Kate Betts, a 51-year-old teacher from Chichester, has won Channel 4’s playwriting competition The Play’s the Thing, it was announced today (See News, 13 Jun 2006). Her debut play On the Third Day will receive its world premiere this Thursday (22 June 2006) at the West End’s New Ambassadors Theatre care of producer Sonia Friedman. The production - directed by Robert Delamere who took over after Stephen Pimlott fell ill - stars Maxine Peake (pictured), Paul Hilton, Tom McKay and Tom Silburn, who have been appearing in ‘secret’ previews since 15 June.

Channel 4 announced The Play's the Thing over a year ago and invited previously unproduced playwrights to send in proposed synopses, along with sample scenes and character lists (See News, 11 May 2006). Over 2,000 aspiring playwrights entered the competition. Friedman narrowed the candidates down to 30 with the help of professional play readers and the panel (including Friedman, playwrights’ agent Mel Kenyon and actor Neil Pearson) deciding on the final ten, who went through workshops before being whittled down to three, and finally one winner.

According to the show’s press release: “It is hoped that the series will highlight the complexities of bringing a first time playwright’s first play directly into the commercial West End - an extremely rare, virtually unparalleled event in over 50 years. Research infers that on 22 June 1956 (the same year that Look Back in Anger premiered) there were approximately 16 new plays being performed in the West End, all of which had the benefit of a run elsewhere. On that date there were eight musicals, five revues and 23 plays. On 22 June 2006 there will only be one new play in the West End – On the Third Day. On that date there will be 23 musicals/revues and ten plays.”

Betts’ debut stage play is set in modern London where a young woman, alone and unattached, catches the eye of a stranger in a bar. Before the night has ended, they will have told each other secrets that will change their lives forever, taking us “from the depths of underground caves to the infinite reaches of the solar system and into the shattered heart of a broken family”.

An associate lecturer in English at University College Chichester at Chichester University and mother of three children, Betts has acted in amateur dramatics and worked with the writers group at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. She has never had her work produced. This Thursday, she will “experience all the drama of public scrutiny and first-night nerves as the curtain goes up on press night, not only on her stage debut, but her West End debut”. Every step of the way, from her submission through rehearsals and set building, has been filmed for the Channel 4 TV series. The remaining two parts of the four-part programme will be shown tonight (19 June) at 10.00pm with the final instalment, including opening night coverage, on Saturday (24 June) at 8.15pm.

Other competitors in The Play’s the Thing included train drivers, shelf stackers, scientists, hospital porters, cinema ushers, bouncers and plumbers. A huge 70 percent of the submissions were from men, while 81 of the plays had ‘Jesus’ in the title, 198 talked of terrorists, 210 had end of life experiences in them, and 335 included a visit to a gym or fat club.

The 30 short-listed playwrights were: Alex Allston (Bristol), Alexsandra Herbert (St Leonards on Sea), Alice Grix (Stamford, Lincs), Anne Dilley (Morecambe, Lancs), Annette Brook (London), Ben West (London), Emma Crowe (London), Florence Bell (Hampton, Middlesex), Gerry Howell (Petts Wood, Kent), Hendryk Korzeniowski (Lancaster), Iain Wetherby (London), Ian Bell (Harrogate), Jacob Tindle (London), Jenny Lincoln (Bungay, Suffolk), Jesse Quinones (London), Kamlesh Gupta (London), Karen Restaino (Sheffield), Kate Betts (Sidlesham, Chichester), Kirsty Bray (Alnwick, Northumberland), Linda Walker (Hove, East Sussex), Marios Alando Davies (London), Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky (London), Nigel Ward (Biddenham, Bedfordshire), Nina Woods (West Wickham, Kent), Paul Burgess (Belfast), Richard Tyrrell (London), Roy Buckland (Croydon), Ruth O’Callaghan (London), Steve Gardner (Manchester) and Tom Mitchell (London).

The three finalists were: Iain Wetherby, an advertising copy writer from London, and Steve Gardner, a supermarket worker from Manchester, together with Kate Betts. On the Third Day is designed by Mark Thompson, with projections by Jon Driscoll, lighting by Paul Anderson and sound and music Adam Cork. It’s presented in the West End by Sonia Friedman Productions and Channel 4.

- by Terri Paddock