Faber New Play Award winner

The winner of the Faber New Play Award, granted to the best play written by an unpublished playwright under the WGGB New Play Commission Scheme (NPCS), was today announced as Carmen Marcus’s 'And The Earth Opened Up Under Her'
Carmen Marcus

The Faber New Play Award, which offers publication to coincide with the premiere, and a prize of £5,000, was granted under the NPCS – a response to the decline in new theatre commissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, which offered 18 commissions for playwrights across England in 2022. Under the scheme, And The Earth Opened Up Under Her has been commissioned by Pilot Theatre, York.

The judges for the Faber New Play Award were playwrights Dipo Baruwa-Etti and Beth Steel; dramaturg and translator Chris Campbell; and, at Faber, Lily Levinson and Dinah Wood.

Dipo Baruwa-Etti commented, “And The Earth Opened Up Under Her is an ambitious and bold play, telling a story of complex human relationships with a rich theatricality and poetry that is exciting and showcases a promising new voice to watch out for.”

Chris Campbell described the play as “an intelligent and original work rooted in the soil of a rich tradition.”

Beth Steel said, “Carmen’s dark gem of a play pulled me in with its vivid language and pulsing theatrical imagination. I’m really looking forward to seeing where her writing takes her – and us – next.”

Dinah Wood, Editorial Director, Drama at Faber, said, “New writing is the animating force in our drama publishing, and it was wonderful to read and discuss five wildly various plays, amongst them this beautifully dark and mysterious work, written in Carmen’s richly poetic voice.”

David Edgar, former WGGB President and architect of the New Play Commission Scheme, commented, “We were delighted when Faber joined up with the New Play Commission Scheme, making a generous donation and launching an award to encourage unpublished playwrights to enter for the scheme. We’re thrilled that all of the eligible playwrights entered, and that the standard was so high. Carmen Marcus’s play transfers an ancient myth into contemporary England; we can’t wait to see it on stage and to read it in print.”

Carmen Marcus said, “This fever-dream of a play is a working-class reimagining of the Persephone and Demeter myth. It intertwines the stories of scoundrels my Irish mother told me, the wolfish fairytales I loved, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. It is set on the North East coast of England, where the hellish blast furnace fumed over the dunes and wild woods of my childhood.

This play is a keening written in the same year I lost my mother, Bridget, to dementia. My mum always said she’d go to hell and back for us and this is that journey laid bare – what hell looks like for girls, women and mothers as they negotiate the underworlds of their fears and desires.

Winning this award means so much. I took so many creative and emotional risks writing this play, I had so many doubts about the work – about making the leap to playwriting, the strange poetic voices of the characters, the kinds of hells I wanted to make. I’m blown away that the Faber team saw potential within this strange imagining and selected it for the award. The award brings that all-important validation for a working-class story about the dangers that girls must navigate, and is a huge boost on the journey towards staging this tale.

And The Earth Opened Up Under Her began with a serendipitous chat with Esther Richardson of Pilot Theatre, York, who approached me to work on their Northern Girls project, though I had never written for theatre before. We discovered we went to the same Catholic primary school in Redcar, ruled over by the indomitable Mrs MacDonagh, an inspirational female force to be reckoned with. It was Esther who suggested I apply for the New Play Commission Scheme. I will be eternally grateful for her steadfast belief in my writing.”

Esther Richardson, Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre, said, “Carmen is an astonishing talent and deserves this award and recognition so much. We are thrilled for her at Pilot, and cannot wait to stage this extraordinary play.”

About Carmen Marcus

Carmen Marcus lives on the wild North East coast. As the daughter of a Yorkshire fisherman and an Irish chef, her writing brings together the practical and the magical. Her debut novel How Saints Die was published by Vintage in 2018, won New Writing North’s Northern Promise Award and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Carmen was selected as a BBC Radio 3 The Verb New Voice and her poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, the Royal Festival Hall, and Durham Book Festival. In 2022, she undertook a creative practice PhD on oral storytelling with Teesside University to gather fishing stories of Redcar. Having made the journey from council estate to the bookshelf, Carmen is dedicated to supporting underrepresented writers working to tell their stories their way through projects and mentoring. She strives in her work to live up to the words of her first and most influential critic, her primary school teacher: ‘weird, minus one house-point.’

About the New Play Commission Scheme

The landmark New Play Commission Scheme (NPCS), created by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) in partnership with HighTide Theatre, UK Theatre and the Independent Theatre Council, is a response to the decline in new play commissioning following the Covid-19 pandemic. The New Play Commission Scheme was supported using public funding by Arts Council England and by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre through the Theatre Development Trust. The scheme raised over £50,000 in donations from major producers, actors and writers, with Faber making a donation to the scheme as well as awarding an additional £5,000 to the best play by an unpublished playwright.

Find out more about the NPCS

Photo: Kev Howard