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

Dramatic Adventures in Rhetoric

Giles Taylor is an actor who has appeared at the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and at numerous regional theatres, as well as on television. He is also a Shakespeare Consultant, working on productions across the country and running workshops for both actors and directors
Philip Wilson is a freelance director who has worked at theatres including Birmingham Rep, The Bush, Chichester Minerva, Liverpool Playhouse, Sheffield Crucible and the Traverse. He’s also the former Artistic Director of Salisbury Playhouse, and was the Performance Consultant for the film Shakespeare in Love.

Together they’ve written Oberon Books’ latest must-have handbook, Dramatic Adventures in Rhetoric: a guide for actors, directors and playwrights

Last week, Áine Ryan from Oberon Books had a chat with Giles and Philip for this blog, in which they talked about the process of writing a book together, and why there’s a space on everyone’s bookshelf for it. 

Áine Ryan: So, Giles, Philip – how did the book come about?

Philip Wilson: Well, Giles and I, having known each other for around 15 years, finally got to work together when I directed a double-bill of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at Birmingham Rep. In which Giles played not one but three butlers: Lane and Merriman in Earnest, and Bennett in Travesties.

Giles & Philip see their book for the first time, at the Oberon office

Giles & Philip see their book for the first time, at the Oberon office

Giles Taylor: Philip mentioned, during early table-work rehearsals, that Wilde’s play was packed with rhetorical devices, and my ears pricked up. I have long had a love of rhetoric, from my university days studying Classics, and have used it as a major tool in teaching Shakespeare. Other cast members, though, while interested, weren’t sure what warranted being rhetoric – and even Philip admitted that he could never remember the Greek and Latin names of the devices.

PW: I still often can’t! Anyway, we had a chat in a tea-break, and pondered the idea of how useful it would be to have a book in rehearsals that listed all the terms, but had a focus on drama – and contemporary drama, too, not only Shakespeare – rather than on politics or oratory.

GT: Once the topic was out there in rehearsals, my rhetorical antennae were a-quiver. To help the company, I compiled a list of about 60 rhetorical devices, with examples from both plays. In doing so, I had a eureka moment one day when we were working on Travesties, and realised that part of an apparently rambling speech by the lead character, Carr, was actually an extended paramoiosis. It’s now in the book! We are all aware that Stoppard is an extraordinary wordsmith, but even by his standards this is a superb example.

PW: Giles’s discovery really was helpful in unlocking a difficult moment in the play. And it proved the point that, if one could identify these devices, it could clarify the text and inspire ideas as how best to present and perform it.

AR: So clearly there is a need for this book; a space on the shelf for something on this topic.

‘We don’t always know why we say what we say, or write what we write – but invariably, the Greeks have a word for it. Packed with memorable and quotable examples from sources ancient and modern, this witty and well-organised handbook offers a lexicon for our efforts, terms for our art. For any teacher, actor or writer, a useful and fascinating guide.’ Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

‘We don’t always know why we say what we say, or write what we write – but invariably, the Greeks have a word for it. Packed with memorable and quotable examples from sources ancient and modern, this witty and well-organised handbook offers a lexicon for our efforts, terms for our art. For any teacher, actor or writer, a useful and fascinating guide.’ Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

GT: Exactly. No-one, as far as we are aware, has ever written about rhetoric in drama in general before: there’s lots on Shakespeare, of course, but barely anything on other playwrights. Initially we were too busy putting on the two plays to take the idea further. But after the run finished we met and talked about approaching publishers with the idea.

PW: We were both aware of Oberon, obviously, and the website had a very clear (if slightly daunting) set of guidelines, which made us really think about who the book was for, and how it should be structured.

GT: It was very early on that we decided that we didn’t want to produce a simple dictionary of terms, with devices listed alphabetically. Those already exist and frankly are a bit impenetrable. We felt that, as theatre people, we needed to group the devices thematically.

PW: We approached Oberon with this approach: they – that is, you – responded quickly, called us in for a meeting: and suddenly we found that we had been commissioned!

AR: Were there new things you learned yourselves as the project got into full swing, in terms of rhetoric?

PW: How many devices there are! And how it doesn’t matter, ultimately, if a playwright didn’t have that form in mind, when she or he was writing their play. It may simply have sounded… right, suited the character, or the moment, or the mood. But it is there, and seeing that it is there may enable an actor and director to do something more precise or different with those words. Which surely is what rehearsal is about: exploring the text.

GT: I really wanted to talk to living playwrights about their use of rhetoric, but there simply wasn’t time. I did have a brief chat with Laura Wade, though, about her play Posh. She admitted that she was unaware how rhetorically her writing of those characters had turned out, but supposed that in reaching for the words, phrases and ways of talking that such highly-educated, self-obsessed people use, she had fortuitously found the rhetoric of that class. Fascinating. Maybe for a further edition I’ll pin down a few others! Continue reading

The Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2015

Two Oberon authors were amongst the big winners at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards on Sunday night.

9781783198085American Stephen Adly Guirgis took the prize for Best New Play, for his frenetic and foul-mouthed comedy The Motherfucker with the Hat.

Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, it was the only winning production to come from the National Theatre despite their seven nominations.

9781783199006Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke was named Best Director for his refreshingly modern take on the Oresteia. Originally part of the Almeida Greek season it subsequently transferred to Trafalgar Studios.

9781783199358Nicole Kidman brought a touch of Hollywood glamour, as she was recognised for her much-celebrated return to the stage. She claimed the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of pioneering DNA scientist Rosalind Franklin, in Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51 at the Noël Coward Theatre.

9781783198931At the opposite end of the career spectrum, newcomer David Moorst took home the Emerging Talent Award for his performance as the troubled teen Liam in Gary Owen’s Violence and Son, at the Royal Court.

‘The hand that held the pen will be forgotten’ Barney Norris on Brian Friel, and what a writer can leave behind


Brian Friel

Upon reading of Brian Friel’s death last month, I took down from my shelves a collection of interviews he had given over the decades. Friel is deliciously pugilistic in his public statements, and I delighted in the book, as it freewheeled through a life’s hits and misses, as journalistic fashions came and went, as the man himself refused to mellow or to dim. I hope every interesting playwright is the subject of such a book – I look forward to reading them all.

One gem of an idea I found between the covers of that collection was a piece of advice Tyrone Guthrie gave the young Friel – that ‘a writer only survives as a body of work’. The nuances of this are quite subtle. It warns, of course, that the hand that held the pen will be forgotten; but I think Friel took it to mean that individual plays are less important than the accumulated whole – he placed the emphasis on ‘body’, and reminded all us writers in doing so not to get hung up on the show the critics go for, but to develop a repertoire and keep ploughing on.

9781783199174The relationship between writers and their ‘body of work’, as opposed to the individual projects they undertake, has always been of interest to me. Yeats, instinctively given to the retrospective mood, was dreaming of a uniform edition of his work while still in his twenties; the other great elegist in the language, Hardy, took a deeply devotional approach to the same project later in life when collecting his ‘Wessex edition’. I suspect both men’s differently unrealised personal lives put them keenly in mind of Yeats’s line that what was possible for a poet was ‘perfection of the life or of the work’. If the life you live happens most vividly, most deeply in what you write, and you come to feel better embodied by that ‘body of work’ than the body you were born in, the curation of that will naturally become a central ritual.

My first act of such curation happened this year, when Oberon collected my short plays At First Sight (2011), Fear of Music (2013) and Every You Every Me (2015) in a volume titled What You Wish For in Youth. This means all the dramatic work I’d admit to is available from a single source (Oberon also publish my plays Visitors and Eventide). I was surprised how important this turned out to be to me – how proud I’ve ended up feeling of What You Wish For in Youth. I’ve always admired the determination of writers like Caryl Churchill to focus on the next thing, to always be doing something new, but getting my short plays into this livery couldn’t help but feel meaningful. I think perhaps because my first plays were staged while my company, Up In Arms, was just beginning, and so didn’t receive ever so much public attention, it feels particularly gratifying to find a way to make them available to people. But it also felt good, I admit, to start laying a claim to a ‘body of work’ – if for no other reason than to announce that I’m in for the long haul, and plan, in Friel and Guthrie’s terminology, to survive.

Barney Norris has published two full-length plays and a collection of short plays with Oberon Books (so far). He founded the touring theatre company Up In Arms with Alice Hamilton in 2008. He won the Critics’ Circle Most Promising Playwright Award and the Offie Award for Most Promising Playwright for Visitors (Arcola Theatre, tour and Bush Theatre). His books include To Bodies Gone: The Theatre of Peter Gill.  His first novel, Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain, will be published in 2016.

See more of Barney Norris’ writing on the Oberon Books website
Learn more about Up in Arms theatre company on their website

Barney Norris

Photograph 51 Q&A with Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler’s award-winning play, Photograph 51, is currently running at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21st November. This extraordinary play looks at Rosalind Franklin, the woman who cracked the double-helix secret of DNA, and interrogates what is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history. Directed by Michael Grandage and starring Nicole Kidman, the production has attracted a huge amount of press attention. It has more than lived up to the hype, with wonderful reviews since its opening in September.

Below is a transcript of playwright Anna Ziegler in conversation with Heather Neil of, in which Ziegler discusses her inspiration for Photograph 51, and her creative process. Down below you’ll also find a competition to win a signed copy of the play, as well as some of the great endorsements from all of you on social media. We love to read and share these, so keep them coming! What was it about her [Rosalind Franklin] that so fascinated you? Obviously she has been allowed to drop out of history unfairly. Was that the main thing, or was it what she discovered?
Anna Ziegler: What I immediately loved about her was just how unique and interesting and complicated a character she was. And inherently tragic. I think the fact that she died so young and had so much potential – she was really considered by almost everyone just a brilliant scientist – man or woman— it’s that potential cut short which is still heart-breaking…what she would have gone on to do and discover. But I also found the circumstances she was in, and the way those perhaps created or triggered the personality that then clashed so fiercely with Maurice Wilkins at this particular moment in history, fascinating.

TV: You have a quotation from Horace Judson in the programme, about how the importance of the personalities of scientists are often overlooked, and that’s the nub of the play really, isn’t it? It’s about how personality, as well as brains, are responsible for what actually happens and comes out of research.
AZ: For me, it is absolutely. And I think I was also really taken by the metaphor of the double-helix itself, and the way it reflects so much what happened at this moment. Because the double helix is itself a pairing. It’s a pairing that works very well and creates life, and here we have this story of these two pairs: one that worked together – Watson and Crick – and one that did not. And it’s of course the successful pair that ends up discovering life in a very neat, beautiful kind of way. And the failure of the other pairing is I think also sort of reflective of – and I don’t understand the science well enough to explain it but – the DNA as two strands that work together, but they never actually touch. So there is this essential part of life that is about tenuous collaboration and how easily things can go wrong.

Photograph 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling

Photograph 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling

TV: You don’t have a science background, and you’ve got to get over to an audience – also most of whom won’t have a science background – what all the fuss was about. You’ve used ideas of beauty and pattern and so on, which we do understand. But it’s always so difficult putting science on stage. Was that the biggest problem?
AZ: I suppose when I started writing it, I just thought ‘well I don’t understand a lot of these concepts, so whatever I put on stage has to be simple enough that I can understand it!’ So it seemed to me if I was the average audience member I would just do my best to represent something I could basically understand. That being said, I think the play goes by really quickly. It’s a fast-paced play and I think a lot of people – and I would too – miss some of the science. Maybe it’s sacrilegious to say it, but I don’t think it matters all that much. It’s not about the science. As long as the science is there and creating an authentic backdrop essentially, then I feel like I’ve done my job. But it’s certainly been daunting and gratifying to have the response of real scientists, and I think most have said the science is accurate and comes across pretty authentically so I’ve been happy about that, I have to admit.

TV: It’s set in London in 1951-53, so was that something you had to think hard about? Getting the language and the behaviour right?
AZ: I did write it in America. But it’s really fun for me to write very much outside of my own experience and my own voice. So it appealed to that side of me—and it appealed in particular to my Anglophilic side. I had done a year of graduate school here in England after University in the States – I was at UEA in Norwich. And then I had a British boyfriend for a number of years, so I spent a lot of time in England when I was in my twenties, shortly before writing this play. So I think I at least absorbed some British sensibility. And I didn’t worry so much about it being in the 50s. As the play has evolved there have been certain lines that I’ve shifted a little bit if someone would say ‘oh that feels a little too modern’, but on the whole it was really trying to capture a Britishness that felt natural and not imposed. I don’t really think people have changed all that much. I think there are certain words that people used more back then than now but I don’t think people are hugely different.

(You can listen to the entire conversation with Anna Ziegler at

513 519 518 517 516 515 512 514 If you’d like to win a signed copy of Photograph 51, email with your name & postal address, and we’ll add your name to the hat. Good luck!

Photograph 51 will run at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21st November. 
The play text is available from Oberon Books.