Entertainment & Arts

Shop assistant wins top scriptwriting award

Katherine Soper Image copyright Royal Exchange Theatre
Image caption Soper wrote the winning play while studying at at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

A shop assistant who works in a luxury London perfumery has won Europe's most lucrative scriptwriting award with her debut play.

Katherine Soper won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting with Wish List, about young carers dealing with benefit cuts.

She will receive a £16,000 cheque and a residency at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, where the Bruntwood Prize ceremony took place on Tuesday.

All 1,938 of this year's entries were submitted anonymously.

Soper, 24, said: "It is a huge vote of confidence. Anyone who knows me and knows that I write will know that I suffer a lot of confidence issues with my work."

Her winning script tells the story of Tasmin, who cares for her housebound brother Dean and takes on a zero-hours factory contract after his benefits are cut.

She also meets a young man who "seems to offer her a different option", Soper said.

"Wish List is about work and our attitudes to work and our attitudes to the unemployed," she said.

"There are fleeting moments of hope in the play as well, and it's about love in lots of ways. It's about human kindness and how deep that can go, even in the most inhumane of systems."

'Magnificent lives'

Former National Theatre artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner chaired the judging panel and described Wish List as a "really important play".

"It's a big play, beautifully written about small lives, which because of the skill of the playwright become magnificent lives," he said.

"Katherine is very young and at the beginning of her career, and if this is the quality she's able to deliver at this stage in her career I expect her to have a long, distinguished and exciting career."

Soper wrote Wish List as her dissertation play at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

She will be back at work at Penhaligon's perfumers on Regent Street, where she has worked for two years, on Wednesday. "I do that part time, and the rest of the time I try and write," she said.

Writers of all levels of experience were invited to submit new and unperformed scripts for the prize.

Four further judges' awards were given to:

  • Sound of Silence by Chloe Todd Fordham
  • Parliament Square by James Fritz
  • How My Light is Spent by Alan Harris
  • Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver

The Bruntwood Prize is handed out every two years and this marks its 10th anniversary.

Previous winners and runners-up include Anna Jordan, whose play Yen was staged at the Royal Exchange earlier this year; and Alistair McDowall, whose Pomona is currently playing there.

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