Channel 4 Announces Winners of Playwrights' Scheme Bursaries

Channel 4 is delighted to announce the five winners of the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme which celebrates and supports emerging British writing talent. The initiative (formerly the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme) awards five bursaries a year to new theatre writers and has been supported by Channel 4 since 2013. Four bursaries are supported by Channel 4 and the fifth by The Peggy Ramsay Foundation.

The Sonia Friedman Productions Award (formerly the Catherine Johnson Best Play Award), given to the writer of the best play written by one of the previous year’s bursary recipients, has been jointly awarded to Melissa Bubnic for ‘Monkey Work, Baboon Chop’ (Orange Tree Theatre) and Chino Odimba for ‘How to Walk on the Moon’ (Talawa).

The recipients of the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme bursaries for 2017, each of whom will receive £10000, are:

Sonali Bhattacharyya (‘Deepa The Saint’)

Orange Tree Theatre (supported by The Peggy Ramsay Foundation)

Asif Khan (‘Combustion’)

Joint entry from RIFCO Arts and Watford Palace Theatre

Natasha Marshall (‘Half Breed’)

Clean Break

Janice Okoh (‘Egusi Soup’)


Adura Onashile (‘Expensive Shit’)

Traverse Theatre

The successful writers have already embarked upon one-year attachments with the theatres outlined above, giving them the opportunity to meet a variety of theatre practitioners and gain first-hand experience of a working theatre. Their principal task over the 12 months is to write at least one full-length play. The writers will also have the opportunity to submit their play for the Sonia Friedman Productions Award in the year following their bursary. Francis Turnly’s ‘THE GREAT WAVE’, which won the award last year - will have its World Premiere at the National Theatre this year. The North Korea set thriller opens in the Dorfman Theatre in March.

Playwrights were nominated by UK theatre Artistic Directors, with the five winners selected by the scheme’s panel chaired by Sir Richard Eyre and including Film4’s Commissioning Executive Julia Oh and Channel 4’s Head of Development for Drama, Matthew Wilson.

Matthew Wilson comments: “It’s hugely exciting to help forge new relationships between theatres and writers – and we can’t wait to see the stories that Janice, Adura, Asif, Sonali and Tash bring to life next. The theatre has always been an amazing source of original screenwriting talent – and with previous bursary winners Martin McDonagh and Jack Thorne riding high on the back of Film4’s ‘THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI’ and Channel 4’s ‘KIRI’ respectively, it’s a privilege to get a snapshot of the next generation.”

Sir Richard Eyre adds: “The standard of writing put forward by Artistic Directors this year was particularly strong – and I was delighted not only by the skill shown by each of our winners, but also their willingness to tackle big contemporary questions around race and class. This award has a tremendous pedigree in identifying the best new British writers, and it’s gratifying to see that continue with Francis Turnly’s debut at The National.”

Notes to Editors

In 1973, Howard Thomas, then Managing Director of Thames Television, launched the Thames Television Theatre Writers Scheme to support and celebrate new writing in the theatre. He believed that television owed much to the theatre for its supply of creative talent. In 1993 Pearson took over support for the scheme and it became the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme. In 2013 it was announced it was to become the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme.

Over the past 40 years, the playwrights’ scheme has celebrated and supported some of the finest British playwriting talent including Jack Thorne, Joe Penhall, Catherine Johnson, Peter Moffat, Lucy Prebble, Martin McDonagh, Nancy Harris, Hanif Kureishi, Lydia Adetunji, Richard Bean, Tanika Gupta – and the list could go on.

The scheme’s panel, chaired by Sir Richard Eyre CBE, this year included Will Mortimer (representing the Peggy Ramsay Foundation), Indhu Rubasingham, Dinah Wood, Nicholas Wright, Rosie Alison, Film4 Commissioning Executive Julia Oh and Channel 4’s Head of Development for Drama, Matthew Wilson. The scheme is administered by Sue Higginson OBE.

Four bursaries are supported by Channel 4 with the fifth by The Peggy Ramsay Foundation.

Each year there is an additional award, judged by the same panel as above, given to the writer of the best play produced by the previous year’s bursary winners, during their year on attachment to their theatres. Only one play per writer is eligible for consideration. Previously called the Catherine Johnson Best Play Award, the 2017 award is the first in partnership with Sonia Friedman Productions.

Sonia Friedman Productions (SFP) is a West End and Broadway production company responsible for some of the most successful theatre productions in London and New York. In 2017 Sonia Friedman OBE was awarded 'Producer of the year' at the Stage Awards for the third year in a row as well as taking the number one spot in 'The Stage 100', becoming the first number one in the history of the compilation not to own or operate West End theatres and the first solo woman for almost 20 years. Since 1990, SFP has developed, initiated and produced over 160 new productions and won numerous Olivier and Tony awards, winning a record-breaking 14 at the 2014 Olivier Awards, including the quartet of Best New Musical, Best New Play, Best Revival of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play. Sonia is now also producing in television, working with Colin Callender on a variety of projects. She has acted as Executive Producer on the Golden Globe nominated ‘THE DRESSER’ starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, and co-producer on the multi award-winning ‘WOLF HALL’ starring Mark Rylance and a forthcoming BBC production of ‘KING LEAR’ starring Anthony Hopkins.

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