Liverpool author wins Lancaster Playwriting Prize 2022

A ‘spiky and tender’ story about relationships has earned a writer from Liverpool the Lancaster Playwriting Prize 2022.

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 11:10 am
Liverpool author Joseph Irwin has won the Lancaster Playwriting Prize 2022.
Liverpool author Joseph Irwin has won the Lancaster Playwriting Prize 2022.

Winner Joseph Irwin, who was selected from 30 entries to win the award, will now have a rehearsed reading of his debut play Mama in early 2022, a cash prize of £1,500, and professional mentoring.

The shifting remit of the competition, now in its third year, makes it unique and is run in partnership by the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Lancaster University and The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster.

Joseph said: “I've been in a state of utter disbelief since I heard and I feel very honoured. I was just so happy that someone was going to read my play, I didn't think I'd actually win.

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The Dukes gallery space. Picture by Robin Zahler.

“I'm really grateful to Dukes, Lancaster University, the judges and the sponsors for the opportunity and I just hope they continue to support up-and-coming writers who just want to get their work out there.”

The 2022 award, which aims to support and showcase emerging writers in the North West of England, was this year open to any writer identifying as LGBTQAI+.

Each playwright entered anonymously, meaning all scripts were judged on their own merit by impartial readers, with no knowledge of the writer’s background or previous experience. Furthermore, every entrant receives feedback on their script.

The five shortlisted plays were:

The Dukes theatre in Lancaster. Picture by Robin Zahler.

Senses of Responsibility by Lekhani Chirwa, Manchester

Souvenir by Matt Gurr, Cumbria

Great Wars by Laura Homer, Manchester

Mama by Joseph Irwin, Liverpool

Other People’s Gravy by Alex Joynes, Bolton

Creative communities manager at the Dukes Carl Woodward said: “These 5 LGBTQAI+ writers have shared their bold stories with us, the plays are diverse in subject matter, size and style. It is now more important than ever to celebrate their stories.”

This year’s judges were Lancaster University alumna and prize funder and actor Lucy Briers, Lancaster University’s Dr Tajinder Singh Hayer, Director of the Dukes Karen O’Neill and writer Ben Weatherill.

Lucy Briers said: “The panel unanimously chose 'Mama' as the winning entry for the LPP 2021. For me, I was immediately engaged with the characters of George, his Sri Lankan born mother Shahana, his white British born father Peter and his old school friend Stephen. 'Mama' delicately explores the Sri Lankan immigrant experience, George's sexuality and the eternal mother/son/father relationship. It's funny, heart-warming and tough all at the same time. The sign of a good play is being disappointed when you turn the last page. I felt this keenly, and thought about this complicated and heart strong family for days afterwards. A worthy winner and I wish the play and Joe a great future.”

Karen O’Neill said: “This is a thoughtful and charming story about the contrast of relationships and their impact on our sense of self. Full of humour and heart these are characters that are new to the stage with a vibrant new perspective. It is a challenging and exciting piece of theatre.”

Ben Weatherill said: “Joe's writing is painfully true, grounded and incredibly funny. The world of the play is conjured with careful detail, the lead character of George and his family are unforgettable, and this is a story we haven't seen on stage before. Big hearted and punchy writing set in Liverpool.”

Dr Tajinder Singh Hayer said: “'What strikes me about Mama is how it manages to be both spiky and tender in such a deft manner. There will be moments when characters are cutting each other to the quick (often with very dark humour), but then there will be moments of unexpected gentleness and vulnerability. The central character of George is an actor's gift, but he never just becomes a vehicle for grandstanding; you just can't take your eyes off him.”