Starting in 2009, the Papatango New Writing Prize is the biggest playwriting award in the UK, attracting more average annual entries than any other. It was the first – and remains the only annual – playwriting award to guarantee its winner a full world premiere in London followed by a national tour, plus royalties, publication and a £6,500 commission to support a follow-up play.
This year’s winner – selected from a record 1504 entries- is Igor Memić, a Duty manager at the Bridge Theatre, for his play called OLD BRIDGE. Igor is a British-Bosnian writer and refugee from Mostar, which is where the play is set, examining with humanity the joy and pain of growing up amidst the horror of war. The play will receive a full production at London’s Bush Theatre later in the year.
Igor was quoted as saying “I never thought a play like this could make the shortlist, let alone win. Writing it has been one of the most painful and important experiences of my life. My attempt at healing old wounds.”
Having seen the last few years’ Papatango winners, I am sure this will be yet another challenging, surprising and rewarding play
For all you budding playwrights, remember that Papatango is open to all residents of the UK or Ireland, free to enter, and assessed anonymously. So – all you need is a story.Submissions for the 2021 Prize will open in late 2020.
People of all colours and backgrounds around the world have united in peaceful protest at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police, yet another in a long line of killings in the USA all centred around race.
Racism is a cancer which cripples our society’s growth. Peaceful protest is understandably a significant way for people to express their grief and outrage. But it’s worth remembering that, as well as protest, there are so many other actions we can take which will also bring about change. And in my own opinion, education will play a major role in the way forward.
That is why I am asking you to support progress in a very specific way.
You and I know that theatre is a powerful educator. When theatre comes back – as it will – we will need all those companies who have produced radical, challenging and exciting work around the black experience to be primed and ready to leap out of the starting gate.
If you, like me, feel that you must contribute to the protest in some way, but feel that you haven’t quite found your own way in which to do this, then do something different. Donate! In particular, donate to the many excellent theatre and arts companies which are producing great work in sharing and exploring the experiences of People of Colour.
Donate to Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway’s (founder of award-winning ARTISTIC DIRECTORS OF THE FUTURE organisation) new project BEYOND THE CANON to draw students attention to literary diversity by championing hidden and forgotten plays written by Black, Asian, LatinX and Middle Eastern playwrights by making these texts available to students in the UK and internationally during the hiatus in global education systems. This is a brand new project today and I am thrilled to have been the first donor- so who will join me? Donate here
Whilst this is my own personal selection of my own recent engagements and experiences, I appreciate that there are many other great organisations which I haven’t highlighted here, so if you know them better than I do, why not donate to them also?
Change is coming, and you can help drive it. Use your money as a way of planting seeds of hope and thought for the future, to help these organisations’ contributions to conversations about important work flourish and grow. And hopefully to lead us all into a more enlightened and caring world where difference is no longer hated but celebrated.
At a ceremony at Battersea Arts Centre on Sunday 8 March, the winners of the 2020 OFFIES were announced.
In the list below, you can read my reviews of the shows by clicking on the show name.
Best Company Ensemble was rightly won by OPERATION MINCEMEAT for their run at the New Diorama Theatre.
Bill Buckhurst won Best Director of a Musical for the splendid GHOST QUARTET at the Boulevard Theatre, another well-deserved win.
In the Best Choreography/ Movement award, Oti Mabuse won for AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ which ran last year at Southwark Playhouse.
I was very pleased to see that Jordan Li-Smith, so good in Dave Malloy’s PRELUDES, won Best Musical Director for QUEEN OF THE MIST at the Jack Studio Theatre/ later transferred to the Charing Cross Theatre.
In the category Best Female Performance in a Play, Gemma Barnett won for her work in A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW which played at Trafalgar Studios 2.
In the Most Promising New Playwright Award I was disappointed that Zia Ahmed did not win for the hauntingI WANNA BE YOURS which ran at the Bush Theatre.
Also, In the Best New Play Award, I was similarly disappointed that Rose Lewenstein did not win for her extraordinary COUGAR at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre.
Congratulations to all the winners and nominees alike!
Welcome to March’s show highlights. Here are my picks of the most interesting shows that you can find around London and the UK.
Hard on the heels of a first-rate Orange Tree revival of Lucy Prebble’s THE SUGAR SYNDROME, another of her plays THE EFFECT runs from 19th March to 30th May at the Boulevard Theatre.
Placing modern medicine under the microscope, it examines the fallout from a collision between love and science.
Connie and Tristan meet; symptoms develop. Racing hearts. Lost appetites. Erratic emotions. Is this the frenzy of falling in love, or simply the side effects of the new anti-depressant drug they’re testing?
Addiction comes hard and fast. But have the clinicians running the trial lost control?
Anyone who has seen the exceptionally good OPERATION MINCEMEAT (soon to return to Southwark Playhouse for a third sell-out season) will have enjoyed the brilliant performance of Jak Malone. Now Malone gets his own show in DIVA: LIVE FROM HELL, a darkly comic one-man musical, loosely based on All About Eve, has its European premiere at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre from March 17th to 28th.
As president of the drama club and star of every school show, Desmond Channing spent most of his short life in the spotlight. When a rival student Evan Harris, a hotshot transfer from New York, challenges his throne, Desmond responds as any diva would, with lethal force…
Now stuck in the ‘Seventh Circle’, Hell’s most squalid cabaret venue, Desmond is forced to relive his disturbing tale of woe. As we join him and his band for their one-millionth consecutive show, Desmond performs with a desperate vigour in the hopes that he can prove he’s repented and can be freed from this eternal, campy torment!
Jak Malone plays Desmond Channing and the entire company of larger than life characters. I’m confidently predicting a tour de force from this talented actor!
“You can’t pick your family but if you could I’d still pick you”
Sisters Connie and Ursula were once everything to each other. Years on they’re almost strangers. When a family bombshell is dropped, Connie is forced to retrace forty years of sisterhood and confront a web of secrets and conflicting loyalties. Nurture competes with nature as the pair navigate their unbreakable bond, united by the same beginning but headed in different directions.
Award-winning playwright Chloë Moss’ (HOW LOVE IS SPELT) new play is a witty and heartfelt story of family, class and dependence, asking what does it really mean to belong to someone?
At the Yard in East London, NEW NORDICS is an exciting festival of Nordic work from 18th to 21st March with a new bill each day.
Six directors from the UK have travelled abroad to explore what Nordic theatre and culture is – and now they present a play from each of the Nordic countries for the first time in the UK. Shows about climate change, fir trees, garages, loneliness, cows… and IKEA. The festival is full of funny, dark and explosive plays, each giving a glimpse of the countries they come from.
For the first time, Cut the Cord Theatre present New Nordics Festival, showcasing the best new Nordic plays from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This is great way to see some contemporary Nordic theatre combined with some of the best upcoming talent from the UK.
Katherine Parkinson returns to star at the Royal Court Theatre in E V Crowe’s new play SHOE LADY from March 4th to 21st.
“It’s incredibly hard isn’t it. To stay afloat. It’s incredibly hard not to sink to the bottom.”
Viv has lost a shoe. They’re her work shoes, her weekend shoes, her only pair of shoes, and she doesn’t know what to do.
The curtains are falling, her foot is bleeding, and she’s starting to feel a little overwhelmed. But all will be well in the world once she finds that missing shoe.
A bit close to home for some, this one? From 11th to 15th March at Greenwich Theatre, Ferodo Bridges present their immersive production, THE WHITE PLAGUE, experienced in ‘white blindness’ for a strictly limited number of audience members who will experience a city beset by an epidemic with every sense but their sight.
When a mysterious and fiercely contagious virus starts spreading among a major city’s population, causing all infected victims to lose their sight, the government takes emergency action and isolates those affected in unprepared quarantine facilities. We follow the stories of five infected strangers who have been left to fend for themselves. As the consequences of the epidemic are revealed, citizens are driven to expose the very brightest and darkest aspects of their human nature.
At the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, company Playing On brings to life Philip (This Island’s Mine) Osment’s final play. CAN I HELP YOU? is a magical realist examination of the role race and gender have to play in mental health and suicide.
An off-duty English policeman is about to throw himself off Beachy Head when he is met by a woman carrying a laundry bag and a cat box. Over the course of one night, two disparate characters learn what it truly means to be touched by the magic of hope.
The show plays from March 3rd to 21st.
From March 18th to May 16th at the National Theatre’s Dorfman space, writer and comedian Francesca Martinez leads an ensemble cast in her debut play ALL OF US , a new play about what defines us, directed by Ian Rickson.
Jess has a job she loves, great friends and a sharp sense of humour. So, when the life she has worked hard to build is threatened, she decides to take a stand.
This powerful and timely drama explores life, love and the struggle to survive for those who don’t fit in during a time of austerity.
“Sorry I don’t fit into your preconceived notions of me“
Tommy is scared of everything. Especially the kids at school who would call him gay if they saw him putting on lipstick. Jordan isn’t scared of anything. He’s not scared that he likes the way Tommy looks in lipstick. Really, he’s not.
Two women play two teenage boys in this timely story of young hearts and the rules that surround us all. LIPSTICK plays the Southwark Playhouse from March 4th to 28th.
DRIP DRIP DRIP is a dark love-letter to the NHS and the people who keep it alive.
Encountered on a ward round are Daniel, a refugee from Eritrea, now a trainee nurse; Rahmiya, a Muslim doctor; and David, an elderly white cancer patient. Just another dysfunctional NHS ‘family’. But drip by drip David’s far-right ideology seeps out, poisoning Daniel and Rahmiya’s sense of belonging…
Pipeline Theatre dissects care and cruelty with dark humour while busting taboos. At the Pleasance Theatre London from March 3rd to 21st.
Theatre 503 presents PAPER CUT from March 18th to April 11th
A young gay American soldier, Kyle, returns from Afghanistan after being injured. Only a paper cut. Or that’s what he wants his friends, family, and a potential new love to believe. PAPER CUT is a raw exploration of the physical and emotional toll of returning soldiers and how they navigate their way through another minefield – of returning home.
This is a love story told through the prism of a soldier. Someone who will die for their country, even when their country tells them every day – in small and large ways – that they are less than. It’s an examination of what it means to be a man. And even more so, what it means to be a gay man.
STICKS AND STONES is an intriguing-sounding new play at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 3rd to 21st March.
Afua, a black senior manager in a secondary school, is asked to investigate online comments by a white colleague, Tina; a woman she viewed as a friend. Do Tina’s comments constitute hate speech, and, if so, should the police get involved? Afua has always fought for women’s rights, and Tina is a wronged woman, but with an axe to grind that even Afua is not prepared for. In an intensely claustrophobic setting, the clash between the two women becomes increasingly explosive; opening up questions around speech, power, race and class, that perhaps modern Britain is not ready to answer.
West End Opening
As you’ll know, I rarely venture into West End territory for my top picks, but the classy musical CITY OF ANGELS is a rare show with a superb, starry cast that demands attention. It’s a musical love letter to the glamorous world of old Hollywood and film noir.
A screenwriter with a movie to finish. A private eye with a case to crack. And a femme fatale. Just to make things interesting.
The Donmar Warehouse’s Olivier Award-winning 2014 production finally returns to London, featuring a swinging score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel and a brilliantly witty book by Larry Gelbart, CITY OF ANGELS plays at the Garrick Theatre from March 5th to September 5th (NB with significant cast changes at the end of May and July).
Off West End – continuing
In THE HIGH TABLE , the dresses are chosen, the venue’s been booked and the RSVPs are flooding in. But Tara’s perfect Nigerian wedding to her girlfriend Leah is suddenly derailed when her parents refuse to attend.
High above London, suspended between the stars, three of Tara’s ancestors are jolted from their eternal rest. Can these representatives of generations passed keep the family together? And will Tara’s decision ever get their blessing?
An epic family drama played out between the heavens and earth, THE HIGH TABLEis the accomplished debut play from Temi Wilkey, which plays at the Bush Theatre until 21 March.
Running to 3 May, BE MORE CHILL is the long-awaited UK premiere of this on- and off- Broadway hit musical.
Featuring a Tony Award®-nominated score bursting with memorable songs, BE MORE CHILL is a very modern musical comedy about the competing voices in all of our heads.
It’s about a guy who wants to fit in, a girl who wants to be noticed, and the supercomputer inside the guy’s head that tells him what to do (it wants to take over the world!). According to The New Yorker, “If you fed Dear Evan Hansen to the Little Shop of Horrors plant, you’d get BE MORE CHILL.” In other words, it’s both a relatable tale about how far we’ll go for a little validation… and an otherworldly delight about a loveable geek and his very invasive (im)plant. Sounds fun!
Many people recall with pleasure the Tony Award-winning musical, but not everyone knew that the story was originally a hilarious French play which ran for years, and which then was made into four feature films which broke worldwide box office records and were multi-award nominated . Now the Park Theatre gives you the first opportunity to see the original, riotous and heartfelt farce translated into the English language.
Nightclub owner Georges and his dazzling drag artiste partner Albin create the most spectacular shows in St. Tropez. But when Georges’ son Laurent announces his engagement to the daughter of a notoriously right-wing politician determined to bring the curtain down on the town’s vibrant nightlife, the real performance begins.
As Georges and Albin entertain their soon-to-be in laws and attempt to conceal their true nature for the sake of their son, how long can the façade last?
Directed by Simon Callow, and with a great cast including Michael Matus, Paul Hunter and Peter Straker amongst others, this should be a very entertaining evening.
At the Bush Theatre studio until March 21 is COLLAPSIBLE. Essie’s lost her job. Her girlfriend’s left. But she’s alright. Except lately she feels more like a chair than a person. One of those folding chairs. Solid one minute. And then.
From award-winning Irish writer Margaret Perry (Porcelain, Abbey Theatre), thisis the hilarious, multi award-winning play about holding on in this collapsing world, starring the “mesmeric” (Guardian) Breffni Holahan, COLLAPSIBLE is for anyone who has ever felt crumbly. So that’s all of us, then!
NO SHOW at The Yard runs until March 14. Christopher Green is best known for his cabaret alter egos Ida Barr and Tina C.
This is the show that Christopher has spent over two decades making. It’s the culmination of 25 years of entertaining tens of thousands of audience members and learning exactly what makes them tick. What they want. It’s the leadership we’ve been seeking in troubling times. Frankly, I haven’t a clue but with this performer you can bet it won’t be dull!!
The VAULT FESTIVAL 2020 runs until 22 March. London’s largest and most interesting festival of upcoming work and rising artists, it’s like having all the fun of going to the Edinburgh Fringe but without the pricey travel and accommodation. Established in 2014 by Tim Wilson, Mat Burtcher and Andy George, it has rapidly grown to be an integral part of London’s winter scene. Last year 80,000 people enjoyed over 420 performances, which is why this is a festival with something for everyone.
Here’s an interesting new British musical with music and lyrics by Darren Clark, who wrote the very good THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON seen last year at Southwark Playhouse.
Receiving its world premiere, THE WICKER HUSBAND is a folk-inspired show which tells the timeless tale of the outsider.
In a superficial world, where beauty is only skin-deep, meet the so-called ‘Ugly Girl’. Ostracised by the shallow townsfolk because she doesn’t fit in, the Ugly Girl becomes the envy of her neighbours when the mysterious Old Basketmaker makes her a strong and loving husband woven from living wicker. As bitter rivalry and jealousy threaten to tear the community apart, the townsfolk embark on a cruel and destructive plan. Will the Ugly Girl’s happiness be ruined forever?
Featuring mesmerising wicker-made puppets from master puppeteers, THE WICKER HUSBAND plays at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre from March 12th to April 4th.
NT CONNECTIONS, the National Theatre’s nationwide youth theatre festival is back. Connections is open to any company of young people aged 13-19. Each Company chooses one play from a set list of ten, that they will then rehearse and perform at their ‘home’ venue, and later at a participating professional venue.
All across the UK, from Inverness to Plymouth, NT Connections enables young people to perform their chosen play on a local, professional stage, which happens between March and May. In June, the NT Festival will showcase ten of the companies, each performing one of the selected plays in a culmination of the festival. So why not spend an evening supporting your local young talent?
31 Theatres are participating across the country. For participating theatres near you, see the NT Connections page here
In London, artsdepot’s festival runs from March 30th to 5th April. Details here
Touring the UK
Anyone who loves the Latin crossover music of Gloria Estefan will enjoy ON YOUR FEET! It has had mixed but mostly positive reviews, unanimous in the musical content of the show. It looks good and sounds just great, with a brilliant band (worth the price of admission alone) who never let the energy flag.
Featuring 26 hits, this Tony Award nominated show ran on Broadway for two years, for over 750 performances. ON YOUR FEET!is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and charts their journey from Cuba to the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, including “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, “Conga”, “Get On Your Feet”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “1-2-3” and many more.
ON YOUR FEET! is directed by two-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), with choreography by Olivier Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys) and book by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). See it in March at Glasgow, Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Southampton.
March brings further encore screenings of several NTLive broadcasts to screens around the UK and further afield. You can still enjoy encores of CYRANO DE BERGERAC with James McAvoy, Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER, the comedy hit ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS with James Corden, and FLEABAG also appear in selected encore screenings.
To find screenings in your area, check out the schedule of NT Live website, details here.
IN BRIEF Expansive family drama confidently argues for acceptance in an ambitious show with drama, heart and humanity
Temi Wilkey’s ambitious, brave and compassionate debut
play covers a lot of ground. Tara and her girlfriend Leah are getting married,
and the big day is approaching. But Tara’s Nigerian parents didn’t know about
the wedding until now- oh, and also the fact that she is a lesbian. All the knee-jerk
prejudices come tumbling out – “she doesn’t even look like a man”, “it’s a
Simultaneously, high above the earth, in an
afterlife, a meeting of a council of guidance has been called to decide whether
or not to bless this marriage. Three past relatives of Tara gather- but they
are missing one. Who is the late arrival, the fourth member of the council, and
why does he carry such a disturbing aura with him?
Back on earth, the ensuing upset and pushback
from her parents puts a strain on Tara and Leah’s relationship, as they doubt
themselves and each other.
Posing intriguing questions along the way, this
well-woven play shuttles back and forth between earthly and spiritual
Tara’s need for family at this time is natural and her sadness at its lack is affecting. We see the parents’ opposition gradually unfurl itself as rooted in a protective fear for Tara’s safety, assuming that being gay is the same experience for people in the UK as it is in Nigeria, where intolerance, hatred, blackmail and beatings seem to be the ususal outcomes.
As the descendants’ and contemporary family
stories are uncovered, unexpected connections and moving revelations bring
about a hopeful ending with a wedding dance that cannot fail to make you smile.
THE HIGH TABLE is sensitively directed by Daniel
Bailey (who did another good job with the part-mystical UNKNOWN RIVERS a few
months ago at Hampstead), and strongly performed by the entire cast; Cherrelle
Skeete brings soul and vulnerability to Tara, Stefan Aegbola makes his journey
from victim to spiritual enabler most affecting, and Jumoke Fashola is a
powerful and magnetic storyteller. The muscular rhythmic musical interludes,
played (and co-composed) by Mohamed Gueye, effectively instil a sense of place
Wilkey’s writing is knowing, passionate and human, with canny injections of humour and emotion, lovingly investing her characters with dimension and making a powerful case for “You go want who you go want”.
THE HIGH TABLE plays at the Bush Theatre until March 21. Information and tickets here
THE HIGH TABLE then plays Birmingham Repertory Theatre from March 25 to April 9. Information and tickets here