Reviews for Playwrights: Shook by Samuel Bailey

In our latest blog series, our new team member, Joanne Griffiths, will be reviewing new writing productions from the perspective of an emerging writer. She’ll be sharing her insights into how we can learn from seeing the work of other playwrights on stage, and how this might help us develop our own playwriting careers. 

First up, Jo shares her thoughts on the 2019 winner of the Papatango Prize, Shook by Samuel Bailey. 


‘Questions, Questions, Questions.’

There is a reason that 1406 playwrights sent scripts into the Papatango prize in 2019, 2018, 2017 etc.  It’s very simple: the winning play is ALWAYS extraordinarily brilliant!  

This year’s winner Samuel Bailey won the competition with his debut play Shook.  Yes, it’s a great production.  Yes, the acting is wonderful. Yes, the set and costume worked seamlessly with the whole piece. But, it was the quality of the writing that really shone (for me, at least, watching through the eyes of an emerging playwright). 

For a writer entering these types of competitions, you have to see the winning plays in order to gage the quality.  For those writers that did enter the competition (myself included) it is research.  

To watch the piece with a writer’s eye gives you an insight into how you might improve your own writing.  It made me think about the setting. Why a young offenders institute? Why an educational baby class for new dads?   Why this arena? Why now? How is it relevant? Writers need ideas and they often come from unlikely places. I was wondering if Bailey had been to a young offenders institute or if someone he knew had.   

It also makes you question why it won.  What stood out in this piece, marking it out from the hundreds of other scripts. Originality has to be one of the driving forces here, making it a ‘winning’ script. How Bailey created the laugh out loud moments combined with the poignant scenes within a stark, white room were enchanting.  The characters were fresh and modern. Each person had a unique voice and the overall experience was original while maintaining the full concept of a well-made play.  

Then you look at your own work and you compare.  It’s human nature. Was my script as good as this?  My own work is totally different and it’s difficult to compare genres but is my dialogue as good as Bailey’s?  Are my comedy moments as funny as Bailey’s?  The simple answer is no.  Could I get better?  Yes I could.    How does this make me feel?  Inspired. Shook won because it was a bloody good script, and if that isn’t motivation to keep working and keep developing as a writer, I don’t know what is. 

It also makes you question if you sent the script in at the right time.  Is there more to do before entering these competitions? When is a play complete?  Did Bailey work on the script after winning? Questions, questions, questions.  All writers question everything they do and watching others work helps with our own development and understanding.  There aren’t many answers in the world of writing scripts but we do know a good script from a bad one. 

It was easy to see why Shook had won.  The crafting and development of the characters was outstanding.  The elements of sadness and then humour showed human interaction at it’s very best.   The concept, the story and the characters were simply fantastic. Bailey is now firmly on everyone’s radar and rightfully so.   

It also makes you humble and appreciative of the huge amount of talent and skill that is out there in this fantastic, creative environment.  The winning play went through many rounds of reading and the prize is what every new writer is after. It’s a game changer and a life line. I honestly walked out of Southwark playhouse feeling that Papatango had once again found a real life gem in Bailey.    

One of the joys of writing is that you have a host of ideas that eventually end up in a rehearsal space (if you’re lucky) and then the collaboration begins.  It is that collaboration that is so lovely to see when you see this type of winning play. Quality and setting the bar for all of us to rise to is inspirational and it reminds you that while you sit alone and write, eventually a whole team of amazing people will help you lift the script into a full production.  Then you are not alone and the alone time was worth it. 

So if you want to get better at writing, go and see the winners of these types of competitions. If you can’t go and see them, reading the scripts is the next best thing (you can currently buy Shook from the Papatango website for just £3).

And if you have a play ready, It would also be a really, really good idea to enter the 2020 Papatango New Writing Prize.   The deadline is February 2nd 2020, find out more here.

If you haven’t seen Shook yet then its transferring to Trafalgar Studios from Wednesday 8th April until Saturday 9th May, book tickets here. 

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