaccessible to him. It means he doesn’t want to simply believe what he’s told, he wants to fight for what he knows to be true from his own experiments: a cosmology where the universe formed from curdling cheese. The story unfolds over Menocchio’s trial. For his inquisitors, his way of thinking is immoral and dangerous – but how should they punish him?
Shaan Sahota is a junior doctor and writer working in Southall. Her first play The Estate was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting and is currently in development as both a play and television adaptation. She is on attachment with the National Theatre and part of the Royal Court’s longform writers’ group, developing projects for screen and stage.
KING TROLL (THE FAWN)
By Sonali Bhattacharyya
A dystopian tale about the corrosive impact of state racism and the monster within two migrant sisters.
Riya and Nikita navigate the increasingly authoritarian island where they live in wildly different ways. Insecure, stateless, both desperate for somewhere to call ‘home’. Riya is offered the chance to create an advocate in the form of a homunculus, or fawn. As a result, she’s able to climb the greasy pole of UK immigration services and elevate herself above the cruelty and neglect meted out to others with her status. Nikita tries to keep her saviour complex in check as she negotiates the challenges and hypocrisy of the third sector, where she supports migrant teenagers. Her deep connection with one client forces her to confront the limitations of her work. King Troll is about the troll that lives in all of us – whispering ‘me, not us’, and definitely ‘me first.’ How do we dismantle the master’s house?
Sonali Bhattacharyya is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter (Sonia Friedman Productions & Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Awards). Credits include: The Jungle Book (Chichester Festival Theatre, upcoming); Arabian Nights (Bristol Old Vic, upcoming); Chasing Hares (Young Vic/Theatre Uncut); Two Billion Beats (Orange Tree Theatre); and Silence (Tara Theatre/Donmar Warehouse).