Two Lysicrates Prize plays hit Sydney stages

October 20th, 2018

The Lysicrates Prize is a playwriting competition for established playwrights, who are invited to submit the first act of a new play. A panel selects a shortlist of the best three, and they are given a rehearsed reading in front of an audience. Admission to the performance is free and the audience decides which play is the winner. The prize money affords the winning playwright the time to complete the play.

But of course in creative life things don’t always go according to plan. Dead ends can be reached, or other more urgent projects can prevent a promising first act from growth and maturity into a play ready for production. And then competition for places on Australian stages is fierce.

Over the four years since the inaugural Lysicrates Prize in 2015, twelve plays—comedy, tragedy and everything in between—have been shortlisted.

So what has happened to them all?

The Lysicrates Prize bore fruit from the very first.

Justin Fleming’s The Savvy Women—an adaptation of Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes—was shortlisted in 2015. Like Moliere’s original, Justin’s play is written in rhyming couplets. But instead of 17th century Paris, his setting is 21st century Sydney. The completed play, renamed The Literati, was staged at the Stables Theatre in a Griffin/Bell Shakespeare co-production in 2016. Audiences fell about laughing and the season was sold out.

The winner of the 2016 Prize was Mary Rachel Brown’s Approximate Balance. In its completed form as Dead Cat Bounce, it is included in the Griffin Theatre Company’s 2019 season and will be staged at the Stables Theatre in February next year.

And that’s not all! This month sees two more Lysicrates plays opening on Sydney stages.

Nick Coyle’s play, The Feather in the Web, is currently playing at the Stables Theatre, in a production by the Griffin Theatre Company, the champion of new Australian writing. A Lysicrates finalist in the 2017 competition, The Feather in the Web is described by Griffin as ‘a playful, startling and surprisingly hopeful coming-of-age story. It’s part picaresque, part fable—a journey from silence to a full-throated ROAR.’

Meanwhile, the National Theatre of Parramatta’s production of Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, opens at the Riverside Theatres on October 18. Steve Rodgers’ play is an adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy’s novella of the same name. The first act of this play was the winner of the Lysicrates Prize in 2015, the very first year of the competition. This is a challenging story, exploring the notion of an ‘ideal family’, and the extremes to which parental love will go.

The Lysicrates Prize is well on its way to becoming the Archibald Prize of Australian playwriting.