17 May 2024

Inaugural comedy playwriting prize winner revealed

Comedy prize winner.jpg

Actor and playwright Eugene O’Hare was announced as the winner of Birmingham Rep’s inaugural Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy for his play, Portugal

Conceived by The Rep’s double Olivier award-wining artistic director, Sean Foley, in partnership with The Victoria Wood Foundation and supported by BBC Comedy the prize is the first major playwrighting award dedicated to the art of Comedy.

In Eugene O’Hare’s two-act comedy play, Portugal, 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 completely different life in Portugal throws her family and fiancé into a mad spin. Portugal is about taking ownership of your one shot at life no matter who you upset along the way.

Eugene O’Hare said on receiving the prize: “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 to even get their work read.

“Owning something associated with Victoria’s name is very meaningful to me, and I will treasure it.”

O’Hare’s previous writing includes two full-length plays which opened at the Park Theatre in London in 2019 followed by a third play, The Dry House, which opened in London in 2023. 

As a screen actor he has played recurring and guest roles in shows for HBO, BBC, Channel 4, Starz and Netflix. He has worked extensively as a theatre actor in London, Sheffield, Glasgow, Dublin and both on and off Broadway.

Sean Foley, artistic director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre and member of the judging panel, said: “I’m thrilled that the inaugural Victoria Wood Playwriting Prize for Comedy had so many brilliant entries: the task of finding our first winner amongst the very many styles of comedy, the hundreds of extraordinary plots, characters and situations, was not easy.

“But the judging panel felt that Eugene O’Hare’s Portugal - a brilliantly funny play about taking ownership at 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, and I’m delighted that we have such a fantastic first winner.”

Joining Sean Foley on the panel for the prize were: BAFTA winning actor, comedian and friend of Victoria Wood, Daniel Rigby, BAFTA winning actor and broadcaster Siobhan McSweeney, West End and Broadway producer Tegan Summer, renowned playwright Tanika Gupta, television producer and representative of the Victoria Wood Foundation Piers Wenger.  The project is led by the multiple award-winning live comedy director, dramaturg and comedy teacher, Dec Munro.

Siobhan McSweeney said: “This play is a perfect example of how comedy as a genre can deal with all the big philosophical questions about the human condition.”

Fellow panellist Tegan Summer added: “Portugal was our clear winner, albeit in a very strong field of finalists, due to the quality of its dialogue, clear character definitions, a relatable, emblematic premise, and the depth of its story arc. 

“It keeps the reader and audience wanting to take the journey alongside its strong female protagonist to the last page.”

The prize has been made possible thanks to the generous support of The Victoria Wood Foundation; a charity set up after the death of Victoria Wood in 2016 by her friends to support the arts.

Further information can be found on The Rep Website here

Pictured from left to right: Daniel Rigby, Eugene O’Hare and Tegan Summer

Related topics