Faber announces the winner of the Faber New Play Award as Carmen Marcus’s ‘And The Earth Opened Up Under Her’

The Faber New Play Award, which offers publication to coincide with the premiere, and a prize of £5,000, was granted to the best play written by an unpublished playwright under the WGGB New Play Commission Scheme. The scheme was a response to the decline in new theatre commissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, and offered eighteen 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, 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Faber joined up with the New Play Commission Scheme, making a generous donation and launching an award to encourage unpublished playwrights to enter for the scheme.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.’

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Written by Theatrefullstop