There’s no doubt that the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting has changed the world of new theatre writing very much for the better.
Anna Jordan, who won the Bruntwood Prize in 2013 and whose winning play YEN has its world première at the Royal Exchange’s Studio this month, enthuses that her own experience since has been “incredible”.
“Winning the Bruntwood Prize was a total game-changer,” she tells Northern Soul. “It felt like the end of one journey and the beginning of another.”
The play, she explains, “explores a childhood lived without boundaries and the consequences of being forced to grow up on your own.
“I’m fascinated by what would happen to a person if they were never taught how to express themselves. I think it’s where a lot of the world’s pain and violence comes from. YEN explores that.”
It tells the story of 16-year-old Hench and 13-year-old Bobbie, young boys who are just surviving. They live alone with their dog Taliban, playing Playstation and watching porn. Sometimes their chaotic mum Maggie visits, or, as often as not, simply passes out on the front lawn.
Dame Jenni Murray, who chaired the Bruntwood judging panel, commended the play for its “beautiful empathy, and a humanity which stood out to all the judges”.
So what impact has the Bruntwood prize had on Jordan’s career? She laughs and says she now “actually gets commissioned, whereas for the past seven or eight years I’d been writing in my own time, self-producing, putting in for festivals and all of that stuff. YEN in particular was a play that I wrote over a period of about eight months, quietly on my own with the idea of Bruntwood in the distance as a kind of deadline. But it was a very personal and insular kind of experience.
“Now, though, it’s quite different. I’m on the BBC Drama Production Writers scheme, which is a really exciting introduction to writing for TV. In fact, I’ve been commissioned to develop a series for them. I was also commissioned by Company Of Angels, which is a young peoples’ theatre company, to write a short piece for them.
“What has also been quite incredible since winning is that two plays of mine, both of which I’d actually written before Bruntwood but developed since, were actually on in London at the same time.”
So you could safely say she’s been pretty busy.
“But an undercurrent threading through all of that last year or so has been YEN,” she says.“The gradual development and dramaturgy with Sarah Frankcom and Suzanne Bell from the Exchange has been a really thrilling slow burn although it did come out in the end a little quicker than some of the other Bruntwood winners have done.”
That final draft has also just been published by Nick Hern Books as part of the Bruntwood Prize.
“So that means I’ve gone from dreaming of having any published plays to having three on the shelves in the last six months,” she marvels.
“In order to be a good writer, you have to be aware that you’re always going to be learning and be open to that. The Bruntwood process and working with the Exchange on YEN has really helped me focus in on things like ‘what’s happening in this scene’ and so on in a way that I’ve never done before. Writing has always been really instinctual with me. I started as an actor and I’ve directed but I’ve never studied writing as any kind of a craft. So learning to be methodical in that way worked through into those earlier plays I’d done, Freak and Chicken Shop, and I’m sure made them better. That phrase writers have ‘kill your darlings’, meaning being willing to get rid of bits you really love personally but aren’t necessary to the story, also really started to make sense.”
Unlike many playwrights, Jordan is planning to be around for quite a bit of the run “if the actors aren’t sick of me soon”.
She adds: “This feels like such a big thing for me. I have such affection and love for the play and the whole company that I literally don’t want to miss a minute of the whole experience.”
By Kevin Bourke
Photos by: Joel Chester Fildes
Where: Royal Exchange Studio.
When: February 18, 2015 to March 7, 2015
More Info: www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/yen
The 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting opened its 10th anniversary competition on January 30, 2015. Writers of all levels of experience are invited to enter plays, which must be original, unperformed and unproduced. The winner will receive a prize of £16,000 and a full production of their play at the Royal Exchange. The competition is a partnership between the Royal Exchange Theatre and property company Bruntwood. More information at: www.writeaplay.co.uk