The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) presents its annual awards for the encouragement of new writing at the Almeida Theatre, London, on Friday 14 February 2020.  

The Olwen Wymark Awards, the brainchild of playwrights Mark Ravenhill and David James (former Chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee), were set up to give WGGB members the opportunity to publicly thank those who had given them a positive experience in new writing over the previous year.    

They are named in honour of playwright Olwen Wymark, passionate supporter of WGGB and former Chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee, who died in 2013.   

David James, who has organised the award since 2005, said: “The award was set up to make a statement of how important encouragement is, and is based on the simple premise of saying ‘thank you’. Now in its 15th year, it is a bright spot on the Writers’ Guild’s annual calendar.”  

The winners of the 15th annual awards are:  

Matt Grinter – playwright, director and tutor at Theatre Royal Bath’s Writers’ Group 

Nominated by WGGB member Merlin Goldman for Matt’s support of his short play A Game of Two Halves, which was performed at the Theatre Royal Bath, and the completion of his first full-length play, Hit Points.

Merlin Goldman said: “Matt took over the Theatre Royal Bath’s Writers’ Group in 2018 and created a tailored programme for three groups of non-professional writers. Over 12 months, he delivered each session with clarity, enthusiasm and originality. Matt made each month’s class different: a workshop, a theatre trip, a visiting speaker (including a current Olivier award winner) or actors to read our work out loud. At every reading or through feedback by email, Matt provided constructive and emboldening feedback on my writing. 

“A Game of Two Halves was performed as part of an evening of short plays at the Theatre Royal Bath in September. We had the opportunity to attend our rehearsal and work with the director and actors on final edits. 

“This was a fabulous opportunity that none of us were expecting when we signed up to take the course.”

Nina Hajiyianni, Artistic Director and Kevin Dyer, Associate Writer, both at Action Transport Theatre 

Nominated by WGGB member Ginni Manning for their support of her writing, especially over the past year.

Ginni Manning said: “Nina and I met at a workshop in 2016. She introduced me to the organisation ASSITEJ (International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People) and suggested I take part in their Write Local. Play Global playwright slam. From there I met a South African writer, Lalu Mokuku, and we co-wrote, by Skype, the play Dipalo (which won the ASSITEJ South African Playwriting Competition 2019).

“Nina introduced me to Kevin Dyer in 2018 and over the past year he gave me the opportunity to be his writer assistant at Action Transport Theatre Young Writers. Our project culminated with the play Rezzy, written by five female writers aged 14-19, under our guidance and performed by local students in primary schools.

“In 2018 I completed a Write for Work programme with the organisation Writing on the Wall and was chosen to write for the City of Light project. I became lead writer teaching creative writing to members of UNISON. I have recently got my first contract as a paid writer, teaching women involved in the justice system. Additionally I had a play chosen for the Clean Break-curated Propel Festival at HOME Manchester. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for Nina and Kevin, who have given me constant encouragement in my emerging writing career.”

Nina Kristofferson, writer, actor, director and singer 

Nominated by WGGB member Julian Wilkins for Nina’s mentorship and support of his writing

Julian Wilkins said: “Nina has been a great inspiration and mentor regarding my writing, particularly for theatre. She has sought my opinion concerning her own stage projects, including her highly acclaimed Billie Holiday Story. This has given me insight about theatre writing and production and has helped build my confidence. Additionally, Nina has given me very candid and constructive criticism about my writing.

“At every juncture, including introducing me to her colleagues, Nina has given me encouragement and promotes my abilities - I am starting my writing career in my middle age and it is incredibly inspirational to have Nina share her talent, experience and dynamism with me. She has given me the belief that there are no closed doors regardless of when you start your writing career.”

Greg Mosse, founder and leader of the Criterion New Writing script development programme 

Nominated by WGGB member Nina Millns for his championing of marginalised playwrights and actors

Nina Millns said: “I met Greg at an event run by Actors Awareness where they were showcasing extracts of plays written by working-class women and he encouraged me to keep in touch regarding the free course of workshops he runs at the Criterion Theatre. In the meantime, I was offered a deal to turn my play into a series and as I had no agent at the time I turned to Greg, who talked me through the practicalities.

“I have since taken part in the playwriting course he runs and his wealth of knowledge is remarkable. He also works hard to ensure that the groups are a good mix of ages, races and class, and he champions those of us who perhaps don’t have the opportunities and connections that a more privileged background would offer.

“Greg goes above and beyond to support us all – for example, he offered support with a tricky situation I found myself in where I wasn’t properly credited for my work. Speaking to others who have been on the course – either writers or actors – I hear a similar story and am heartened to see how many of these people are from marginalised backgrounds, able to sit on a West End stage and hone their craft. Greg is passionate about making the industry as accessible as possible and making sure that there is a richer variety of work in British theatre.”

Mike Poulton, dramatist 

Nominated by WGGB member Rex Obano for Mike’s mentorship of him and support with his play The Moors of England

Rex Obano said: “I first met Mike in 1997 when I was an actor and he was a writer at the Royal Shakespeare Company. What I didn’t tell him then was I was just starting my writing career. When I contacted him in 2014 I was surprised he remembered me. I had an idea for a play The Moors of England, which was set in Tudor England and at the time his Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies had transferred to the West End. I contacted him for advice as our plays were set in the same era. He loved the idea of my play and began to mentor me, vowing to help me get the play on to the stage.  Over the next few years he not only read drafts and gave me tips on writing but gave me the belief that my ambitious play would make it to production.

“What was extremely beneficial about Mike’s mentorship was the confidence he gave me. I took time off writing when I became a stay-at-home dad when my wife went back to work after the birth of our daughter – I was low in confidence and struggling to write for the theatre. Mike made me believe that I could and that this ambitious play was the one that would do it. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the stage but in 2018 was adapted and produced on BBC Radio 3. It wouldn’t have happened without Mike and I am extremely grateful for his tireless work on my behalf.”

Tessa Walker, director 

Nominated by WGGB member Alexis Zegerman for Tessa’s championing of her and other under-represented playwrights

Alexis Zegerman said: “I first met Tessa in the early Noughties, when she was assigned to direct my winning short play for the Westminster Prize at Soho Theatre. We were both young(er) and I suppose ‘up-and-coming'. Tessa would become a great friend, a colleague and always a first eye on any play I wrote. She was a brilliant director when I first met her, and she has proven herself to be a beacon of hope and encouragement to writers in the theatre world today. 

“My status as a commissioned playwright in the industry would ebb and flow, as would my confidence. I would also become a mother, and on the rare occasion that I would find myself at an industry event I’d be patronisingly asked, ‘Oh, are you still scribbling?’ Tessa would never cease to call me a writer over all this time. She would read my plays, give me expert notes and be my connect to the industry. 

“Tessa’s tenure at the Birmingham Rep was all about her encouragement of writers – women writers, parent writers, parents to sick children writers, writers of colour, marginalised writers, local voices … I could go on. I wouldn’t have the space to name all the writers she’s encouraged over the past 20 years. She is a true unsung hero.”