Plays about the interrogation of Saddam Hussein, crimes against the climate and a script with “one of the most eye-popping sex scenes in recent theatre history” are among the finalists for this year’s Susan Smith Blackburn prize for female, transgender and non-binary playwrights.
Four British playwrights are among the 10 shortlisted writers. Beth Steel and Frances Poet are both nominated for plays whose British productions were postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic, while Dawn King is recognised for a script that is yet to be staged at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. Janice Okoh is nominated for The Gift, which finished a UK tour just before the national lockdown began last March.
The Gift, directed by Dawn Walton, was staged as part of an initiative from the black-led touring company Eclipse to tell hidden histories and put black narratives at the heart of British theatre. It focuses on Sarah Bonetta Davies, the 19th-century Yoruba princess who was orphaned and enslaved before becoming the goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Poet’s play Maggie May, about the family life of a woman with Alzheimer’s, is a co-production by Leeds Playhouse, Leicester Curve and Queen’s theatre, Hornchurch. Directed by Jemima Levick, it closed in March after three previews because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The House of Shades, written by Beth Steel (Wonderland), spans several decades in a working-class family and was to have been directed by Blanche McIntyre, with Anne-Marie Duff leading the cast, at the Almeida theatre in London. King, best known for her dystopian play Foxfinder, has been shortlisted for The Trials, which imagines a teenage jury in the near future weighing the fate of adult defendants accused of crimes against the climate.
More than 160 plays were nominated for this year’s award, which recognises “works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre”. The other finalists, put forward by American and Australian theatre organisations, are Erika Dickerson-Despenza (for the play cullud wattah, about the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan), Miranda Rose Hall (for the environmental drama A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction), Kimber Lee (for The Water Palace, about the interrogation of Saddam Hussein in 2004), Ife Olujobi (Jordans, about subverted power and unleashed rage), Jiehae Park (The Aves, a tragicomic play about ageing) and Glace Chase (Triple X, which is set in New York and promises “one of the most eye-popping sex scenes in recent theatre history”).
Leslie Swackhamer, the executive director of the prize, said: “These plays are fierce, brave and compelling. These are strong and utterly unique voices which celebrate theatricality and our common humanity. Many of these playwrights had their plays postponed, cancelled and interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now more important than ever to celebrate their work.”
The judges for the prize are the theatre directors Natalie Abrahami, Lileana Blain-Cruz and Seema Sueko, the actors Paapa Essiedu and Jason Butler Harner, and designer Bunny Christie.
The winner will be announced in early April and receives a cash prize of $25,000 and a signed print by the artist Willem de Kooning. Last year the prize was won by Lucy Prebble for A Very Expensive Poison, based on Guardian journalist Luke Harding’s book about the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
— to www.theguardian.com