Play set in North wins James Tait Black Prize for Drama

David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue centres on Belfast loyalist convinced grandchild is Gerry Adams

Stephen Rea as Eric in Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland. Photograph:  Ros Kavanagh

Stephen Rea as Eric in Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

 

A play set in Northern Ireland exploring the extremes of sectarianism has won one of the UK’s most distinguished literary awards.

David Ireland’s tragicomedy Cyprus Avenue picked up the James Tait Black Prize for Drama.

The accolade celebrates innovation in playwriting and is awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh in association with Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and the Traverse Theatre.

Chairman of the judging panel Greg Walker said: “This year’s shortlist was incredibly strong - each playwright dealt with difficult issues masterfully.

“Cyprus Avenue is a shocking and darkly humorous play that shakes audiences to their core. It reflects exactly what this award aims to celebrate - bold, inventive playwriting - and I am thrilled it won this year’s prize.”

Belfast loyalist

The play centres on Eric Miller, a Belfast loyalist who is convinced his newborn grandchild is Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

At one point he puts glasses on the baby and draws a beard on her face with marker pen.

The play reveals Eric agonising over his own sense of identity and masculinity.

It was premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before its run at the Royal Court in April and May last year, receiving critical acclaim.

The performance was directed by the Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone.

Ireland’s drama topped a shortlist that included two other plays, Oil by Ella Hickson and Scenes From 68* Years by Hannah Khalil.

Cyprus Avenue is the fifth play to win the £10,000 prize, as part of the UK’s oldest book awards.

Time-travelling woman

Oil spans 150 years, and centres on a time-travelling woman called May and her daughter. Khalil created a series of everyday snapshots from life in Palestinian territory in Scenes From 68* Years, from 1948 to the present day.

The drama prize, launched in 2012, is judged by emerging artists and established theatre experts, rather than critics.

Students and academics from the University of Edinburgh, and representatives of the Traverse Theatre, Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and Schaubuhne Theatre in Berlin sit on the judging panel.

The accolade is awarded to the best new play in English, Scots or Gaelic, which demonstrates an original theatrical voice and makes a significant contribution to the art form.

Press Association