Brown Boys Swim is the winner of the Popcorn Writing Award 2022. Written by Karim Khan (a recipient of Riz Ahmed’s Left Handed Films and Pillars Fund inaugural fellowship and an alumnus of the The North Wall’s ArtsLab programme), this lyrical coming-of-age tale looks at the pressures that surround young Muslim men today.
Considering how systemic racism and societal pressures push certain people along a relentless current, Brown Boys Swim examines how we can be prevented from being and understanding our most authentic selves. This exhilarating play looks deeper at the communities who are consciously and unconsciously forbidden from spaces like pools – where the strange looks and other micro-aggressions they receive are possibly a sign of something more insidious.
This year, the Popcorn Group partnered for the first time with BBC Writersroom, offering valuable one-to-one meetings with each of the longlisted playwrights with members of the BBC Drama Commissioning team.
Jess Loveland, Head of New Writing at BBC Writersroom commented, “It has been a real privilege and pleasure for BBC Writersroom to partner with the Popcorn Group on the prestigious Popcorn Writing Award for the first time this year. The quality of all the longlisted plays has been outstanding, and the range of stories and issues explored through the writing nothing short of inspiring. We want to congratulate this year’s winner Karim Khan, on his subtle, nuanced, and funny play looking at the experiences of young Muslim men coming of age today. Huge congratulations also go to the three shortlisted finalists for their brilliant, thought-provoking work. We can’t wait to meet all the talented longlisted writers over the next couple of months and chat to them about their work and writing ambitions.”
The judges for this year’s awards included Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson (Hamlet, Almeida and West End; King Lear, West End), Olivier Award-winning producer Francesca Moody MBE (Fleabag, West End), globally celebrated portrait artist Jonathan Yeo, award-winning comedian Jack Rooke (Big Boys, Channel 4), star of stage and screen Lydia Leonard (Ten Percent!, Amazon/AMC; Wolf Hall, RSC), BAFTA and two-time Emmy and Ivor Novello nominated composer Nainita Desai, and award-winning director and artist, Charlotte Colbert, BIFA-nominated producer Jessica Malik (She Will, Funny Woman), Development Executive Natalie Denton and members of the BBC Writersroom team led by Jessica Loveland.
Francesca Moody MBE said, “Brown Boys Swim is a beautiful and tender piece of writing full of heart. Dynamic and original. A story I’ve never seen on stage and one that I was delighted to read and then watch on stage. I loved it.”
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is vital for launching the careers of up-and-coming talent in the arts, and the Popcorn Writing Award plays a huge part in championing new voices from all over the world. Not only does the Popcorn Group award the winner a prize fund of £3,000, but also offers the three shortlisted finalists a share of a remaining £3,000. The incredible shortlisted plays included a range of daring new writing from Pleasance, Summerhall and Traverse.
Awarded £1,500, Jenna Fincken’s one-woman thriller Ruckus is the first finalist. Sending a shiver down your spine with its visceral sound design and exploration of coercive control, each moment of the play has been inspired by real women and real stories. Presented by the award-winning Wildcard at Summerhall, we see how a loving relationship can sometimes be anything but, and how the side effects of coercive control kill up to three women every week in the UK.
From Plymouth Laureate of Words Laura Horton and playing at the Pleasance, Breathless is the second finalist, and recipient of £1,000. This funny, honest and stylish exploration of the knife-edge of hoarding asks: what happens when the things we covet hide us from ourselves? Opening up to new experiences in her late-thirties, Sophie is exploring long repressed sides of herself. When a secret she’s keeping from those she loves, and even from herself, threatens to unravel it all, she has to make a choice. Who or what will she decide to give up?
At Traverse Theatre, Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb transports audiences to the quaint days of dial-up and MSN in a funny, moving and nostalgic story of transition. From teen to adult, from MySpace to TikTok, from cis to trans, the world premiere of this online show irl is a joyful queer rom-com where Millennial meets Gen Z and change is all around. Happy Meal is the final finalist for the award, winning £500.