Five stars for Katie’s winning play

Omnibus, the first play to win the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize, received full marks from theatre critics.

Omnibus is a fast moving farce that starts with three housemates lounging in front of the television on a Sunday afternoon. Their plans for a lazy day are put on hold when a surprise guest bursts in with a gun and a bag full of money.

Writer Katie Mulgrew won £10,000 and the chance to have the play produced by Liverpool’s Royal Court. The Royal Court teamed up with the Unity Theatre, and Omnibus was selected as the first play to be performed on the Unity stage, since its major refurbishment.

The Stage gave Omnibus four stars, writing: “This is very funny stuff…The plot manages to stay just the right side of plausible to hold the audience’s attention and the play has a satisfying overall shape to it” and “This interesting and seemingly unlikely association of the Unity and Royal Court theatres seems to have paid dividends – it could well be the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Liverpool Sound and Vision awarded the play 5 stars, writing: “To place Katie Mulgrew’s award winning production in such a spotlight was not only the right option but it is one that is one of marvellous integrity, the humour of the piece, the absolute virtuosity and luminous effect it has on the soul marks it out as a find that will have theatres clambering in the future to host it.”

Purple Revolver’s Chris High wrote: “Katie Mulgrew’s Liverpool Hope and Liverpool Royal Court Playwriting Prize Winner, Omnibus, is exactly that … an absolute winner from start to finish!…Omnibus is a farce of such feisty offerings, it fizzes and crackles like a grinder on metal and drives straight into top gear without barely slipping down to take the bends.”

The play is directed by Robert Farquhar and also stars Liverpool Hope graduate Alice Bunker-Whitney. Alice herself came in for praise, with Purple Revolver writing: “To have Ms. Bunker-Whitney once more in the Unity Theatre is also a huge bonus, an actor who is very much in the same league as those such as the incredible Eithne Browne, a woman to whom the art of comedy is so entrenched that the building’s fabric, its place in both the past and its very bright future, is indebted to.”

Picture c/o Brian Roberts photography.

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Winner of 2017 Prize: Simon Bradbury

In an Awards Ceremony at Liverpool’s Royal Court theatre, Simon Bradbury was announced as the winner or the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize 2017 for his play The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere.

The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere is set in the year 1673, when playwriting and acting was a risky business. It imagines the playwright Moliere’s last days as, knowing his death is near, he prepares to put on a performance of ‘The Imaginary Invalid’. Moliere’s servant and wife try to dissuade him from performing, and ask him to sign a document renouncing the acting profession, in the hope of saving his soul and affording him a Christian burial. Both his friends and enemies alike conspire to keep Moliere from the stage in the madcap romp.

A Highly Commended Award of £1,500 went to writer and lecturer Gerry Linford from Ellesmere Port, for his play A Prayer to Saint Cajetan, set in Liverpool during the 1978 World Cup. The play charts what happens when an eccentric priest teams up with an unemployed man to place a series of outlandish bets on the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Gerry is a lecturer in Screenwriting at the University of Central Lancashire and has written a number of films, including Buddha Boy for BBC Wales and What’s The Story.

New judges for this year include comedian and actor Les Dennis, playwright Amanda Whittington, editor of The Stage Alistair Smith and last year’s winner Katie Mulgrew.

Returning to the judging panel were screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce, Royal Court Executive Producer Kevin Fearon, Playwright and critic Paul Allen, Liverpool Hope University theatre expert Dr John Bennett, and former Liverpool Echo’s arts editor Catherine Jones.

The Liverpool Echo and The Stage are official media partners for the 2017 competition. All entries were judged anonymously.

Winner Simon has acted in a number of Shakespeare productions, and starred in the TV shows ArrowFringe and Stargate: Arc of Truth. He has also worked in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil. Simon studied at the Drama Centre London and then spent 16 years with the Shaw Festival Theatre in Canada. His play about Chaplin was programmed for their Courthouse season in 2002. Simon has had three Jessie nominations, winning one for best supporting actor. Simon founded his own theatre company, Ziggurat Theatre and now resides back in UK.

Dr John Bennett, Chair of Judges, said: “This is a truly remarkable play. It manages to combine broad slapstick humour, detailed historical knowledge and witty, original dialogue to great comic effect, whilst achieving moments of genuine pathos – an impressive feat of comic writing.”

Frank Cottrell Boyce said: As soon as I started reading it, I was seeing it in my mind’s eye, and as soon as I started to see it in my mind’s eye, I wanted to see it on a stage. I wanted to see it sitting next to someone I really love and with a box of chocolates in my hand…the winner is not just a really good play but also a really good night out.”

Amanda Whittington said: “The writing is fantastic. We were all just knocked out by the skill, and the wit, and the vision of the writer. I hope that they can really take that forward in the work that they do next, knowing that they’ve got something to say and that it’s good.”

Simon’s play is inspired by his own years on stage in the US, UK, and Canada, which has included a role in Moliere’s Tartuffe at The Stratford Festival.

Simon said: “My inspiration for the play was, in fact, the world of the theatre. Austerity has been a blow to all aspects of our lives but the cultural world is the first to get it in the neck. My admiration for Moliere, the man and his farces, was another springboard. He dealt with tyrannical patronage, censorship and ceaseless attacks from the church yet continued his commitment to enlighten and entertain. I have tried to reproduce his spirit of anarchy by constructing a comedy about the last hours of his life, during which all these travails come to the fore. It is my cheeky homage to a compulsive social critic who pushed the bounds of convention and good taste, while being completely incapable of denying himself and countless others a bloody good laugh.”

He added, “I sent my play in because it is rare to see comedy highlighted for a competition. It tends to be the poor cousin of tragedy and other genres. This specialization is exciting, because it harkens back to the days of the Aldwych farces, which led to a golden era of English theatre comedy. Comedy is damned serious business! The association of a highly regarded academic institution with a respected theatre company lends credence to this idea. That is why this competition is unique and very important.”

Visit our Flickr Gallery to see images of the event.

You can read about all of our six shortlisted plays here.