Whatsonstage.com business development manager Matt Charman (pictured) has won Soho Theatre Company’s prestigious Verity Bargate Award for his first play A Night at the Dogs. The award, with a prize value of £3,500 including a commission and writing residency from Soho, was announced this afternoon at an event at which an excerpt of the play was performed. A full production will be mounted next year.

Twenty-five-year-old Charman was washing cars at a crash repair shop in West Sussex when he wrote A Night at the Dogs. Having joined Whatsonstage.com earlier this year, he submitted the script for awards consideration using a pseudonym.

In the play, four mechanics form a syndicate to buy a racing greyhound whose winnings they hope will change their lives. On the night of the dog's first race, the men are ambushed by a colleague and, in a surprising reckoning, they learn an unexpected lesson about family, fathers and fortune.

The six other shortlisted writers for this year’s award were Abi Bown, Christopher Deans, Moses Raine, Nina Raine, Mark Sullivan and Jack Thorne. Excerpts from all seven submitted plays were performed at today’s event, directed by Natasha Betteridge and Soho artistic director Abigail Morris and featuring a variety of actors including Kwame-Kwei Armah, Jason Hughes, Clare Goose, Burn Gorman and Susannah York.

The new writing award was established in 1981 in memory of Verity Bargate, co-founder of Soho Theatre. Supporters of the VBA include Bob Hoskins, a close friend of Bargate’s, whose career was inspired by her. The judging panel this year included Kate Bassett, Gaby Chiappe, Jessica Dromgoole, Peter Gill, Tanika Gupta, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Rob Ritchie and Paul Sirett.

Previous Verity Bargate award winners include: Office (2000) by first-time writer Shan Khan, produced by Soho at Edinburgh prior to a London transfer; Jump Mr Malinoff Jump (1998) by Toby Whithouse, which opened Soho's new theatre on Dean Street in 2000; and Kindertransport (1994) by Diane Samuels, which ran at Soho prior to a New York transfer and continues to be produced in the UK and across the world.

- by Terri Paddock