The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting – part two


The winners of ‘The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting’ competition, which has been running since January, have just been chosen! I’ll hand over to Jennifer Tuckett of Central St Martins to tell you more and to announce the names of the winners. 

I’m pleased to be writing to announce the winners of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, the new competition from the Bush Theatre, Oberon Books, the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and Writers at Work Productions.

Entries were received from all over the UK for the competition, which provided writers with the opportunity to follow lesson plans written by those leading the way in the industry prior to sending in their play.

Workshop1There are 5 winners chosen from 4 categories: schools, Universities, emerging writer and general writer.

University entries included entries from Edinburgh, Manchester, Aberystwyth, York, Leeds, Reading, Greenwich, East Anglia, RADA, Birkbeck, Brunel, Central School of Speech and Drama, Durham, Central Saint Martins, Open College of the Arts, Queen Mary, Bangor, Cambridge, University of the Arts London and others. Schools entries included entries from schools in Colchester, Rugby, London and others. Emerging and general entries were sent from all over the UK.

One of the things we were most pleased about was how many entrants commented on how useful the lesson plans had been, which are written by those who have led the way in the industry in terms of playwriting training, including Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme, Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights, Lucy Kerbel, founder of the Platform project for writing for young girls, Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre, Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation, and others.

As much of the training coming out of the industry hasn’t been published, it can be hard to know what is being taught and thought about, especially if you’re not based in London, so we’re delighted to be able to provide access to some of this training for the first time.

The Student Guide to Writing photoThe impact this can have is massive as well – for example at a University where I used to work I saw student numbers studying playwriting rise from 0 when I joined the University (which had attempted to teach playwriting before to no success) to 8 in the modules’ first year to 40 in the modules’ second year to 80 in the modules’ third year, with many of the graduates winning awards or securing attachment programmes at professional theatres.

And, so, without further ado, the winners from The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting are….

Schools category: Vee Thomas, Colchester Grammar School

University category: Titilola Dawudu, Central Saint Martins, and Monique Geraghty, Queen Mary, University of London

Emerging/general category: Mufaro Makubika, based in Nottingham, and Miriam Battye, based in Salford, Greater Manchester

According to Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre: “The breadth and quality of submissions has been inspiring and the five very different and deserving winners have written with real vibrancy. I was impressed and heartened to see so many writers asking big questions of the world we live in and am looking forward to getting to know them and their plays over the coming months. The Bush is proud to partner on a competition that reflects the plurality of our culture and shines a light on stories and writers that aren’t always visible. I can’t wait to join in celebrating all the winners at London Writers’ Week in July.”

George Spender, Senior Editor at Oberon Books, said: “It’s a delight to see so many entries, and for all these writers to be engaging intelligently with these lesson plans. The diversity, scope, and ambition of these winning plays is to be applauded.”

The personal favourite things I noticed from the entries were: ideas/plays that were about something (often this was an exploration of a theme or idea that it felt the writer was passionate about – I think Rob’s and Ola’s advice in lesson plan one and two to think about what issues you are passionate about and what would be the one play you’d write before you die was excellent advice), use of structure/plays that held our attention the whole way through, and use of theatricality/plays that used the stage/the medium of theatre in exciting ways.

Workshop2The winner’s work will be shown as part of London Writers Week at Central Saint Martins in July, whose full schedule will be announced in early May.

Following this, the lesson plans and winners’ work will be published by Oberon Books at the end of 2016, in addition to another volume “Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters” which will provide key advice across all forms of dramatic writing from those leading the way in the industry.

For more information on the competition or to sign up for the mailing list to be kept informed on the forthcoming production, please go to:

Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters” is also available to pre-order at and “The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting” will be published at the end of 2016, which will include the lesson plans and winning writers’ work in one volume to provide permanent access to the lesson plans and the leading training for the first time. In the meantime, below is a highlights film from the launch event, which hopefully provides some more useful advice. We hope you will join us in July to see the winner’s work and for the final free workshop on The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting and chance to get feedback on your plays.

Jennifer Tuckett

Arnold Wesker

There are numerous playwrights whose output includes masterpieces and other plays which are less well regarded. Pinero, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, Tennessee Williams included.

Arnold Wesker July 2007 ©NOBBY CLARK

Arnold Wesker by Nobby Clark

From history, Lope de Vega and Shakespeare are also “fine” examples of prolific playwrights, some of whose work attracts less interest today. How could it be otherwise? Lope, for example, wrote some 1500 plays, around 450 remain extant, but only a few remain in the repertory, notably Fuente Ovejuna. Perhaps Lope churned them out for money, recycled a good many too. Yet in death all these great playwrights are respected and revered. Where would theatre be without them today? Arnold Wesker has joined that distinguished company.

How easy it is, and glib, to say he wrote a few good plays and sneer at the rest? My response is ‘you try writing a few good plays!’ Arnold did more than that, he wrote several masterpieces.

Among the many playwrights I have had the privilege of publishing Arnold has a special place in my heart. With his wife Dusty he was a charming host and impossible not to like. The twinkle in his eye, and in his smile, his razor-sharp logic, told me that he knew himself well, and knew rather more about the possibilities of theatre than some of his critics.

Alongside his contemporaries like Osborne and Bond, Arnold was a leader, a political force whose plays transformed modern theatre. At times he was an energetic activist, never afraid to take on the establishment within the theatre – and, believe it, there is such an establishment which confers favour on the faithful and stifles opposition. I remember an actor who some years ago told me that among a cast of sixteen he was the only one who hadn’t been to Oxford. (The director also went to Oxford.) The outsider was cast (tolerated) for his regional accent!

Wesker photo by Leon Kreel

Arnold Wesker by Leon Kreel

Arnold was one of my heroes in the theatre. He was never one to roll over when angered or bullied. Some call it biting the hand that feeds you. Others call it telling the truth.

Sir Arnold Wesker always told the truth. I shall miss him.

James Hogan

Love, loss, grief, absence – Abi Morgan: Plays One

The first collection of plays by Abi Morgan – playwright and screenwriter of Suffragette, The Iron Lady, and Brick Lane – has just been published by Oberon Books. Abi has written plays for the Royal Exchange Studio Theatre Manchester, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Court, London.
In this piece, written to introduce the collection, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, looks at these collected plays as a whole, and discusses the connections between the ideas, emotions and characters she finds within them, reoccurring across the five plays.

9781783191819The absence is hard,’ says Sister Ursula in 27, before qualifying her statement: ‘The absence of nothing is hard.’ This middle-aged nun might be talking about God, but she is also giving voice to a common sentiment in this collection of Abi Morgan’s plays. Again and again, Morgan constructs her narratives around losses and absences, hollow centres and negative spaces.

In Splendour, the earliest work published here, the absence at the heart of the play is immediately apparent. Four women are trapped together in a dictator’s palace during a civil war in an unnamed Eastern European country, united only by the missing tyrant himself. Kathryn, a photojournalist, has come to take his portrait; Gilda, the local translator, has driven her there; Micheleine, the dictator’s wife, waits for his return; Genevieve, her friend, was married to one of his lieutenants. Oolio – military leader, tyrant and husband – is a black hole in the heart of the drama, a centre of gravity that draws these four different women together.

The next play, Tiny Dynamite, is also haunted by a character we never see: the girl who was loved and lost by Lucien and Anthony, and who still binds them together, even though their lives have sharply diverged since childhood. Unlike Micheleine’s brittle, forced anecdotes about Oolio, Lucien and Anthony’s stories of their missing love spill out in a tumble of words. They cannot help talking about her: it’s their way of keeping her alive.

Abi Morgan

Abi Morgan

In Tender, the half-dozen characters whose lives brush past each other in chance encounters include one of the disappeared – Marvin, who has left his marriage with Gloria to live in hostels, scratching out a living as a domestic cleaner. But where we might expect yearning for the life and loved ones he has abandoned, we don’t get one. Like Anthony the drifter in Tiny Dynamite, Marvin sees dropping out as a renunciation, rather than a loss: he is free.

And so he resists rejoining conventional society, even when the outwardly successful but desperately lonely Nathan – who has experienced a loss of his own – tries to take him to dinner. He tells Nathan about the other men at the hostel. ‘Sometimes one of them will go and cry out in the night. Sometimes I just sit, even lie next to them, hold their hand, great big men holding hands, I never thought I’d see it, not like you think, just giving people company, being almost tender and I stay with them until the morning.’ Most times, he tells Nathan, the men wet the bed or wake up shouting for a drink, which jolts him awake.

‘Are you happy?’ asks Nathan. Marvin thinks only for a second: ‘…I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.’

These unexpected words exactly echo those of Anthony in Tiny Dynamite. ‘Don’t be sorry,’ he tells Madeleine, the fruitseller who has disrupted his friendship with Lucien, just as the unnamed girl did many summers earlier. ‘The funniest thing is I’m happy. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.’ Both Anthony and Marvin have learned that clinging on to other people doesn’t bring them reassurance, or assuage their loneliness. Freedom is what brings them happiness. (And perhaps Marvin’s abandoned wife, Gloria, fears his return as much as she outwardly hopes for it? She has painstakingly rebuilt her life without him, after all.)27 Cover.indd

Fittingly, the collection has its own gap – a ten-year period between 2001 and 2011, during which Morgan wrote several screenplays, including Brick Lane and The Iron Lady. The first three plays in this collection – Splendour, Tiny Dynamite, Tender – date from 2000-2001, and the final two, Lovesong and 27, from 2011.

The temptation is, inevitably, to split the work into two distinct periods, or to look for traces of Morgan’s screenwriting experience in the later plays. But that is too simplistic an approach, particularly since there is formal innovation and an awareness of the visual in the plays from the start.

Tiny Dynamite crackles with electricity, both metaphorically and literally, through the stage lighting. Splendour is even more formally daring: a dynamic, densely woven play. The action regularly freezes and replays from another point of view, and each actor has a soliloquy addressed directly to the audience. When I saw its revival at the Donmar Warehouse in 2015, the staging was minimalist; as directed in the text, with the muffled sound of mortars punctuating the scenes. Against this background, there were vivid, specific objects – a red vase, a Lion King DVD – as well as the unseen painting that preoccupies Kathyrn’s artistic eye.

9781783199136At times, Splendour can feel like a high-speed ballet, or perhaps a cuckoo clock with the characters on tracks, moving back and forth on predetermined grooves. Ten years later, Lovesong develops this idea further, in a spare text which was accompanied in its first performance by choreography from the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly. The characters – a couple who are shown at the start and end of their lives together – can touch, but not speak, across the years that separate them. As the two timeframes weave past each other, the young Margaret and old Bill and the young William and old Maggie wind around each other in the physical space of the stage. The hollow centre here is the years that pass, unseen by the audience. We see Margaret and William’s hopes for the future, and we see what became of those hopes. The juxtaposition is heartbreaking. (The reviews focused heavily on the need to take a hankie to the theatre.)

In the final play in the collection, 27, the themes of loss and absence are muted, but still present. Sister Ursula fears losing her mind, following her parents in an early decline into dementia. She also feels that the nuns’ way of life itself is ebbing away, unsustainable in the modern world. ‘My greatest fear is to be left, the last nun standing, remote in hand, shouting quiz answers at the TV screen,’ she tells Richard, the scientist who has come to study her sisters’ brains.

Helen Lewis headshot by Charlie Forgham-Bailey

Helen Lewis – headshot by Charlie Forgham-Bailey

Love, loss, grief, absence – these are plays which are unafraid to explore emotions which are usually politely hidden. But the pathos never overwhelms you: spots of light and humour break through, even in the darkest moments.

And while the dramas here are often domestic, they are not small or insignificant. They prove the old adage: life is a series of goodbyes. As Gloria tells the pregnant Hen in Tender: ‘Kids and love and electric bills aren’t really that important. What’s holding us together is very fragile indeed.’

Abi Morgan’s single plays and new collection are all available from

Sheridan Morley Prize Shortlist Announced

Sheridan Morley

Sheridan Morley

The Shortlist for the 2016 Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography has been announced, and we’re delighted to see Peter Whitebrook’s new biography of John Osborne included in the line up of five. John Osborne: Anger is Not About… was published in October 2015 and has been widely praised since.

‘Whitebrook’s account is readable and pacy. He writes with insight and clarity, and is especially good at sketching out the social, cultural and political context of the playwright’s life and times.’ Aleks Sierz, Tribune Magazine

The other nominees are James Shapiro for 1606 William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, David Hare for The Blue Touch Paper, Qais Akbar Omar and Stephen Landrigan for A Night in the Emperor’s Garden and Michael Pennington for Let Me Play The Lion/How to Be an Actor.

The judging panel includes Kika Markham, who was indeed shortlisted herself for last year’s award for Our Time of Day: My Life with Colin Redgrave. Previous recipients of the prestigeous prize include Dominic Dromgoole, Sir Michael Holroyd, Simon Callow, Stephen Sondheim, Rupert Everett and Michael Blakemore.


‘As Peter Whitebrook’s thoroughly researched biography of John Osborne so ably demonstrates, the legacy of one of the most significant writers of the 20th century is simultaneously both invigorating and sad… a readable biography that goes rather further than one might expect’ British Theatre Guide

‘Whitebrook takes the reader through every peak and trough of a story that has plenty of both… There are also some fine anecdotes that deserve re-telling.’  Keith Bruce, Herald Scotland


Click here to read an exclusive extract in the Independent.

Established in 2008 to honour Sheridan Morley’s career as an author who specialised in biographies of actors, directors, and theatre and film personalities, including his own memoir, Asking for Trouble. The 2016 Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography will be awarded in a ceremony on 2nd March at the Garrick Club in London. The winner receives a £2,000 cash prize. We’re wishing Peter Whitebrook all the best from everyone at Oberon Books!

Click here to learn more about the Sheridan Morley Prize.

New Awards, Nominations and Prizes

The winners of the 2016 Critic’s Circle Theatre Awards were announced on Tuesday 26th January at a ceremony held at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End.

Here at Oberon Books we were delighted to see so many of our wonderfully talented writers and their colleagues represented among the nominees and winners of the evening. 


Best Actress was given to Denise Gough for her incredible performace as ‘Emma’ in Duncan Macmillan‘s play about recovering addicts People, Places and Things. Denise said of its success; “I’m under no illusion: our play is transferring because of our amazing reviews as well as word of mouth. I’m very grateful for what it means for this play.”
The West End transfer of People, Places and Things is running at the Wyndham’s Theatre from 15th March – 4th June 2016.

Robert Icke was awarded Best Director for his epic 3 hour 40 minute adaptation of Oresteia, which was part of the Almeida Greek season, before transferring to Trafalgar studios.

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer went to David Moorst, for his portrayal of 17 year-old Liam in Gary Owen‘s play Violence and Son. Moorst also took home the Emerging Talent awards at the 2015 London Evening Standard Awards – clearly one to watch!


Elsewhere, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has also announced the finalists for its 2015–16 playwriting award, the oldest and largest prize given to female playwrights.

The ten finalists – narrowed down from over 150 – include Rachel Cusk for Medea, and fellow Oberon playwright Dominique Morisseau for Skeleton Crew. We’ll have our fingers firmly crossed for these two talented women! The winner will be announced at the Awards Presentation on 22nd February at the National Theatre in London.

The Student Guide to Playwriting

Jennifer Tuckett is Course Leader for Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martin’s new MA Dramatic Writing. Previously, she founded the UK’s first formally industry partnered MA in Playwriting and last year was a finalist for the Women of the Future Arts and Culture Award.
We asked Jennifer to write a piece for our blog about a new playwriting competition and accompanying book which she’s helped spearhead, and explain how you can get involved. 

scene 1I’m really delighted to be asked to write a blog about The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting.

Jennifer Tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting is the first in a new competition series from the Bush Theatre, Oberon Books, the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and Writers at Work Productions and has now launched at

We’re really excited about the competition series, which we hope will provide access for the first time to the leading dramatic writing training coming out of the industry.

Writers can enter from schools, universities, or elsewhere (as we want to encourage anyone to be a student of playwriting) or teachers can teach the lesson plans in class.

All you have to do is follow the lesson plans then send your work in. Five winners will then be chosen to attend a bootcamp on playwriting at Central Saint Martins, see their work showcased at London Writers Week and the lesson plans and winning work will then be published by Oberon Books!

An outline of the first competition’s shape and contents can be found below:

10 leading professionals have now committed to writing lesson plans as part of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, to provide access to their training.

The lesson plans will be published via the website

Lesson plans will be released from January to March 2016 and will be:

Lesson Plan One: Starting Out – Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg, Bush Theatre

Lesson Plan Two: Ideas – Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s world famous young writers programme

John Yorke

John Yorke

Lesson Plan Three: Structure – John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers Academy, one of the most influential writing training programmes in the industry in recent years, and author of the best selling book on storytelling Into the Woods

Lesson Plan Four: Scenes – Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader of MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins

Lesson Plan Five: Characterisation – Rebecca Lenkiewicz, playwright and mentor from the Bush Theatre

Finn Kennedy

Finn Kennedy

Lesson Plan Six: Dialogue – Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights and Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company

Lesson Plan Seven: Theatricality – Steve Winter, co-founder of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot Exchange and Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation

Lesson Plan Eight: Rewriting – Caroline Jester, former Dramaturg at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and author of Playwriting Across the Curriculum

Lesson Plan Nine: Staging Your Work – Caroline Horton, writer, director, actor and mentor from the Bush Theatre

Lesson Plan Ten: Final Advice – Lucy Kerbel – founder of Tonic Theatre and creator of Platform

Students and their teachers can follow the lesson plans to build up a play week by week.

At the end of the project the lesson plans and winning work will be published by Oberon Books to provide a book for use by students and teachers in schools and Universities across the UK to improve dramatic writing training the UK and provide permanent access to the leading training.

Please note there are four categories of winner: a schools category, a college and University category, an emerging writer category and anyone (two prizes will be awarded in this category) as the competition wants to recognize and encourage anyone to be a student of playwriting.

Rob Drummer BUSH

Rob Drummer

Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre Rob Drummer said: “We’re delighted to be partnering The Student Guide to Writing which forms part of our efforts to inspire and develop playwrights from a diverse range of backgrounds and to engage audiences nationally in new theatre writing.”

Senior Editor at Oberon Books George Spender, said: “All of us at Oberon are thrilled to be a part of this extremely exciting project that will no doubt have a tremendous influence on the next generation of writers and theatre makers.”

Jennifer Tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

Course Leader of MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins Jennifer Tuckett said: “The Student Guide to Writing is a new series designed to provide access to the best dramatic writing training in the UK. Teachers can use the lesson plans in classes or students can follow the lesson plans on their own. The winning student work will be published along with the lessons in a book published by Oberon Books as a permanent legacy of the project. We are thrilled about the partnership between Central Saint Martins, the Bush Theatre and Oberon Books on competition one, all of whom are leading the way in the UK.”

For further information please see

As part of the new partnership with Oberon Books, there will also be a second book for writers for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media offering more advanced advice from the industry across all forms of dramatic writing and offering access to the leading training coming out of the industry in all forms of dramatic writing for the first time:


Voices From The Armenian Genocide

Rebecca Maltby. Main image courtesy of Armenian National Institute Inc, courtesy of Sybil Stevens (daughter of Armin T. Wegner). Wegner Collection, Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Top image – Designed by Rebecca Maltby. Original image courtesy of Armenian National Institute Inc, courtesy of Sybil Stevens (daughter of Armin T. Wegner). Wegner Collection, Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. All other images – Scott Rylander.

Commemorating the centenary of the deportations that began the Armenian Genocide, I Wish To Die Singing – Voices From The Armenian Genocide is a controversial documentary drama uncovering the forgotten secrets and atrocities of a denied genocide – featuring eye-witness reportage, images, music, poetry from Armenia’s greatest poets, and verbatim survivors testimonies from one of the greatest historical injustices of all time.
In this piece, writer Neil McPherson reflects on his reasons for writing the play, his process, and the reactions he’s had.
(The below is taken and edited from Neil’s preface to the play text.) 

Armenian 2As far as I remember, the first time I ever heard about the Genocide was when I was eighteen and read Tim Cross’ The Lost Voices of World War One which included the work of three leading Armenian poets, all deported from Constantinople on April 24th 1915.

Seventeen years later, as Artistic Director at the Finborough Theatre in London, I was programming the theatre for the 2005 season. As usual, I researched the anniversaries that fell in that year as they can sometimes be a useful marketing hook for a production. When I learned that 2005 was the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I decided to search for a play that we could produce to commemorate it. All of the plays I could find were by Armenian-Americans. Most were very short, and focused on the experience of the Armenian diaspora in the United States. They all assumed that their audiences already possessed a good working knowledge of the Genocide.

Armenian 5But I quickly learnt that the Armenian Genocide was very far from common knowledge. Most people I spoke to had never heard of it. A very few had, but only vaguely, and then solely in relation to the Holocaust, rather than as an event in its own right. It was then that I started to learn about Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Genocide. I soon found myself reading all the evidence I could find to see if there was any merit in what the Turkish government insist on calling ‘the other side of the story’, so that I could make up my mind for myself.

In the end, it wasn’t the horror of the Genocide itself which forced me to try and tell this story, but Turkey’s denial of it. I needed to scream about how these wounds, hurt, anguish and grief were all intensified because of a blank-faced refusal to tell the truth. And if I wasn’t able to find a play that would do that, then I vowed to try and create one myself.

Armenian 4I called an old school friend who, with his customary generosity, lent me some rare books to get me started, and despite some death threats (always a sign that you’re doing something right), the 2005 production completely sold out its few performances. I decided to wait until the centenary in 2015 before doing it again so that we could open the production on the exact anniversary of the start of the Genocide – 24th April.

Internationally, the denialist lobby were careful to keep their heads down in the run up to the centenary, and so we were able to present the 2015 production without any death threats. The reaction of the Armenian community was overwhelming, including parents bringing their children, and even people who travelled especially to the theatre from as far afield as Beirut and Yerevan to see it.

We did however receive some quite spectacular abuse on social media, which is where not being Armenian myself really came into its own. The first accusation would invariably be ‘What can we expect? You’re just a ‘LIARMENIAN’ and were shocked to learn that no, I wasn’t, not at all. Their second accusation would usually then be that I was obviously a 9781783193059sell-out and the whole production had been paid for by Armenian money. To which the answer was – with no pun intended – ‘I wish’. After that, they usually moved on to suggestions that were mainly scatological and probably anatomically impossible, but which worked very well when I quoted them verbatim in the play itself.

And if you still might be wondering the reason why a non-Armenian felt compelled to try and share this story, the last word should go to the poet Peter Balakian:
‘If the extermination of a million and half people and the erasure of a three-thousand-year-old civilization isn’t important enough to write about, what the fuck is?’


I Wish to Die Singing is available to buy from the Oberon Books website