On the Bruntwood Prize readers 2019
UPDATED: 17TH JUNE with new reader stats on taking on greater numbers of readers for the record 2019 entries All plays are submitted anonymously to…
All plays are submitted anonymously to the Bruntwood Prize and are read by an expert panel of readers appointed by the Royal Exchange Theatre. There is an extensive five stage process to the reading before creating the shortlist. The readers as a cohort have a broad range of experiences and specialisms to try and give each submitted script the best chance.
The cohort of readers is made up of theatre professionals, skilled in reading scripts. They include directors, designers, dramaturges and literary managers at leading producing theatres, actors, national critics and theatre commentators and previous Bruntwood Prize winners.
As each script proceeds through the phases of reading it is addressed by a diverse team of readers. The Royal Exchange manages the reading process to ensure that each script is seen by readers with different ages, genders, work history, ethnicities and interests. The aim of the Prize is to find great plays in whatever shape or form they appear so the entry criteria are deliberately broad to allow first time writers and more experienced playwrights to be assessed on a level footing. We hope that in carefully administrating the reader demographics we ensure no script is overlooked due to an unconscious bias towards a particular way to tell a story.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first agreed to read for the Bruntwood prize. I know that I like to read plays. Living in Cardiff, where not a lot of national work tours means that more often than not I end up reading plays rather than getting to see them. I hoped that I’d be fair and give each of the plays a chance. As a writer who entered the prize previously, I felt a sense of comradeship with all of the writers who send their work in to be read. As an experienced playwright I still find giving my work for others to read a strangely difficult and exposing thing and as a reader, I wanted to be respectful of that process for the writers. I didn’t imagine how eye-opening I would find the process regarding my own work and how a reader might receive it.
I have read for phase two for the past three prizes and I really like reading at this stage because there’s still huge variety in the work. The first year I read, I remember feeling excited waiting for the plays to come through. I really wanted to find one of the winners. I’ve yet to but I have had a couple in the final ten. I take an unentitled pride in that. Generally the plays come through in groups, rather than singularly so you are faced with a handful of titles. The title starts me thinking about what the play might be and as I start reading I imagine who the playwright might be. I read every play start to finish, around thirty plays. I read them on a kindle, in a quiet room, when the kids are in school, usually lying on my settee, with my dog and a notebook by my side. More often than not I know within the first five or ten pages whether this will be a yes, no or maybe. Sometimes you know from the first page, sometimes you think it’s a yes and by the time you get to the end it’s a no. Occasionally you can read the whole play and not know either way. When that happens, I always go back to the play and re- read it a few days later. If I really can’t decide then I tend to put it through for another read – the joy of reading for phase two makes that possible. Some plays jump out at you because they are already fully formed plays and are easy to read, others are a more complicated read but the passion for the subject matter comes through the writing or there’s something about the way the story is being told that’s exciting and stands out. At phase two, I’m looking for something that grabs me and keeps me hooked or intrigues or says something new to me.
My play Bird got through to the final ten in 2013 and was a judges prize winner that year. It was a first draft so the play wasn’t brilliantly formed, the structure and story weren’t fully realised and there was a lot wrong with it but I think the heart of it was always there. From the very start I really cared passionately about my characters in the play and I think that passion and feeling comes through in the writing and gives the reader a confidence in the work.
The standard of writing in phase two can be high. Sometimes really high. This year I felt I put through more of the plays for a further read than I have in the previous years. A month on from finishing phase two and a few of the plays I put through have stayed with me. One in particular. Like Bird I think it was an early draft, that hadn’t settled into a structure or fully formed story but there was a drive and urgency in the writing that keep me wanting to know more about the characters and hear what the writer had to say. Quite often you can have a number of plays with similar subject matters. This play was about radicalisation and racism, a few of the plays I read were about racism but this play was really driven and angry.
Like the playwrights who enter their work, I’ll keep an eye out for the long list announcement. I’ll look through the list to see if there are any titles I recognize from my read. I’ll do the same when the shortlist is announced. I attend the prize announcement and it’s always interesting to see who wrote a play that you might have put through. I hope that one of the plays I put through will win it.
Katherine is an award-winning writer working in theatre, film and television.
Twice a finalist for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn prize with her plays ‘Before it Rains’ and ‘Parallel Lines’. Katherine was awarded the judges prize in the Bruntwood prize for playwriting for her play ‘Bird’. Bird was coproduced by Manchester Royal Exchange and Sherman Theatre, a first collaboration between the two companies and received critical acclaim. Her play ‘Thick as Thieves’ was co produced this year by Clean Break Theatre and Theatr Clwyd and most recently ‘Lose Yourself’ was produced by Sherman Theatre.
Katherine was the inaugural winner of the BBC and National Theatre Wales, Wales Drama Award and has worked a number of times with both companies. BBC iPlayer released Katherine’s first film, ‘Tag’, as part of the BBC3/BBC iPlayer drama launch. She has worked with BBC Drama on both EastEnders and Casualty and is developing a project with BBC Wales. Her first Radio Drama, ‘Found’ is being transmitted in August 2019.
National Theatre Wales are touring Katherine’s Love Letter to the NHS, ‘Peggy’s Song’, in Autumn 2019 and she is currently working on new commissions with National Theatre Wales and BBC Drama.