Inaugural Hope Playwriting Prize winner gets Arts Council England Funding boost

Plans to stage Omnibus, the winner of the inaugural Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize, are moving ahead following the announcement that the project has received a grant from Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts Programme.

The award of up to £14,850 has been granted to help to develop the play in conjunction with Liverpool’s Royal Court and Unity theatres.

Written by Katie Mulgrew, 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.

The Arts Council’s Grants For The Arts Programme is a our Lottery-funded, open access funding programme for individuals, arts organisations and other people who use the arts in their work. Grants are available for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

Omnibus has already been developed in a series of workshops with Director Robert Farquar and now this funding will support a full run of the play, planned to take place at Unity Theatre in June 2017. Performance dates have been confirmed and tickets go on sale next month.

Professor Gerald Pillay, Vice Chancellor & Rector of Liverpool Hope University said: “We are delighted that the first winning play from the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize is to be performed. The whole objective of the competition is to invest in the artists of the future, bring new and interesting voices to the stage and encourage new writing for the theatre. The fact that Ominbus has secured Arts Council England funding highlights those aims, the quality of work from Katie Mulgrew, the winning writer, and the Liverpool Royal Court team. I am looking forward to curtain up on opening night.”

Katie Mulgrew said: “’I’m so thrilled that my play, ‘Omnibus’ is going to be performed at the Unity theatre. Since winning the Hope playwriting prize, I’ve worked with a fantastic team to develop the play and I’m made up that it will be the first co-production between the Liverpool Royal Court and the Unity.”

Kevin Fearon, Executive Producer at Liverpool’s Royal Court said: “This is very welcome news as it gives us the chance to develop a new piece of work in a new space for us. Katie’s play is not just a great show but it has given us the opportunity to create partnerships with both Hope University and Unity Theatre”

Find out who is on the shortlist for the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize


2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize shortlist announced

A robbers’ hideout, the 19th century occult scene, and the life of Moliere are among the worlds entered into by writers shortlisted for the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize.

The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize is the UK’s second largest playwriting prize after the Bruntwood Prize, and aims to find the next great comedy play. As well as being presented with £10,000, the winning writer will have their play considered for production by Liverpool’s Royal Court, while up to two Highly Commended writers will win £1,500.All entries are judged anonymously.

The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize is run in partnership with Liverpool Hope University, and Liverpool’s Royal Court. The Stage and The Liverpool Echo are official media partners for the 2017 competition.

Shortlisted writers from the inaugural 2015 Prize have gone on to carve successful careers in the theatre industry.

Katie Mulgrew, winner of the first Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize, currently has her play Omnibus in production with Liverpool’s Royal Court and the Unity Theatre, with tickets on sale soon. Ian Salmon’s Highly Commended The Comeback Special will be performed at Liverpool’s Capstone Theatre in March, while shortlisted Michael Ross’s play Happy To Help was performed at Park Theatre London in 2016.

This year’s judging panel includes Frank Cottrell Boyce (Screenwriter and Author), Alistair Smith (Editor, The Stage), Catherine Jones (Arts Editor, Liverpool Echo), Amanda Whittington (Playwright), Les Dennis (Actor, Comedian and Writer), Kevin Fearon (Chief Executive, Liverpool’s Royal Court), Katie Mulgrew (Comedian and winner of the first Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize), Paul Allen (Playwright and Critic), and Dr John Bennett (Principal Lecturer, Drama and Theatre Studies, Liverpool Hope University).

The winner of the 2017 competition will be revealed at Liverpool’s Royal Court theatre in March 2017.

Kevin Fearon, Executive Producer, Liverpool’s Royal Court, added: “The standard was very high this year and the final judging session was both difficult and enjoyable because of that. The competition’s last winner is being produced by us at Unity Theatre, which has been a catalyst for a new relationship between the two theatres. We are looking forward to meeting the winner of this year’s prize so we can work together to bring the play to the stage.”

Dr John Bennett, Principal Lecturer in Drama at Liverpool Hope said: “The judges’ meeting was very exciting with nine of us trying to find the best play from an impressive shortlist. All the scripts in the final selection reminded us of how powerful comedy can be as a vehicle for social comment, as well as the much-needed belly laugh of a good night out.”

 The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize 2017 – The Shortlist

The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere:  Simon Bradbury, London

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.

Actor and writer Simon was born in Salford. He was a member of the Manchester Youth Theatre and studied at the Drama Centre London before moving to Canada where he spent 16 years with The Shaw Festival Theatre. His play about Chaplin was programmed for their Courthouse season in 2002. Simon now resides back in the UK. He has acted in a number of Shakespeare productions, and has starred in the TV shows Arrow, Fringe and Stargate: Arc of Truth. He also starred in Moliere’s Tartuffe at The Stratford Festival.  He is working in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil until the end of February 2017.

The Elementary Occult: Christopher Jordan, Halifax

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 trained at The Poor School and has been acting for ten years. He has starred in Emmerdale, Jimmy McGovern’s Moving On, and BBC 3’s In the Flesh. He has performed on stage around the UK, including the role of George Tesman (Understudied and Played) alongside Sheridan Smith in Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic. He was also a finalist in Channel 4’s So You Think You’re Funny competition. Most recently, he has appeared in Two Pence to Cross the Mersey at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre and Noises Off at Liverpool’s Royal Court and The Nottingham Playhouse.

A Prayer to Saint Cajetan: Gerry Linford, Ellesmere Port

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. He has written a number of films. These include Buddha Boy for BBC Wales and What’s The Story which he also acted in alongside Darren Day. A Prayer To Saint Cajetan is the first stage play Gerry has written, and is inspired by actual events from Gerry’s childhood – plus some creative license!

Mummy’s Boy: Stewart McDonald, Liverpool

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.

Paulo & Me: Ian Nightingale, Ormskirk, Lancashire

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 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 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.

Absoluted: Neil Walden, Gloucestershire

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.

Top row l-r – Simon Bradbury, Christopher Jordan, Gerry Linford

Bottom row l-r – Stewart McDonald, Ian Nightingale, Neil Walden

Comedy and The Velvet Glove

Iain Christie, Marketing Manager at Liverpool’s Royal Court, makes the case for comedy as one of the best ways to make social and political comment.

Last Friday 3.5 million people watched the ten o’clock news. Just an hour earlier 5.2 million watched Have I Got News For You.

I was one of the 1.7 million who switched off between the two as I’d had my fill of news from Paul Merton and Ian Hislop so I didn’t need to stick around to get the more straight-laced version.

The biggest problem that news has is that it’s boring. It doesn’t make you smile, it doesn’t make you sing. It’s just not entertaining.

More and more people are turning to comedy and satire to find out what is going on in the world. In America The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver highlight serious issues every week while the news channels fill the hours with bluster and opinion.

Many Americans watch Comedy Central for news and Fox News for entertainment.

As I was growing up, the vast majority of my news and current affairs came from television shows like Spitting Image and HIGNFY as well as radio such as The Now Show and Dead Ringers. Private Eye was always lying around at home and I started off reading the cartoons before graduating to the articles for further political insight.

Spitting Image was particularly good at creating a shorthand for politicians. You knew who held each cabinet post because you could see them being lampooned on a Sunday Night, which in turn helped wider political debate around the country. The caricatures were merciless and David Steel’s portrayal as a tiny man who lived in David Owen’s pocket was so damaging that he believed it ended his political career.

Much laughter comes from shared experiences. The comedian or actor puts forward a situation and the audience show their understanding and affinity through laughter. That laughter in a group situation shows the audience member that they are not alone and that can lead to discussion and debate.

The point of all of this worthy waffle is that comedy can be very, very effective for getting a point across. Whether it is a political one or a social one comedy can reach people in way that speeches and lectures can’t.

The judges for the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize are looking for something to make them laugh. This could be silly or witty, clever or stupid but don’t be put off by the idea that comedy is less worthwhile than drama.

Recently we produced Alan Bleasdale’s Down The Dock Road and we saw how powerful drama can contain great moments of comedy. Audiences remember Alan’s Boys From The Blackstuff and talk about it with great fondness. Their memories are of a very funny programme that kept them entertained on a Sunday night in spite of the fact that it was a hard hitting political drama with some elements of comedy.

Down The Dock Road was the same. Audiences were visibly taken aback by the political nature of the show but there was enough humour in there to keep them listening. The message came through much more clearly as the audience was more receptive.

Many playwrights want to change the world but, at the moment especially, the world is full of comedians calling for change. If you are looking to enter the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize then you don’t need to abandon serious ideas or messages, just make them funny!

Liverpool’s Royal Court

Find out how last year’s winner Katie is preparing her play for the stage

“Write the sort of play you’d camp outside overnight in the freezing cold to get tickets to.”

Michael Ross, shortlisted for the 2015 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize for Happy to Help, gives us his honest reflection on life as a playwright, and why the sacrifice may just be worth it. 

Following the Liverpool Hope Prize ceremony last year I managed to scrape my sobbing form from off the floor and I am now pleased to report that whilst my short-listed play Happy To Help lost out on the ten grand prize money (no, really, I’m fine!) and a run at the Royal Court Liverpool, it will instead premiere this June at the Park Theatre, London, for a four week run. A satirical comedy about the supermarket industry, it’s crammed full of love, death, betrayal, revenge, mistaken identity and tinned baked beans; all the classic Shakespearean tropes.

This March, I had my play Protect and Survive at London’s Vault Festival. Taking place in a warren of tunnels deep below Waterloo Station, the Vault Festival is the ideal location for a Cold War drama set in an underground nuclear bunker. I’m frankly useless at describing my own plays. In attempting to summarise the plot during auditions, I got promptly scoffed at by my director (Andrew Pritchard) for making it sound like “Love, Actually in a bunker” because I focused on the love-triangle aspect of the play instead of all the death, violence and nuclear paranoia it’s mostly concerned with. Suffice to say, it definitely isn’t Love, Actually in a bunker.

Anyway, I’ve been asked to share any techniques, tips or tricks for budding writers I may possess. But a spot of housekeeping first; if you wish to know the secret of becoming a truly successful playwright then please cease reading now and direct your enquiries instead to Richard Bean or Sir Tom Stoppard. If, however, you aspire to be a lonely, debt-ridden shop assistant who writes fruitlessly in his free time, then look no further, comrades; for I am your role model!

Here are the 3 steps towards becoming a playwright just like me.

Step 1: Relinquish any semblance of a personal life. Drinks after work? Romance on the weekend? Forget about it! Writing is now your controlling and slightly abusive partner who will only reluctantly unlock the front door to allow you outside for rare forays to the theatre (research purposes only, not entertainment!). Always best to go alone so you can fully focus on the play and correctly identify the relevant ‘inciting incident’ and ‘point of no return’ when they occur, but if you must be accompanied by someone else then for God’s sake make sure it’s another writer! That way the two of you can joylessly dissect the play’s narrative in the bar afterwards (over lemonade!) before you traipse off home (separately!). But then, who knows; if you make it big one day you might get to date sultry screen siren Marilyn Monroe or tempestuous twink Lord Alfred Douglas. In the meantime, get used to your own company.

Step 2: Write a play. Write the sort of play you’d camp outside overnight in the freezing cold to get tickets to. Because if you love it then there’s always the vague glimmer of hope some other freak might like it too. What do you think you are? Some kind of unique and precious snowflake?

Step 3: So you’ve written your first play? Congratulations! Go on, treat yourself to a glass of wine. No, that’s enough now! Ok, now it’s time to pop your script in the post to some of those really posh theatres- because you just never know, you could be the next overnight sensation like Shelagh Delaney or Polly Stenham, you could be interviewed in The Observer and everything! Hang on, what’s that thudding through the letterbox? Oops! Still, you’ve written the damn thing so it’d be tragic to let it go to waste. Why not Google any am-dram societies/youth theatres/satanic covens in your area and see if any are particularly desperate for royalty-free plays to perform? If all else fails, find a room above a pub and put the damn thing on yourself. Then sit at the back and watch the audience. Are they laughing? (Genuinely laughing, not just out of politeness, or because their friend Dolly said the word ‘knickers’?) Any sighs, groans, fidgeting, yawns or walk-outs? Have you found the experience unexpectedly humiliating? Fantastic! This means you’ll write a leaner, sharper, funnier play next time.

Congratulations, you are now a fully qualified playwright!

Oh I’m sorry, were you expecting something more? Your name in lights? A publishing deal with Faber and Faber? Money? (What are you?- some kind of filthy capitalist?) Nope, this is it. Keep going. Year in, year out. Forever. Fail again, fail better.

Michael Ross on twitter: @MichaelAliRoss

Michael Ross – official website