World Premiere of Shangri-la by Amy Ng

Shangri-la at the Finborough Theatre image

Shangri-la at the Finborough Theatre

“You like your minorities like your pandas – picturesque, cuddly, endangered, helpless. But I refuse to be a panda. I refuse to go extinct. I want to live, to live well, to live like them.”

What happens when the only thing you have to sell is your culture? When the only way to free yourself is to betray your roots? Based on her personal experiences, new playwright Amy Ng lays bare the contradictions and private pain of cultural tourism. Shangri-La is Amy Ng’s first full length play. It was developed at the Tricycle Theatre and received a staged reading at Vibrant 2014 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights. It is directed by acclaimed director Charlotte Westenra.

Shangri-La is not a myth. Shangri-La is a place. The Himalayan foothills of China’s Yunnan Province were officially renamed ‘Shangri-La’ in a successful bid for the tourist dollar.

Bunny, a young indigenous woman, has witnessed her family’s livelihood destroyed by mass tourism. She dreams of escape — as a globe-trotting photographer. Nelson, her liberal Chinese boss, dreams of a new kind of tourism that’s sustainable and enables genuine cultural exchange. Their white Western clients yearn for escape, for the touch of something authentic. These desires collide head on in Shangri-La.

Shangri-La is on at the Finborough Theatre, from Tuesday, 12 July – Saturday, 6 August 2016. Website.


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Edinburgh previews at the Bread and Roses

Bread and Roses photoThe Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham is entering its second year and launching a special Early Summer and Edinburgh Fringe Preview Season this June to early August.

The season begins with a series of one-week-runs:

Weird Sisters Theatre Company presents Airswimming by Charlotte Jones, directed by Stephanie Goodfellow: Tuesday 21st to Saturday 25th June (Edinburgh Preview). Shortlisted for the Broadway Baby Bobby Award 2016. See article.

SISATA presents Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – adapted and directed by Charmaine K Parkin: Tuesday 28th June to Saturday 2nd July. Four actors play multiple roles in what is an enigmatic and fast paced telling of virtue, love and injustice, but above all the impact of this on the human condition.

Heckcelsior presents Hardcross written and directed by Dominika Visy: Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th July. When Rodney Hardcross’ death is announced, his children reluctantly gather, however, before his testament can be revealed, Rodney has one final request that outrages everyone.

Goblin Baby Theatre Co. presents Alone Inside the Box monologues by Connor Patrick Carroll, Liam Patrick Harrison, Tessa Hart, Tom Jensen, Sian Rowland, Judy Upton and Naomi Westerman: Tuesday 12th to Saturday 16th July.  From comedy to tragedy, from abstract to literal, these are thought-provoking stories of characters, sometimes stuck in an actual box, sometimes in a metaphorical one, sometimes both.

Elicit Theatre Company presents A Merry Regiment Of Women by Rae Shirley in which Lady Macbeth assembles five of Shakespeare’s most well-known female characters, however, events do not go according to plan, as three of his popular male characters arrive to shake things up: Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th July ;

Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company presents their Edinburgh preview of Best Intentions, featuring modern adaptations of two pivotal, but often overlooked, women in Shakespeare’s “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet”: 2nd to 6th August

The season also features a lot of one-off Edinburgh Fringe Previews, so check out the website for full details. From Tuesday 26th to Sunday 31st July in particular the theatre is hosting a week dedicated to Edinburgh Previews, with several shows per day.

Bread and Roses website



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Weird Sisters present Airswimming

Weird Sisters photoWeird Sisters was founded in 2014 in Guildford by three experienced female practitioners: Tanya Chainey, Stephanie Goodfellow and Alison Nicol, with the aim of producing work that takes risks, asks difficult questions, and provides strong and interesting roles for women. Their first production of Fewer Emergencies by Martin Crimp found high praise, and this play looks to continue the trend.

Although it’s a fairly common story in fiction, it seems likely that it was never huge numbers of unmarried women who found themselves locked away in asylums because they had become pregnant outside of marriage in the early years of the 1900s, it was more likely that they would end up at the work house, or at a refuge centre where their child would be forcibly adopted*. However, even one case is too many.

Weird Sisters’ new show, Charlotte Jones’ 1997 debut play Airswimming, covers this story and is at Bread and Roses this week before going to the Edinburgh Festival, then back home to Guildford. In 1924, Persephone Baker is planning her coming-out ball at the Dorchester when she finds herself abandoned at St Dymphna’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane, with only “unhinged, cigar smoking, monomaniac transsexual” Dora Kitson for company.

Forgotten for fifty years, they create alter egos who exist in a surreal fantasy world enlivened by Doris Day, two thousand Bolshevik women, a Moulinex hand whisk and airswimming.

The show was rated 5 stars on Broadway Baby and Highly recommended from its run at the Brighton Fringe. Airswimming plays at the Bread & Roses Pub Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor St, London from 21 to 25 June at 8pm.

Weird Sisters website

Book tickets on the Bread and Roses website 

*’The Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, allowed local authorities to certify and institutionalise, generally unmarried, pregnant women who were deemed ‘defective’ … The numbers are unknown and probably few, but some sad victims were discovered in mental hospitals as late as 1971, having been there since the 1920s.’ (Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth-Century England by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans. OUP 2012)




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Female writers, directors and performers experiment and innovate at RADA Festival

David's Bunker by Lily Bevan image

David’s Bunker by Lily Bevan

The RADA Festival returns to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art this summer from 22 June – 2 July, with a programme including 30 different theatre companies and two one-off forum events. Graduates of the Academy will return to RADA to present works ranging from rehearsed readings and one-person shows, to cabaret, comedy and reinventions of the classics.

One of the themes of the Festival is Women’s Identity, and it seems like the majority of work is by female writers, directors and performers, and female-male collaborations.

A panel debate, Sisterhood (24 June, 6pm), chaired by Bonnie Greer, will present a lively and frank debate on the solidarity and celebration of women, based on shared conditions, experiences and concerns within theatre and everyday life. Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Emma Rice, RADA Acting graduate Tanya Moodie, co-founder of Women@RADA Melanie Jessop and director of Tonic Theatre Lucy Kerbel all join the discussion.

During the festival some of the presentations include:

In The Gut (25 & 29 June) by Les Femmes Ridicule. This funny, tragic and ridiculous show about pregnancy, parenting and growing up involves an array of charming and grotesque characters: chefs with birthing recipes, smug mothers, barmy historians and more. The show is supported by The Miscarriage Association and The Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

Sweets and Chocolate (23 Jun – 1 Jul), supported by Kali Theatre uses movement and music to tell the stories of three women from three different cultures. It explores the effects of child abuse on three seemingly unconnected lives: Nadia, a cricket-obsessed Pakistani girl; M’Bilia, a devout churchgoer in the Congo; and Catherine, the headmistress of an English private school.

The Power Behind The Crone (22 & 27 June) is an exuberant monologue reflecting on the roles for older women in Shakespeare, discovering first-hand the full power and glory of Shakespearean ‘crones’.

One-woman show Foreign Body (27 & 29 June), about hope, healing and forgiveness after sexual assault, uses a charged combination of verbatim and physical theatre to tell a brave, liberating and life-affirming story. The show will be supported by a Q&A session featuring representatives from The Forgiveness Project and Clear Lines.

There are lots of other interesting looking performances, a few others that caught my eye are: are Songstring, Today I live, Birdwatching and Sisterbound, as well as a radio play, David’s Bunker.

For the full event listings, visit Tickets start at £5.

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Rebellious Acts flier

14 May 2016

Female Arts in association with South Street Arts Centre celebrate five years of gender equality activism with ‘Rebellious Acts’ an evening of incendiary new writing on Saturday 14 May at South Street Arts Centre in Reading. (Book here.) 

Rebellious Acts features rehearsed readings of short plays by female playwrights, followed by Isobel’s War by Kate Saffin; a drama about a young woman defying family expectations to manage boats and cargo in World War II. The evening closes with a post-show discussion on feminism in theatre.

Rebellious Acts forms part of Female Arts magazine’s fifth birthday celebrations. The online gender equality arts magazine was founded at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2011.

Editor-in-Chief Wendy Thomson said “Five years ago I started this online magazine / movement called Female Arts and what a fabulous collective of empowering, talented, inspiring women and men it is – who all share a vision of a fairer world: where women have an equal profile to men in the mainstream media and the focus is on what women do and say. Obviously this goes beyond the arts, and is about addressing wider inequalities in everyday life.”

Rebellious Acts is complimented by free-to-attend writing workshops on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 May, as part of Reading Year of Culture. Wendy Thomson explains:

“On Friday 13 May we’re holding a review writing workshop to encourage volunteer writers to join our magazine. This is aimed at young men and women with an interest in journalism. Through a combination of discussion and practical exercises, attendees will learn the role of the critic and how to structure a performing arts review.” Book here.

“On Saturday 14th May we’re running a short-playwrighting workshop aimed at women from diverse and marginalised backgrounds who want to explore the playwrighting process.” Book here. 

The playwrighting workshop is for women only “because women are outnumbered two to one by men among British playwrights which is why it is so important to improve visibility and recognition of female voices in all our diversity.”

Both workshops are free to attend but must be booked in advance via Eventbrite.

Rebellious Acts is supported by South Street Arts Centre. Rebellious Acts and the writing workshops have been granted funding by Reading Borough Council as part of Reading Year of Culture 2016.

#RebelliousActs / #FemaleArts5 / @femalearts / For full details visit:

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WhitLit Festival presents The End of the Affair



KCT poster

A new play by Alison Mead will be part of the Whitstable Literary Festival. (You can see our interview with Alison about her previous play A century of great women.)

The new play The end of the affair explores hope, chance and life in the theatre. It surveys our current attitudes to ageing and the glut of “reality” that pours out of our television screens. It is a homage to optimism.

Whitstable Library, 14 May, 4.30pm

Tickets available from



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Eggs by Florence Keith-Roach: interview

17Percent recently interviewed Florence ahead of seeing her new play Eggs performed at the London Vaults, as part of the Vault festival. This unsuspecting venue, which used to be the Old Vic tunnels tucked next to/below Waterloo station, has been transformed for a time into a wintry version of the Edinburgh Fringe. The feel of the place reverberates through the space of the Crescent, where is Eggs is being staged, and there’s a collective excitement in the audience that comes with a natural fringe setting. In fact this play had its first outing at Edinburgh last year, but has since been developed by Keith-Roach and her creative team.

A rudely honest piece that explores darker aspects of female friendship, the play presents us with a funny yet, at times, surprisingly outlook on the way young (Y generation) women relate by constantly competing with one another, sometimes to the point of self-destruction. In the space of an hour we watch episodes across two years of a friendship that has been defined in the wake of losing a mutual friend. Girl 1 and Girl 2, played by Keith-Roach and Amani Zardoe are both in their late twenties, but exist in completely difference spheres, but also just down the road from one another.

Even though they ruthlessly berate one another’s lifestyle choices, from work to relationships and confronting their identity as fertile (or not) women approaching 30, there remains a deep connection that saves them from the total alienation of finding your way in the world. Keith-Roach’s writing doesn’t shy away from any of this aggressive reality, but in the end Eggs celebrates the inherent sisterly bond that allows women to face these questions together, and laugh at them.

Joanna Lally spoke to Florence Keith-Roach for 17Percent.

JL: It seems that, even during this optimistic moment for feminism, many women are still confronted by the expectations of society as well as our own bodies. How did personal experience of these types of pressure drive you to bring such issues on to the stage?

FKR: As I wrote Eggs I was discovering just how many of my internal anxieties are born out of systemic external pressure. Most of these I am barely aware of, numb to the incessant and insidious adverts showing women in their 30s urging us to cover up grey hairs or find the perfect date online. We are constantly reminded how liberated we are in the media, beautiful women with ten Oscars and fifteen children are plastered on front covers of magazines. In this era of “choice feminism” the blame for failure is laid shamefully at our feet, rather than linked to the patent inequalities with which our culture is rife. We are sexualised in our youth and cast aside in our middle age, told we are equal and empowered yet shut up and vilified by anonymous misogynistic trolls. It is this turmoil that my characters are attempting to make sense of in Eggs. That I am still trying to make sense of in life.

JL: In this vane, Eggs seems like an incredibly exciting, and timely, piece of work explored through another topic: female friendship. In your view, are experiences of fertility and femininity inextricably linked? 

FKR: Have you observed this shadow hanging over relationships with female friends? As I entered my late twenties, I suddenly started to be cast as a young mum. Of course this is not radical, I am of a “mothering” age, but the chasm between society’s view of me and my own feelings about motherhood (not planning it anytime soon) were striking. I was over 25 and therefore a young mum with someone else’s baby strapped to my chest. My female friends have an array of attitudes towards motherhood, fertility, womanhood and femininity. One can be extremely feminine and infertile, or overwhelming fecund and entirely un-feminine. It is a colourful spectrum and this is what makes writing about women so rich and complex. However, as we mature out of our 20s and into our 30s, we are having more and more conversations about motherhood, fatherhood and the indomitable force that is our fertility. Whether you chose to ignore it or to embrace it, I think women do have to address is at one point or another.

JL: The play also looks at the experience of fragmentation. Would you agree that a sisterly bond between women helps retain our sense of self in an alienating world?

FKR: Absolutely, yes. My female friendships have always been my source of strength and rationale, have brought me back from many a precipice. These connections are mysterious, mercurial, volatile and dynamic. They have been so formative for my self and my understanding of the world.

JL: Music, especially pop and disco, has been an important feature in your previous work, including critically acclaimed play Love to Love to Love you. Can you say more about the way music influences your writing, and perhaps the world of your characters?

FKR: My first play was a musical about sex, disco and loneliness. All the characters danced and lip-synched to iconic disco tracks in between scenes.  It was a farce and a celebration of a music genre I love, but the music also provided much of the pathos of the piece, which was about the anticlimax of a modern, fragmented life.  My short film, Frenching the Bully, is about two dweebs obsessed with the utterly brilliant and unique grunge singer Mia Zapata of the Gits. Her gritty authenticity provides a constant contrast to their flaky, quest for fame.

Eggs focuses on 90’s dance/pop music. This is the music from the characters’ youth. They are nostalgic for this past, a past before responsibility, before grief, a time of best friends, chokers, Romy and Michelle’s High school reunion and dance routines in nightclubs.

In short there has been a soundtrack to many of my most formative experiences in life. So when I write about these experiences, it is natural that music is always near at hand.  I keep tabs of great music sequences in films and feel that, though its role is different, great music is too often ignored in theatre.

JL: Are there any specific challenges or rewards in writing (and performing in) a two- hander? How does that fraught nature of female friendship, which you choose to explore in Eggs, translate in performance? 

FKR: A two hander allows one to really explore character and relationships. I had so much to say about female friendships that by choosing to focus on just one such connection, I could actually portray a far more intricate and multifaceted picture. The characters are witty, sharp and cutting at times, they have a highly nuanced relationship, and bringing out this unique flavour in performance has been one of the most exciting and enriching experiences of the whole process. Lucy Wray, the director, has brought insight and tenderness to this piece, she has made me realise things about these women that I did not know existed even as the writer. Performing a two hander is intense, we never leave the stage and the audience are offered no respite from these two women. As an actor this has been a steep learning curve. We have worked to expand our range, present all the different angles of these women, and to really build a deep, relationship with a lot of history on stage. Amani Zardoe’s performance is so thorough, dynamic and tender.  I have learnt lot from working opposite her. Hopefully all our work in rehearsals means that the audience are presented with women who are both wholly recognisable and loveable, laughable and terrifying. It was these multiple, complex women that I was striving to portray in the writing, and naturally, it has only been in the performing of them that they are truly brought to life.

JL:  Following on from the above, it is notable that the production team for this play is largely female driven. Was this a conscious choice? And has the experience of working together had an impact on the play’s content, and perhaps on perceptions of your own experience? 

FKR: I began working with Lucie Massey, producer and co-founder of Orphee Productions, when I was looking to stage my first play. I knew no-one in theatre, especially no producers, and Lucie had been organising some really interesting events which I had been to. When we came to  build the rest of our team, I just looked around my talented friends and they all happened to be female. For my next play,  I had been engaging more and more with the shocking statistics about gender disparity in the arts, and inequality in general. When I started writing Eggs, I had made a conscious decision to focus solely on the female gaze.  I felt it was important have a female director, but Lucy Wray was the stand out choice regardless of gender. She had been dong some very exciting work, so we were thrilled that she was interested. Orphee Productions is not exclusively female at all, but  I feel that  we need to work together to champion more diverse perspectives, and this will always remain our priority.

Eggs closed its VAULT festival run on 6 March, but it feels as though this play is really just beginning to hatch – we expect to see it enjoy life elsewhere in the near future. It has also been published in a collection by Nick Hern Books as one their 5 best plays from the festival.

For more information on Florence and Orphee Productions, see her website.


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Female Arts’ new Friend Scheme


Wendy Thompson, Editor of Female Arts

Wendy Thompson, Editor of Female Arts

Female Arts magazine launched a friend scheme on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016.

The online arts review magazine, headed by Editor-In-Chief Wendy Thomson is based at South Street Arts Centre, Reading and reviews events across the UK.

“The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PledgeForParity where business leaders from Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group to Mark A. Weinberger the CEO of E&Y have made the pledge. We’re inviting everyone to make the pledge by joining our friend scheme so that we can continue our work to promote gender equality in the arts.”

Female Arts magazine annually reviews hundreds of female led performances, exhibitions and events and has a dedicated volunteer team of writers.

Female Arts also produce events. Wendy Thomson said, “As part of this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations we co-produced the launch of a new award for emerging female playwrights at the Greenwich Theatre in London – RED Women’s Theatre Award on Sunday 6th March 2016. We have also organized events at The Southbank Centre and The Bread and Roses Theatre, working with other advocates for gender equality including Gender and Performance (GAP) Salon and the So and So Arts Club.”

The Female Arts friend scheme is available to join from £30 a year at where the benefits include a profile on the Female Arts website and networking opportunities.


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RED Women’s Theatre Awards launches this Sunday


Effie Samara

A new award for female playwrights will be launched at Greenwich Theatre on Sunday, March 6, with rehearsed readings of four one act plays presenting four challenging political voices.

The RED Women’s Theatre Award, co-produced by creative online magazine Female Arts, is the idea of playwright Effie Samara, whose current research at the University of Glasgow is focused on the potential for revolution in female-authored British drama.
“I’ve had it in my head for 10 or 15 years but this seems like the right time,” said Effie. “We live in a time of war and exile and it needs to be talked about, not just as it has been through history by men but by women too. Most of the work is about being progressive. I’ve yet to see a text in the scores we have received that’s looking to preserve the status quo. After lots of provocation women are becoming more and more fearless and are becoming what they want to be. This government is giving us an awful lot of headaches and, living up here in Scotland, we are still wondering how it happened.”

Effie has a panel of readers, including academics and theatre professionals, but has read at least part of every script herself. She said: “it’s so personal to me that I would never have allowed myself not to have personal knowledge of all the scripts. Given that we made the announcement in early November, and we gave writers a deadline of January 15 – a very short time – we have had some shockingly good work. Some are from very young women and two or three are from quite well-known names. I’m looking for a evolutionary aesthetic in female authored drama and we’re well on our way. In a year or two I’m sure we’re going to get a masterpiece – maybe it’s even one of these plays set to be showcased in Greenwich.”

Female Arts
Editor-In-Chief, Wendy Thomson, said: “We’ve been championing women in the performing arts for five years this spring so we’re delighted to work with Effie Samara – our Edinburgh Editor – on her vision for an award for emerging female playwrights. It’s so important to improve visibility and recognition of female voices in all our diversity, which is why I founded Female Arts magazine to promote gender equality in the arts. The Female Arts team are fully behind RED Women’s Theatre awards, including Amie Taylor and Kate Saffin who are directing. It’s fantastic to have the first regional showcase of the awards at Greenwich Theatre who do so much to support female theatre makers.”

Artistic and Executive director James Haddrell said: “Women are not only outnumbered by men by two to one among British playwrights, they are not often writing this kind of work, not because of a lack of desire but because of such a low expectation of having their work produced. Submissions could have a historic or modern setting, could respond to particular real events or be entirely fictitious, could be about local, national or international politics, as long as they responded to the call to action issued by RED. As part of the panel I read the fourteen plays on the long-list and was struck not only by the quality but by the sheer diversity of approach. After an incredibly difficult series of discussions, we are all incredibly proud of the four shortlisted plays, and the evening of play-readings on March 6 is set to be an exciting event.”

The four plays are GONE by Kate Webster; UNDER MY THUMB by Cassiah Joski-Jethi; DISSONANCE by Paper Cage Theatre and SPURN THE DUST by Sian Rowland.

RED Women’s Theatre Awards
Presented by: Effie Samara, Greenwich Theatre and Female Arts
Sunday, March 6, from 6.30pm. Tickets £7 (including £1 booking fee)
Box Office 020 8858 7755

For full details visit or

Posted in Awards, female playwrights, feminism, gender equality, Launch event, new work, plays by female writers, Plays for today by women, playwriting competitions, prizes and awards | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Susan Smith Blackburn Prize to be announced tonight

“The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is an extraordinary award and a vital part of the theatrical landscape in both the UK and the US. It has been at the vanguard of the movement to promote female playwrights and theatre makers for over thirty years. We need this award now, more than ever and I’m extremely proud, as a Trustee of the Prize to be welcoming the 2016 award ceremony to the National Theatre.”

Deputy National Theatre Artistic Director Ben Power

This year’s Susan Smith Blackburn Prize will be awarded tonight at The National Theatre,  the first time the Presentation Ceremony has taken place at there.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the oldest and largest prize awarded to women playwrights. The winner will be awarded a cash prize of $25,000 (£17,320), and will also receive a signed print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Each of the additional finalists will receive an award of $5,000 (£3,460).

Many of the winners have gone on to receive other honours, including Olivier, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Eight Susan Smith Blackburn finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The 2013-2014 Winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood also won the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the Evening Standard Award for Best Play. Subsequent to winning the 2012-2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for The Flick, Annie Baker was honoured with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Steinberg Playwright Award as well as with the Horton Foote Legacy Project. Baker’s The Flick comes to the National Theatre in April this year.

Other recipients of the Prize include Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, Nell Dunn’s Steaming, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, Katori Hall’s Hurt Village, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night, Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (Dishonour), Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman, Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, Gina Gionfriddo’s U.S. Drag, Bridget Carpenter’s Fall, Charlotte Jones’ Humble Boy, and Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare.

Chosen from over 150 plays nominated by theatres, the finalists are:

Sarah Burgess (U.S.) – Dry Powder
Rachel Cusk (U.K.) – a new version of Medea by Euripides
Sarah DeLappe (U.S.) – The Wolves
Sam Holcroft (U.K.) – Rules for Living
Anna Jordan (U.K.) – Yen
Dominique Morisseau (U.S.) – Skeleton Crew
Lynn Nottage (U.S.) – Sweat
Suzan-Lori Parks (U.S.) – Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2 & 3)
Bea Roberts (U.K) – And Then Come The Nightjars
Noni Stapleton (Ireland) – Charolais

UPDATE: And the winner was… Lynn Nottage for Sweat.

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