Michael John O’Neill’s THIS IS PARADISE has won this year’s Popcorn Writing Award. The story centres around Kate who watches the historic moment of the Good Friday Agreement unfold. She receives a phone call that forces her to face her past; her ex-lover, the river, the trauma - it all comes flooding back.

O’Neill, who receives a £3,000 prize and a guaranteed run at one of the top six venues at the fringe next year, said:
“I am delighted by this. Thank you. It’s so meaningful to know that me and the other shortlisted writers were saying something with these scripts that the Popcorn Group and judging committee felt should be championed… it’s such a gift to be pulled back with an award like this, right to the beginning, and be reminded that everything started on the page.”

The 2 finalists are Siân Rowland (awarded £1,500 for the play THE CRACKS) and Nana-Kofi Kufuor (awarded £1,000 for his play MY VOICE WAS HEARD BUT IT WAS IGNORED) with Rachel Causer receiving a special mention and £500 for her play PLEASE, FEEL FREE TO SHARE.

With the future of theatre still uncertain due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Michael John O’Neill’s play premiered online this year with Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre for a short run.

The new writing prize run by the film, television and theatre production company, Popcorn Group, seeks to ensure that new voices are heard and brought to audiences. Their track record in supporting theatre includes their two recently announced productions with Francesca Moody Productions: MUM, a co-production with Soho Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth, and LEOPARDS, a co-production with Rose Theatre Kingston, in association with Kater Gordon. Their film productions include SHE WILL starring Alice Krige, Rupert Everett and Malcolm McDowell (which won a Golden Leopard for Best First Feature at Locarno Film Festival) and a biopic on Salvador Dalí, DALÍ LAND starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Ezra Miller, directed by Mary Harron (‘American Psycho’).

The winner was chosen by a carefully selected group of mavericks from theatre, film, TV and beyond, including two-time Olivier- Award winner and Tony nominee, Noma Dumezweni; producer Francesca Moody, known for award-winning and Olivier-nominated ‘Fleabag’ by Phoebe Waller-Bridge; celebrated playwright and poet, Inua Ellams; and Jonny Woo, award-winning performer, comedian, drag queen and a leading light in the world of cabaret.

Tony Grisoni said: “It was another impossible decision [but] ultimately the extraordinary poetry of THIS IS PARADISE… won hands down for me, melding the political and the personal in a terse, resonant monologue. Brilliant.”

Annabelle Wallis said: “I loved reading all of the thought provoking, powerful and emotionally evocative works. All of them so timely. They all speak to a myriad of the most important societal truths.”

THE CRACKS by Siân Rowland is about Kate and Amira, best friends and teachers determined to decolonise their outdated school curriculum, but find cracks appear in their relationship when one is accused of racism.

Francesca Moody said of THE CRACKS: “I loved THE CRACKS. A brilliant piece of new writing which explores complex themes with real deftness, humanity, humour and beautifully realised characters.”

MY VOICE WAS HEARD BUT IT WAS IGNORED by Nana-Kofi Kufuor is a tense and emotional confrontation between a black teacher and pupil that explores police brutality, intersectional feminism, and the question of who gets to define ‘blackness’.

Art Malik described it as, “a timely contemporary polemic drama with a clear message. Listen.”

The Popcorn Writing Award was established in 2019 to “champion fearless work which playfully and artistically questions and addresses current affairs, societal trends and contributes positively to public debate”.