Winners announced for Mercury Playwriting Prize 2017

By: Jun. 14, 2017
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The Mercury Playwriting Prize, in this inaugural year, received over 160 entries from emerging local writers. 2017's winner is actor Oliver Bennett whose play, Europe After The Rain, is a darkly surreal and highly theatrical exploration of the world we live in now. It offers up a dark mirror to the concerns of contemporary Britain: immigration, enfranchisement, globalisation, loss and love.

The runners-up are Berri George for her play Shadow Kingdoms, and Phil Tong for his play The Furrow. Entries from University of Essex students were simultaneously entered for the student prize of £200, and this year's winner is Ryan Cogman for his play Floodgate.

Oliver Bennett trained as an actor at RADA. He has collaborated recently with the Belarus Free Theatre, whose work he has found inspirational. He has worked frequently with Howard Barker, Edward Bond, performing at Southwark Playhouse, Arcola, The Print Room, and in 'Backbeat' in the West End, Canada and LA.

Dan Sherer (Associate for New Work and one of our Mercury Playwriting Prize judges) said:

"Europe After The Rain is a tremendous script - a worthy winner of the Mercury Playwriting Prize 2017. Oliver Bennett has written something timely, beautifully layered, and highly theatrical. We are delighted to be able to work with Oliver over the coming year as an Associate Artist, as part of our absolute commitment to nurturing new work and emerging artists at The Mercury Theatre."

Berri George is a writer and a performer, and graduate of both the Belgrade Theatre's Critical Mass and The Royal Court Theatre local invitation playwriting schemes. She is 2014 alumni for the Orange Tree Theatre's invitation writers group, and made the Old Vic 12 shortlist for 2016. Her work has been staged by a range of the UK's leading new writing venues; Manchester Royal Exchange, Bolton Octagon Theatre, Theatre 503, High Tide, The Space, Talawa, Old Red Lion, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Recent commissions include: short film TITS (BBC Writersroom/BBC 3), development script WALNUT WHIP (Radio 3), and VIRTUALLY BLACKFRIARS (Milowladek). She is currently part of the BBCs 2017 Drama Room & New Talent Hot List.

Phil Tong was Director of Drama at the City of London Freemen's School until 2014, at which point he made a decision to stop teaching and to concentrate full time on his work as a playwright. As a teacher he has taught a great many students who have gone on to successful careers in theatre, TV and film, including Andrew Garfield, Kelly Reilly and Stephanie Hyam. He has had nine plays premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe since 2000 and his plays for young people's theatre are published on Treepress. His work has also been performed in London, Paris and Milan. He is a double Masters graduate, who has worked as a freelance writer for the National Theatre Education Department, and taught a range of young people from infants right through to post-graduate students. He is presently working on a number of projects that he hopes to bring to fruition in 2017.

Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd said:

"The Mercury is committed to supporting emerging artists and providing a platform on which upcoming theatre-makers can develop their work, and so it's been fantastic to see just how many writers have engaged with this opportunity and the sheer quality of this year's entries. Our upcoming New Talent Festival is a real showcase of the many skilled artists working in our region, and I would encourage anyone with a passion for new theatre to come along. You won't be disappointed."

Prize-winner Oliver Bennett will receive £2000, a year-long attachment to The Mercury Theatre Colchester as an Associate Artist, and will be supported to stage a production of his winning play in the Mercury's Studio Theatre. Local residents can hear rehearsed readings of Bennett, George, Tong and Cogman's plays, as well as last year's Essex Playwriting Competition winner - Kenny Emson's The Piscator - as part of our 2017 New Talent Festival.

The Festival, running for two weeks at the beginning of July, also features a sharing from the 2017-18 cohort of the Mercury's Early Careers Training Programme, and a live recording of the BBC Essex Playwright of the Year winning piece.

Tickets for the rehearsed readings are free but must be booked in advance.

For more information about this work, or other Make It opportunities, visit or call 01206 573948.


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