Top tips for aspiring comedy playwrights

Producing an original comedy play can be a challenging but also exciting task and we’ve put together our list of top tips to help you on your way.

• Make yourself laugh
If you can’t make yourself laugh then who can you make laugh?! Comedy is a very subjective genre and trying to please everyone can be difficult and can sometimes come across as being forced. Try breaking it down and focus on yourself, write what makes you laugh instead of what you think people will find funny.

• Do what works for you
You may be the type of person who loves to have a definite plan and be organised or you may prefer to be free. When it comes to comedy playwriting there is no right or wrong way to do it, simply do what works best for you.

• Keep reminding yourself of what your play is about
Once you’re in the flow of writing it can be easy to stray from your storyline. Try summarising your play in a sentence or two and each time you sit down to write have a quick glance at it. This should help you to stay focused when you’re scribbling away!

• Write, write, write…
No matter how good or how bad you think your words are, get them down on paper! Not only will this help you to get into a habit of writing but it will also make it easier when you’re re-drafting your script. So write, write and write!

• Read your play aloud to yourself
A play on paper can sound very different to when it’s read out loud. So it’s important that you keep reading your play aloud to check its sounding as you want it and of course to see if it’s making you laugh!

• Get feedback
An important part of comedy playwriting is to get regular feedback from outside sources. Try getting a group of your friends together and have them read your script aloud, this will help you to get a better sense of the pace and the story and it’s a great excuse for a social gathering!

• Believe in yourself
For some of you, this may be your first attempt at writing a play and it can often be a daunting experience. But the key to success is believing in yourself and believing that you have the ability to write a brilliant comedy play.

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Liverpool Hope National Playwriting Prize calls on writers to enter their funniest scripts

The third Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize launches today, 15th May 2018, where writers are invited to submit their comedy scripts for a chance to win £10,000 with a potential opportunity to bring their play to life on stage.

The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize is the second largest national playwriting competition and provides a great platform for new comedy plays and writers across the UK. Scripts must be original and unperformed but writers of varying experience are welcome to enter.

The competition is a collaboration between Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre and Liverpool Hope University. A sizeable prize of £10,000 will be offered to the playwright of the winning script, with a further cash prize for highly commended runner/s-up.
Since 2015, The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize success stories include winners and highly commended writers who go on to have their plays commissioned at theatres and auditoriums across the UK.

Last year, writer and actor Simon Bradbury was announced as winner of The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize for his play ‘The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere’. The Royal Court is currently in discussions with a number of venues about producing the play.

Highly commended finalist Gerry Linford’s comedy play from 2017, now entitled “The Miracle of Great Homer Street” will run at The Royal Court this June and stars one of the Playwriting Prize 2017 judges, comedian and actor Les Dennis.

Comedian and writer Katie Mulgrew, the winner of the first Playwriting Prize in 2015, had her play ‘Omnibus’ commissioned last year at The Unity Theatre, while plays by the runners-up for that same year ran at the Park Theatre in London and the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool.

The new judging panel for 2019 includes; Maurice Bessman, celebrated script writer and playwright, journalist and reviewer Catherine Jones, John Godber OBE and well known actor/comedian Les Dennis.

Royal Court Co-Chief Executive Kevin Fearon, will also be on the judging panel for 2019 and commented, “We have been delighted to be involved with the Playwriting Prize for the last four years. We have seen a huge number of entries for both of the previous competitions from all around the country and we are looking forward to doing it all again. The quality of the scripts has meant that the judging is always a difficult process but it means that the very best are chosen for the award.”

Last year over 200 scripts from across the UK were submitted for the prize, Liverpool Hope University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Gerald Pillay said,
“The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize is multi-faceted where Drama, English and Creative Writing academics at the university come together to support this competition, each valuing comedy as an art form. We are pleased to be partnering with The Royal Court Theatre once again in the search for talented writers.”

The deadline for entries Sun 22nd July. All reviewing and selection will be refereed anonymously. Entrants must be over the age of 18 and reside in either the UK or the Republic of Ireland.

The winner and runner/s-up will be revealed at a ceremony, which will take place on Monday April 1st 2019.

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.

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.

Getting to know our shortlist: Neil Walden

As we move closer to announcing the  winner of the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

Writer: Neil Walden, Gloucestershire

Play: Absoluted

Absoluted tells the story of an exhausted nun who arrives at the hideout of a criminal gang lying low after a huge robbery. The unity of the gang is soon disrupted by the nun, who it seems is seeking some kind of sanctuary herself.

Neil, who was born in Windsor and used to live in Wales, was inspired to write the play after writing a series of local history books about true crimes, and by his interest in heist stories. Neil has had one-act plays performed at the Actor’s Studio in Liverpool as part of the Second Write Now festival, at Liverpool’s Unity theatre, and festivals around the UK. He has also taken part in script slams in South Wales.

Neil was inspired to write the play after writing a series of local history books about true crimes, and by his interest in heist stories.

Neil said: “Absoluted poses the question of whether there are any similarities between organised crime and organised religion. I realise that this makes it sound a bit heavy, but be assured that it is quite definitely a comedy! One of the characters observes ‘Aren’t the nuns supposed to offer the crooks sanctuary?’ Well, not in this case they don’t! The boot is on the other foot.”

Neil added: “I am always hoping to get my work staged, but the opportunities are very few and far between. When I saw it announced, I was particularly keen to enter The Liverpool Hope Playwriting prize. That the competition has involved important organisations, and lined up a really impressive panel of judges was one of my reasons for entering. I couldn’t be more pleased that Absoluted has been shortlisted.”

 

Getting to know our shortlist: Ian Nightingale

As we move closer to announcing the winner of the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

Writer: Ian Nightingale, Ormskirk, Lancashire

Play: Paulo & Me

Long suffering mum Mandy is at her wits end with her marriage to slob husband Colin, whose only passion in life is for his local football club. Newly single, she meets a dashing Italian stranger, Paulo, who turns out to be the club’s new manager and this causes Colin to have an epiphany about his own life.

Ian teaches geography in a secondary school, and has been writing for radio and screen for the past five years. He is a member of the BBC Northern Writers group, and one of 27 screenwriters in the UK to be mentored by Harry Swindell at the BBC.

His writing to date has received a BAFTA Rocliffe commendation for an unproduced screenplay, been shortlisted for both The Red Planet Prize and the Alfred Bradley Bursary, and shortlisted by Philip Shelley at Channel 4 for development. Ian was also selected by the Head of Development at LIME pictures to complete trial scripts at Hollyoaks. His first short film script ‘The Librarian’ won the 2016 Special Merit Award at the Northern Film School at Beckett University and is currently being filmed.

Ian said: “I’ve always been fascinated with the immediacy of theatre since being taken as a schoolchild to watch Willy Russell’s Our Day Out. As I got older, I found my writing was deeply affected by those initial theatre experiences, and this shaped the way I wrote about real people in communities and the struggles they faced.

Paulo & Me is inspired by a real mix of things – as I got into my late 30’s it felt like I was  watching a world which seemed to be spinning faster and becoming more and more fragmented; where people are obsessed with instant gratification, fame and the hope that the grass will always be greener. It’s also inspired by the community you grew up in; the one that you absolutely hated but later realise defines you and ultimately you miss and reminisce about with utter love 20 years later. And of course, it’s inspired by the hapless football team you support fanatically, constantly letting you down until the day you die.

“Just knowing that all the hours spent hammering away on the keyboard in a darkened box room trying to conjure up this little world filled with characters people will actually care about and laugh at can actually connect with the judges and be considered for a prize of this magnitude is genuinely mind blowing.”

 

Getting to know our shortlist: Stewart McDonald

As we move closer to announcing the 2017 winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

Writer: Stewart McDonald, Liverpool

Play: Mummy’s Boy

Dumped by his girlfriend just days before their romantic getaway to Italy, a young man reluctantly takes his brash mother along for the trip. Mummy’s Boy was inspired by Stewart’s own experience, after he and his girlfriend had a row before they were due to go on a romantic trip across Europe. Luckily, they reconciled, and this also gave Stewart the idea for his play, which examines the parent-child relationship, and how families can become disconnected over time.

Web developer Stewart has been part of Liverpool Network Theatre for the last seven years. His experience as an actor led him to write and direct his first play Millionaires Anonymous, which premiered at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool in 2015 and went on tour around the North West in 2016. Mummy’s Boy is the follow-up play, which Stewart penned as part of the Everyman Playwrights’ Programme.

Stewart says: “My girlfriend and I were due to go on a romantic trip across Europe, but we had big row a week before our flight. Being consoled by my mum, I said, ‘Imagine if we split up…I can’t go on my own.’ My mum said, ‘Well… I’ll go with you’. And that was it, the seed was planted. Thankfully, my girlfriend and I reconciled and had a lovely time, but writing the play went beyond just a mother and son/odd-couple holiday. It really got me examining the parent-child relationship, and how families can become disconnected over time.”

Web developer Stewart has been part of Liverpool Network Theatre for the last seven years. His experience as an actor led him to write and direct his first play Millionaires Anonymous, which premiered at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool in 2015 and went on tour around the North West in 2016. Mummy’s Boy is the follow-up play, which Stewart penned as part of the Everyman Playwrights’ Programme.

Stewart adds: “It’s very difficult as a writer to get any kind of industry exposure and I thought this competition was a great chance to get my name out there and see if people found my work funny, whilst also connecting with the characters and the underlying themes.”

Getting to know our shortlist: Gerry Linford

As we move closer to announcing the 2017 winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

 

Writer: Gerry Linford, Ellesmere Port

Play: A Prayer to Saint Cajetan

1978. Liverpool. An eccentric priest teams up with an unemployed man to place a series of outlandish bets on the World Cup taking place in Argentina. When Father Tony Aherne turns up at the Duffy house in the summer of 1978 nobody, least of all lapsed Catholic Terry, can anticipate the chaos and magic which his arrival will bring. As the money stacks up, this unlikely duo are faced with life changing decisions.

Gerry is a lecturer in Screenwriting at the University of Central Lancashire. A Prayer to Saint Cajetan is the first play that Gerry has written, although he has written films including Buddha Boy for BBC Wales, and What’s The Story in which he also starred alongside Darren Day.

Gerry said: “A Prayer to Saint Cajetan is inspired by actual events from my childhood – although obviously I used creative license to develop the story seeds into something much bigger. I was motivated to enter the competition after seeing a poster in a coffee shop in Liverpool last year.
“I’d been kicking the story around with a view to a screenplay but thought it lent itself very well to the stage. When I heard I was shortlisted, I was absolutely thrilled. I love theatre in Liverpool and it would be a dream come true to see my work come alive there.”

Getting to know our shortlist: Christopher Jordan

As we move closer to announcing the 2017 winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

Writer: Christopher Jordan, Halifax

Play: The Elementary Occult

The year is eighteen hundred and something. Professor Elwes, a man of science, is living in exile in the countryside with his awful mother. He hopes his latest invention, a revolutionary communication device, will thrill the Metropolitan Scientific community. But does he really understand his own creation? What does his machine really do? What are the ghostly voices emanating from it at inconvenient moments telling him about the future? Elwes must try to comprehend all of this whilst engaging in battle with Doctor Molloch, the Occultist, who is also courting scientific interest in his diabolical schemes.

Christopher, who is originally from Kidderminster and now lives near Halifax, studied at The Poor School has been a professional actor for 10 years. He has appeared in Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On and BBC 3’s In The Flesh. On stage, he has appeared alongside Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic Theatre. He was also a finalist in Channel 4’s competition So You Think That You’re Funny. Christopher has previously had his work performed as part of the Pomegranate Theatre new writing festival, but his shortlisted play, The Elementary Occult, is his first full length play.

Christopher said: “The first seed of the idea came when I was in the British Library, and saw a glossy picture book in the gift-shop. It was full of photographs of Victorian spiritualists exuding pretend ectoplasm from their faces.

“The pictures fascinated me because they were ridiculous and, in a peculiar way, eerie at the same time. The themes of the play resonate with my love of Science fiction – I like how Science Fiction can change the focus or terms of a drama almost instantly, and how it can remove the fetters from your plotting. The most important theme in the play for me, is the tension between Science and Spirituality – and how easily they can be mistaken for each other.”

 

Getting to know our shortlist: Simon Bradbury

As we move closer to announcing the 2017 winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize on March 27th, find out more about our top 6…

Writer: Simon Bradbury, London

Play: The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere

In 1673, playwriting and acting was a risky business. Moliere, knowing his death is near, 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 this madcap romp.

Simon Bradbury, who was born in Little Hulton, Salford, and was a member of the Manchester Youth Theatre, is a professional actor.

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. He performed at all the major theatres in Vancouver – Bard on the Beach, Vancouver Playhouse, The Arts Club and the Gateway Theatre, Richmond, garnering three Jessie nominations and winning one for best supporting actor. He also founded his own theatre company, Ziggurat Theatre. He now resides back in UK.

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 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.”

Simon 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. I am thrilled to bits to be shortlisted.”