A TRIO of “timely and dazzling” plays exploring themes of criminal justice, race and the dark side of social media have been shortlisted for a major drama prize associated with Britain’s oldest literary awards.
The contenders for this year’s James Tait Black Prize for Drama, announced today, are [BLANK] by Alice Birch; J’Ouvert by Yasmin Joseph; and Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones.
The three diverse dramas were selected from a record number of more than 80 entries worldwide competing for the £10,000 prize, which is awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh.
Award-winning playwright Alice Birch’s production of [BLANK] is a mosaic of 60 unrelated scenes telling the stories of adults and children caught up in the criminal justice system.
Readers and performers can choose as many or as few scenes in order to construct their own narratives.
Yasmin Joseph’s debut J’Ouvert is based on the streets of Notting Hill in London among the history and vibrancy of its famous carnival.
The play is a reflection of the Black British experience told through the story of two best friends battling to preserve tradition in a society where women’s bodies are frequently under threat.
Jasmine Lee-Jones’s first play, Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner, explores cultural appropriation, queerness, friendship and the ownership of Black bodies both online and in real life.
The play’s two characters, Cleo and Kara, debate the role of influencer Kylie Jenner and the appropriation of black women’s beauty for profit.
The winner will be announced in September and will take place via an online film this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chair of the judging panel Greg Walker, Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the university, said: “This year’s astounding shortlist works with timely themes in exciting and fresh new ways.
“This year we had our highest number of entries for the Prize, and they showed exciting diversity of form and writing.
“When considering the award, we ask our judges to nominate dramas that make them look at life a little differently, and this year’s James Tait Black nominees more than fit the bill in this challenging year.”
The James Tait Black Prize for Drama is presented by the University of Edinburgh in association with Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.
It was launched in 2012, when the UK’s oldest literary awards were expanded from fiction and biography to include a new category for drama.
It celebrates the best new play in English, Scots or Gaelic, which demonstrates an original theatrical voice and makes a significant contribution to the art form.
The drama prize is unique as it is judged by emerging artists and established theatre experts, rather than critics.
Previous winners include Clare Barron’s Dance Nation (2019); Tanika Gupta’s Lions and Tigers (2018); David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue (2017); Gary Owen’s one-woman monologue Splott (2016); Gordon Dahlquist’s sci-fi play Tomorrow Come Today (2015); Rory Mullarkey’s Cannibals (2014); and Tim Price’s acclaimed drama The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (2013).
It comes after Alyica Pirmohamed, co-founder of the Scottish BAME Writers Network, was announced as the winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2020.
The prestigious award, which includes a £20,000 prize, was announced by the Edwin Morgan Trust on the opening day of the online Edinburgh International Book Festival. The award is funded by a £1million bequest from Scotland’s first Makar who died aged 90 in 2010, to recognise and support new talent.
Pirmohamed, who has recently completed her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, was praised by the judges for her collection The Ghosts that Visit Us as We Dream
She said: “It means a lot to have found a poetry community in Scotland, because I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about where and how I fit in. I’m beyond excited to continue my journey as an artist long into the future.”