The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

£10k prize is a dream come true for first time playwright

The inaugural Richard Jenkinson Commission recipients were revealed at the end of January. Sam Wonfor hears from its overjoyed winner and a pretty happy pair of runners up.
  • Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay launched the playwriting prize last summer
  • The winning play will be produced at the North Tyneside venue and will also transfer to London
  • All shortlisted entries will receive support to develop their plays
Richard Jenkinson Commission winner, Sarah Bond at Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay

Ten grand, a full production of your play on a North East stage and a London transfer within 12 months.

Little wonder more than 700 people tabled their scripts and stories for consideration by the assembled panel of judges for the first Richard Jenkinson Commission.

Launched by Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay in the summer of 2023, it’s the passion project of the fringe venue’s artistic director, and Olivier Award-winning theatre producer, Jamie Eastlake who put out an open call for ‘epic stories’.

Sarah Bond was one of the hundreds who heard him and submitted her play Seagulls and Sad Sad Stories.

In December, the County Durham writer found herself among eight shortlisted storytellers. And at the end of last month, the first time playwright was announced as the winner.

“I couldn’t believe I had won, especially when there were so many amazing creatives on the shortlist who were all deserving winners,” she says.

“This is the first play I have ever written! I’ve worked on screenplays, radio scripts and children’s fiction, so as a writer (who absolutely loves theatre) it means everything to me that Jamie and the team have seen something in my work and are willing to help me learn and develop.”

Sarah’s play will tell the story of three young lads from South Shields who run into trouble with a magical fortune telling Zoltar machine.

Jamie Eastlake announcing the winner from the stage at Laurels Theatre

She’s happy to offer a bit more detail.

“When the Zoltar predicts the misery and misfortune expected of three kids with troubled backgrounds, they must decide whether they will accept what it believes of them, or fight for a better life…the one they know they are capable of and deserve.”

Sarah also promises that ‘an array of 90s bangers, trackies, fish and chips and a proper ruthless seagull’ will feature.

Although focused on getting cracking with the next stage of the play’s development, Sarah can’t help but peek ahead to the prospect of a transfer down to a stage in the capital.

“I’m so excited that this play, which is truly a love letter to the people of the North East, will be seen by audiences in London too! Hopefully it’ll resonate there and make some impact.

“I’m incredibly proud of this play and I can’t wait to see how it affects audiences in the North and South.”

Laurels’ artistic director Jamie Eastlake with co-founder, Steve Robertson

Jamie, who named the prize in honour of his late business partner, said: “We wanted to find a unique voice and something that would fit with how we told stories in our little theatre in Whitley Bay. Sarah’s idea is all of that.

“It was a tough choice because of the brilliance that we had submitted and that’s why we made the decision to ensure all finalists had opportunities to progress with their ideas in some form of development and cash.”

All remaining shortlisted entrants will receive a share of an additional £10k of cash support, together with production advances and further development opportunities with creative partners.

Among the seven entries receiving further support were:

Peachplant Productions’ Subterranea  — a story set in the tunnels under Newcastle where all the working classes live following a nuclear disaster;

Kerry Fitzgerald’s Dad Won’t Die, a piece about someone dealing with grief whilst battling the overly stretched NHS and care system;

Scrapper Reed’s Round the Houses, which is ‘a comedic North Eastern tale looking at the effect of debt in local communities’

Newcastle comic, Gavin Webster
Newcastle comic, Gavin Webster (pictured) and Si Beckwith are writing a play about debt. But there will be laughs

North East comedians and writers, Gavin Webster and Si Beckwith are behind the latter and will receive £1k cash and a £1.5K production guarantee.

Gavin said: “We’re really knocked out by this. We didn’t think we’d make the shortlist of 80 when there was over 700 applicants, let alone get to the final and then become runners up!

“We both had initial ideas about doing a hard hitting piece about debt and how it affects people’s lives in the 21st century.”

Si added: “We knew that there was a play in that sort of thing somewhere along the line. One of them plays that can transcend generations because we’ve all slipped into debt due to wanting to live a life that just might be out of reach. It seems that young people aren’t learning lessons from generations before.”

As you might expect, Si and Gavin are planning to balance the seriousness of the issue they’re exploring with a decent downpayment of comedy.

Si says: “We’re looking forward to writing it in full. We’re both comedians so we really want to make it funny in parts, sort of pithy and full of pathos.”

For more information about the Richard Jenkinson Commission and updates on when Sarah’s play will reach Laurels’ stage, visit the website.


Newcastle’s independent Lit & Phil library opened in 1825 and now contains nearly 200,000 books, including a seminal 1848 book about the dodo

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