For me, the joy of reading this first round of plays lies in the knowledge that once a writer hits send and their script wings it way to Bruntwood HQ, this is the start of a play’s journey out in the big wide world.
A play comes into its own when it is shared with someone else.
Having emerged from its cocoon, every single script and writer is on a level playing field. From the moment a script is downloaded, it has as much chance as the next to progress through to the second, third, fourth round and so on until it is put through its paces in rehearsals and brought to life at the Royal Exchange. It has always been my belief that theatre is unique in the importance of its relationship with an audience; in this instance, a falling tree in the forest makes no sound when there is nobody there to hear it.
Every time I start to read a new script I am always filled with hope and the excitement that this, in my hands, is the game changer and might be the eventual winner of the competition. I will it from the bottom of my gut.
At this stage I am not looking for the perfect script. Instead, it needs to show promise. Of course, there are things that I look out for: an original voice, intriguing subject matter or narrative, innovative form or structure, captivating characters or, crucially, something that makes me see the world in a different light. Personally, genre is not important: it might make me laugh out loud on the tube, cry with a cup of tea in my hand, terrify me into hiding under my duvet or even pick up my phone and call my mum. So long as it affects me then it enthrals.
Wishlist was one such script. I was lucky enough to have been the first round reader for it and the feeling of opening that anonymous script up for the first time and reading it has really stayed with me. At the time of reading, I had just ordered a book from a particularly draconian online retailer that may or not be named after a river/rainforest in South America. Like a lot of people, ordering books from this online shop was a regular occurrence for me: it was convenient, cheap and I had books at my fingertips that were hard to find in most bookstores. However, throughout reading Wishlist, the guilt ate away at me as this faceless, magical mystery delivery service was humanized and its ethics brought into sharp relief. Whilst it would be dishonest to say that I have subsequently never used this online retailer again, I do now do everything I possibly can to avoid it.
The play’s ability to shift my perceptions, in conjunction with its humanity, captivated me. At the heart of the narrative is a sister caring for her brother, who sacrifices her life for him and who, in herself, is wanting more. I marveled at the way the writer pitched and crafted the play: she contrasted large, relevant issues such as the welfare system and mental health with the domestic. It was interrogative and heartfelt without being sentimental. It made me laugh, it worried me, it made me think and it made me feel.
Coming into this year’s award I was conscious of avoiding comparison. Every play I read, I read with an open mind. I consider each play on its individual merit: I enjoy being challenged and surprised but more than anything else I look for writing which is honest and heartfelt; you can always tell when a writer believes in what they are writing about and if that’s the case, then that’s half the battle won.
Anthony is a freelance director and dramaturg. He was the inaugural Laboratory Associate Director at Nuffield Southampton Theatres as funded by the BBC Performing Arts Fellowship. Previous to this he was a Jerwood Director at the Young Vic, assisting and directing there. He has also worked at the Royal Court, Chichester Festival Theatre, Bush Theatre, HighTide Festival, Orange Tree Theatre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He works regularly with new writing and contributes as a reader and dramaturg for various theatres, companies and writers.