O’Hare wins Victoria Wood comedy playwriting prize

Published: 17 May 2024
Reporter: Steve Orme

Eugene O’Hare, winner of the inaugural Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy Credit: Kris Askey

Irish actor and playwright Eugene O’Hare has won Birmingham Rep’s inaugural Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy for his play Portugal.

In the two-act comedy, a working-class Belfast woman called Jennifer says her life is so ordinary that she no longer feels like she exists. Her desire to be set free and find a different life in Portugal throws her family and fiancé into a mad spin.

The competition was conceived by Birmingham Rep artistic director Sean Foley, and is the first major playwriting prize dedicated to the art of comedy.

O’Hare said, “I’m very surprised and overwhelmed to receive this incredible and generous award. It’s especially meaningful post-COVID when playwrights are struggling more than before even to get their work read. Owning something associated with Victoria’s name is very meaningful to me and I will treasure it.”

Foley commented, “I’m thrilled that the inaugural Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy had so many brilliant entries. The task of finding our first winner among the very many styles of comedy and the hundreds of extraordinary plots, characters and situations wasn’t easy.

“But the judging panel felt that Eugene’s Portugal—a brilliantly funny play about taking ownership of your one shot at life no matter who you upset along the way—had compelling, relatable characters, superbly funny Belfast-tinged dialogue and a great situation that was often painfully hilarious.

“I couldn’t be prouder to have created this prize in conjunction with the Rep, the Victoria Wood Foundation and with the sponsorship of BBC Comedy. I’m delighted that we have such a fantastic first winner.”

O’Hare’s previous writing includes two full-length plays The Weatherman and Sydney and the Old Girl, the second of which featured Miriam Margolyes. They both premièred at the Park Theatre, London in 2019. He directed his all-female play The Dry House at the Marylebone Theatre in spring 2023.

The judging panel consisted of Foley, actor and comedian Daniel Rigby, actor and broadcaster Siobhan McSweeney, producer Tegan Summer, playwright Tanika Gupta MBE FRSL and television producer and representative of the Victoria Wood Foundation Piers Wenger. The project is led by director, dramaturg and comedy teacher Dec Munro.

The other finalists were Caoimhe Farren with Hello Charlie, Andrew Pollard’s Bring me the Head of Miriam Margolyes and Ed Amsden and Tom Coles’s play Bum.

Special commendations went to Goodbye Suzzie Jenkins by Ben Callon, Fake Melania by Poppy Corbett, Reach for the Stars by Jenny Knotts and Sidekicked by Patrick Maguire.

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