Salford-born actor Simon Bradbury took away £10,000 and the opportunity to have his work considered for production by Liverpool’s Royal Court, for a comedy that charts the last hours of playwright and actor Moliere’s life.
A Highly Commended Award of £1500 went to writer and lecturer Gerry Linford from Ellesmere Port, for his play A Prayer to Saint Cajetan, set in Liverpool during the 1978 World Cup.
Simon’s winning play, The Last Act of Love of J B Moliere, is set in the year 1673, when playwriting and acting was a risky business. It imagines the playwright Moliere’s last days as, knowing his death is near, he prepares to put on a performance of 'The Imaginary Invalid'. Moliere’s servant and wife try to dissuade him from performing, and ask him to sign a document renouncing the acting profession, in the hope of saving his soul and affording him a Christian burial. Both his friends and enemies alike conspire to keep Moliere from the stage in the madcap romp.
Dr John Bennett, Chair of Judges, said: "This is a truly remarkable play. It manages to combine broad slapstick humour, detailed historical knowledge and witty, original dialogue to great comic effect, whilst achieving moments of genuine pathos - an impressive feat of comic writing."
Winner Simon has acted in a number of Shakespeare productions, and starred in the TV shows Arrow, Fringe and Stargate: Arc of Truth. He has also worked in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil. Simon studied at the Drama Centre London and then spent 16 years with the Shaw Festival Theatre in Canada. His play about Chaplin was programmed for their Courthouse season in 2002. Simon has had three Jessie nominations, winning one for best supporting actor. Simon founded his own theatre company, Ziggurat Theatre and now resides back in UK.
Judge Frank Cottrell Boyce said: "As soon as I started reading it, I was seeing it in my mind's eye, and as soon as I started to see it in my mind’s eye, I wanted to see it on a stage. I wanted to see it sitting next to someone I really love and with a box of chocolates in my hand…the winner is not just a really good play but also a really good night out.”
Judge Amanda Whittington said: “The writing is fantastic. We were all just knocked out by the skill, and the wit, and the vision of the writer. I hope that they can really take that forward in the work that they do next, knowing that they’ve got something to say and that it’s good.”
Simon’s play is inspired by his own years on stage in the US, UK, and Canada, which has included a role in Moliere’s Tartuffe at The Stratford Festival. Accepting his award, he said that the prize was a wonderful "homecoming" as he has now settled back in the UK after spending sixteen years in Canada.
Simon said: “My inspiration for the play was, in fact, the world of the theatre. Austerity has been a blow to all aspects of our lives but the cultural world is the first to get it in the neck. My admiration for Moliere, the man and his farces, was another springboard. He dealt with tyrannical patronage, censorship and ceaseless attacks from the church yet continued his commitment to enlighten and entertain. I have tried to reproduce his spirit of anarchy by constructing a comedy about the last hours of his life, during which all these travails come to the fore. It is my cheeky homage to a compulsive social critic who pushed the bounds of convention and good taste, while being completely incapable of denying himself and countless others a bloody good laugh.”
He added, “I sent my play in because it is rare to see comedy highlighted for a competition. It tends to be the poor cousin of tragedy and other genres. This specialization is exciting, because it harkens back to the days of the Aldwych farces, which led to a golden era of English theatre comedy. Comedy is damned serious business! The association of a highly regarded academic institution with a respected theatre company lends credence to this idea. That is why this competition is unique and very important.”
A Highly Commended Award of £1500 was presented to writer and lecturer Gerry Linford from Ellesmere Port, for his play A Prayer to Saint Cajetan. Set in 1978, A Prayer to Saint Cajetan charts what happens when an eccentric priest teams up with an unemployed man to place a series of outlandish bets on the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Gerry is a lecturer in Screenwriting at the University of Central Lancashire and has written a number of films, including Buddha Boy for BBC Wales and What's The Story.