The inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting has been shared by two writers who were praised by judges for their ambition, craft and political urgency. The prize was awarded to You Bury Me by the pseudonymous playwright Ahlam, whose script explores romance, friendship and religion in post-Arab-spring Cairo, and Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me by Amy Trigg, about a woman who was born with spina bifida and is navigating life and love.
Ellie Keel, a theatre producer and the prize’s founder, said the two plays were “very different but both enormously skilled and compelling pieces of work that I can’t wait for the public to get to see”.
The award was launched earlier this year by Keel with Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner, joint artistic directors of the touring theatre company Paines Plough. It is open to any writer identifying as female, and aims to support and showcase established writers and emerging talent in Britain’s stage industry.
Ahlam and Trigg were awarded £12,000 each and their plays have been optioned to be co-produced by Paines Plough, Ellie Keel Productions and 45North.
You Bury Me will be Ahlam’s first full-length play to be produced and revolves around six Egyptian characters whose lives are intertwined in risky ways. “A lot of it is about Coptic Christianity and the constraints it puts on romantic relationships in particular,” said Keel.
“It’s a really ambitious and sprawling story,” said Bennett, “and looks at what it means to live in a police state effectively – what that means for you emotionally, politically and legally. It’s a really politically charged piece that’s told through brilliantly drawn characters, and it also opens up insight into Cairo and Egypt in a way I have not seen on stage before.”
Amy Trigg is a writer and actor who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Her monologue is about a disabled young woman and how her romantic involvements affect her sense of self-worth. Posner felt it was funny and moving, with sparkling dialogue. She explained that the play was meant to be performed by an actor who uses a wheelchair. Trigg, she said, has advised theatre practitioners that “if you can’t find one, look a bit harder” and that it is a story that “urgently needs to be told in a successful way on stage”.
The prize received more than 1,100 submissions. Seventy scripts were selected for the longlist, which was whittled down to a shortlist of 35. This year’s judges, Indhu Rubasingham, Monica Dolan, Sarah Frankcom, Tanika Gupta, Ella Hickson, Kate Pakenham, Maxine Peake and the chair, Mel Kenyon, picked the winners from seven finalists.
Keel said many of the playwrights were grappling with urgent subject matter and telling powerful stories about today. While there were no unifying themes, there was a powerful sense of justice in many of the plays. “They seemed