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Drama prize shortlist announced

Three ambitious plays have been shortlisted for one of the UK’s most distinguished literary awards, the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

The nominations for the prize – an accolade linked to Britain’s oldest book awards – were selected from more than 180 entries worldwide. They deal with complex issues in unique and often surprising ways.

The shortlisted dramas are:

  • Oil by Ella Hickson, produced by Almeida Theatre
  • Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland, co-produced by the Abbey Theatre and Royal Court Theatre
  • Scenes from 68* Years by Hannah Khalil, produced by Sandpit Arts and presented at Arcola Theatre

Award ceremony

The £10,000 drama prize is presented by the University in association with Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and the Traverse Theatre.

This year’s winner will be announced at a ceremony on Monday, 21 August, in the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, where readings of each play will be performed by professional actors. The event takes place in front of a public audience and is part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and tickets to attend can be booked online.

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James Tait Black Prize for Drama Award Ceremony

4pm, Monday 21 August

Traverse Theatre

Tickets cost £7 / £5 concession

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Innovative playwrighting

Ella Hickson’s Oil spans 150 years, and centres on a woman called May and her daughter. May travels through time – first as a 19th century farmer’s wife with a newly invented kerosene lamp; then as a servant in 1908 Tehran; and, in 1970, as the CEO of an oil company. The play, which ends in a nightmarish post-oil future, links the oil-age to feminism.

Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland is a shocking black comedy about the dangers of deep-rooted prejudices. Eric is a Belfast Loyalist who becomes convinced that his five-week-old granddaughter is Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. The play reveals Eric agonising over his sense of identity and masculinity.

Hannah Khalil has created a series of everyday snapshots from life in Palestine in Scenes from 68* Years, which spans from 1948 to the present day. The cast of six play a range of Israeli and Arab characters, showing the human impact of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, where the war and home life are experienced side-by-side.

Unique prize

The drama prize is, uniquely, judged by emerging artists and established theatre experts, rather than critics. The accolade is awarded to the best new play in English, Scots or Gaelic, which demonstrates an original theatrical voice and makes a significant contribution to the art form.

The James Tait Black Prize for Drama is not just about celebrating the best new play – it recognises originality in voice, and we are very proud of that. This year’s shortlisted plays deal with fascinating subjects in ambitious and exciting new ways. Each year, we ask our student judges to nominate dramas that change their life a little, and I think this year’s selection do just that.”

Chair of the judging panel, Greg WalkerRegius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University Citation role (optional)

Judging panel

The judging panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and Schaubuhne Theatre in Berlin.  

This year’s shortlist represents the impressive breadth and depth of innovation that the James Tait Black Award seeks to champion. These three writers have created vibrant, urgent and provocative new plays which speak deeply to our turbulent times. I am delighted for them all and congratulate them on their great success.

Orla O'LoughlinArtistic Director at the Traverse Theatre

Previous winners include: Gary Owen’s one-woman monologue, Iphigenia in Splott (2016); Gordon Dahlquist’s sci-fi play Tomorrow Come Today; Rory Mullarkey’s Cannibals (2014) and Tim Price’s acclaimed drama The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (2013).

Related links

Book tickets: James Tait Black Drama Award Cermony

James Tait Black Prizes

Playwrights' Studio, Scotland

Traverse Theatre

University's MSc in Playwriting