Dazzling plays shortlisted for drama accolade

Thought-provoking plays exploring themes of criminal justice, race and the dark side of social media have been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

L-R: [BLANK], J’Ouvert, seven methods of killing kylie jenner

The three diverse productions nominated for the international prize – which is linked to the UK’s oldest literary awards – were selected from more than 80 entries worldwide. 

Contenders for the Prize feature plays that explore the sexual politics of the Notting Hill Carnival and examine the ownership of Black bodies online and in real life.

Also in the running is an experimental piece that probes the impact of the criminal justice system on people’s life experiences.

Shortlisted works

The three plays shortlisted for the £10,000 prize – which is awarded annually by the University are: [BLANK] by Alice Birch co-produced by Clean Break and Donmar Warehouse; J’Ouvert by Yasmin Joseph co-produced by Theatre503 and Tobi Kyeremateng; and seven methods of killing kylie jenner by Jasmine Lee-Jones produced by Royal Court Theatre with support from Jerwood Arts.

Award-winning playwright Alice Birch’s production of [BLANK] is a mosaic of 60 unrelated scenes telling the stories of adults and children caught up in the criminal justice system. 

Readers and performers can choose as many or as few scenes in order to construct their own narratives.

Reflective productions

Yasmin Joseph’s debut J’Ouvert is based on the streets of Notting Hill among the history and vibrancy of its famous Carnival.

The play is a reflection of the Black British experience told through the story of two best friends, battling to preserve tradition in a society where women’s bodies are frequently under threat.

Jasmine Lee-Jones’ first play, seven methods of killing kylie jenner, explores cultural appropriation, queerness, friendship and the ownership of Black bodies both online and in real life.

The play’s two characters, Cleo and Kara, debate the role of influencer Kylie Jenner and the appropriation of black women’s beauty for profit.

Autumn announcement

The winner of the Prize will be announced in September and will take place via an online film this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This year’s astounding shortlist works with timely themes in exciting and fresh new ways. This year we had our highest number of entries for the Prize, and they showed exciting diversity of form and writing. When considering the award, we ask our judges to nominate dramas that make them look at life a little differently, and this year’s James Tait Black nominees more than fit the bill in this challenging year.”

Greg Walker
Chair of the judging panel and Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University

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

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.

Unique award

The Prizes are distinctive in the way that they are judged. Each year the judging panel relies on the help of postgraduate playwriting student readers to critically assess the entries.

The emerging playwrights employ their literary training to pass on their recommendations to the judges, who select the shortlist.

The judging panel includes students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, representatives from the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Schaubuhne Theatre, Berlin, and freelance theatre director Pooja Ghai.

The James Tait Black Prize for Drama was launched in 2012, when Britain’s longest-running literary awards were extended to include a category for drama.

Previous winners include: Clare Barron’s Dance Nation (2019); Tanika Gupta’s Lions and Tigers (2018); David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue (2017); Gary Owen’s Splott (2016); Gordon Dahlquist’s Tomorrow Come Today (2015); Rory Mullarkey’s Cannibals (2014); and Tim Price’s Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (2013).