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Memorial Writing Prizes for Eccleshare & Skinner

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Thomas Eccleshare has today (26 May 2011) been named as the winner of the Soho Theatre's biennial Verity Bargate Award, with his piece Pastoral chosen from nearly 900 submissions as the best new play by an emerging writer.

Eccleshare, a London-based writer and co-artistic director of the visual theatre company Dancing Brick, wins a £5,000 prize as well as a production and residency at Soho Theatre.

Pastoral, which is his first script, is set in a surreal future in which nature has gobbled up the high street and an old woman named Moll waits in her flat for the Ocado man. But when the ruthless trees and branches threaten to cut her off from the world, she is forced to leave home and make it in the wild forest that is the new England.

Extracts from the play, which is billed as a story of danger and delight at the end of the world, as well as the four other runner-up scripts were performed at an award event at the Soho Theatre this afternoon, attended by the great and the good of the new writing and theatre industry.

Eccleshare said: "I am absolutely gobsmacked and overjoyed to have won the Verity Bargate Award. I am delighted to have been selected, honoured to have had my play discussed by such an esteemed judging panel and now cannot wait to see it performed."

The runners up of the Verity Bargate Award 2011 are Tim Price for Will and George, Janice Okoh for The Real House, Lee Mattinson for Crocodiles and Olga Nikora for Tightrope Bonnie.

The shortlist was considered by a judging panel comprised of former Verity Bargate Award (VBA) winner Insook Chappell, directors Kathy Burke and Gordon Anderson, playwrights Roy Williams, Anthony Neilson and Paul Sirett, designer Tom Scutt and Headlong producer Henny Finch.

This year saw the VBA received nearly 900 scripts for consideration. Trending topics addressed in the works included environment and climate, economic crisis, and political protest and enduring stories of families, sibling rivalry, and love.

The Verity Bargate Award was established after Soho Theatre founder Verity Bargate’s death in 1981 to "commemorate the remarkable contribution made by a woman of extraordinary instinct and drive in the field of new writing, and to carry on her work by the continuing encouragement of new playwrights".

Previous winners of the VBA include Diane Samuels, Judy Upton, Bonnie Greer, Fraser Grace, Nina Raine and Toby Whithouse and Matt Charman.

Penelope Skinner, whose play The Village Bike opens at the Royal Court on 1 July (previews from 24 June), has been awarded the 2011 George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright.

The Village Bike sees pregnant Becky (Romola Garai) frustrated by her husband (Nicholas Burns). He is more interested in the baby manual than her new underwear so she turns to the porn stash under the bed. As the summer heats up, a brief encounter sends her speeding downhill towards reckless abandon. The Village Bike is directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins and runs at the Royal Court until 23 July 2011.

A graduate of the Court’s writing programmes, Skinner's writing credits include a collaborating with Moira Buffini, Matt Charman and Jack Thorne the National Theatre's Greenland, Eigengrau at the Bush Theatre, Scarlet's Circus for the Hampstead Theatre and Fucked at the Old Red Lion in 2008 and 2009 Edinburgh Festival.

The George Devine Award is presented annually for new writing in theatre with a prize of £10,000. It is open to any playwright in the UK for an original stage play, which need not have been produced.

Previous winners of the George Devine Award include Edward Bond, Mike Leigh, Hanif Kureishi, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Enda Walsh, Rebecca Gilman, Mark O'Rowe, Gary Owen, Lucy Prebble, Alexandra Wood, Hassan Abdulrazzak, Nick Payne and Vivenne Franzmann.

The prize was originally set up in 1966 as a memorial to the life and talent of the founding artistic director of the Royal Court, George Devine.


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