The Shakespeare North Playhouse and BBC One’s The One Show have revealed the finalists of their As you Write It – Your play On Stage Playwriting Competition.

The national playwriting competition, which was open to young people from the age of 7 up to 16 years old, received over 1,300 entries. It gives children and young people an extraordinary chance to have their idea for a play brought to life on stage at The Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot.

The top nine finalists were revealed on The One Show (Friday 20 November) and received goodwill messages from famous faces including: Michael Ball, Michelle Visage, Carrie Hope Fletcher, author Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Natasha Gordon, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and Callum Woodhouse.

About the competition

The competition is divided into three age categories, with three finalists in each category. The finalists in the 7-10 year old category are:  Livy, 10 from Cheshire; Katie, 10, from Staffordshire and Rosie, 10 from Ayrshire.

In the 11-13 age range the finalists are: Ruby, now 14, from Lancashire; Holly, 11, from Bristol and Hannah, 13, from Hampshire.

While the finalists in the 14-16 age group are Ana, 16, from Brighton; Sophie, 14, from the South East and Emma, now 17, from Devon.

All nine finalists now have the chance to develop their ideas with professionals and write their final plays. A panel of judges will then select a winner from each category in early 2021. The winning plays will be performed at The Shakespeare North Playhouse during its opening season in 2022.

Presenter of The One Show, Alex Jones, said: “All our finalists are incredibly talented with astonishing imaginations and it’s really heartening to see young people with so much promise. It’s an absolute honour to be involved in this competition.”

Max Steinberg CBE, Chair of The Shakespeare North Trust who was one of the judges, commented: “I have been absolutely privileged to have been involved in the As You Write it competition. I was really bowled over by the creativity, humour and imagination that was so clearly evident in the shortlisted entries I had the pleasure of reading. No two ideas were the same and there was a real originality in all of the submissions I saw.

“It is great to think that these wonderful ideas will be developed even further and I am genuinely excited to see which are selected to be brought to life on stage at The Shakespeare North Playhouse.

“When there have been so many concerns about the future of theatre and performance this competition is evidence, if it were needed, that the future – despite its challenges – is indeed very bright.”

About the Shakespeare North Playhouse

Work is continuing to progress on the construction of The Shakespeare North Playhouse which is due to open to the public in Prescot on Merseyside in 2022. At the centre of the new building will sit a flexible theatre with capacity for between 320 and 472 seats, based on the iconic 17th century ‘cockpit-in-court’ design. This is particularly apt as Prescot was the only place outside London to have a purpose-built theatre in Elizabethan times. This fact, and the areas fascinating links – via the Earls of Derby – to Shakespeare himself has paved the way for this major cultural development.

The Playhouse will complete the UK’s Shakespearean triangle with The Globe in London and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.

About the finalists

ACT ONE (aged 7 – 10 years)

The One Show surprised the three finalists in this group with a very special performance from ‘Aladdin the Pantomime’ from Blackpool Pleasure Beach. In a magical moment, it was the Genie themself who revealed to the three youngsters that they were finalists, as they watched the show from their classroom surrounded by their schoolmates. The three finalists are:

Livy, 10, from Cheshire

Livy’s play idea tells the story of a young girl named Seffy who would like to run the family farm but is told she’s too young. The story is one of perseverance and not letting go of your dreams as Seffy fights to stop the farm from being sold.

Young writer Livy has explored these themes through a fantastical and imaginative lens by incorporating time-travel, with Seffy journeying back in time to seek the advice of her grandmother when she was a young woman, and discovering along the way that while you can’t alter the past, you can change the future.

Livy wrote in her entry: “I’ve always loved writing from the age of three… The main reason I love writing is because it allows me to imagine my own little story worlds and writing allows my creativity to run wild and free!”

Katie, 10, from Staffordshire

Katie’s adventure-style play is all about a class trip that goes wrong when the school’s ship is caught in the middle of a turbulent storm and four children, who always squabbled with each other at school, become washed up on a deserted island. However, once there the children learn to put aside their differences in order to survive.

Katie said: “To have my own work performed on stage would be amazing. It would give me a great sense of achievement and give me the confidence to write more scripts and stories.”

Rosie, 10, from Ayrshire

Rosie has taken well-known nursery rhymes and tales and turned them on their head to create something original.  Her play is all about solving the mystery as to whether Jill pushed Jack down the hill, with Humpty Dumpty, Old MacDonald, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star all on hand to give their take on events…

Rosie wrote in her entry: “If I won this competition, I would be extremely happy, I would be really excited to tell my family and friends, and I am sure they would be proud of me.”

Acclaimed children’s author, playwright and competition judge Kiran Millwood Hargrave said: “Myself and all the judges had so much fun judging the extraordinary entries, and we can’t wait to see them get developed at the next stage. They were so full of fun, imagination, and colour.”

ACT TWO (aged 11 – 13 years)

The One Show presenter and As You Write It judge, Alex Jones, stunned all three of the finalists in the competition’s second age group with a video call to let them know they were through to the next stage of the competition. Alex revealed the good news with a bit of inspiration from the entrant’s own play ideas; Ruby for example was inspired by Shakespeare for her play and so found herself answering the door to the Bard himself, who let her know she was a finalist! Holly wrote a play all about a magical bookcase, so found a note in her own bookcase at home saying she was through. Whilst for Hannah, who is a huge fan of the musical Hairspray, Alex enlisted the help of fellow One Show presenter and West End star Michael Ball to surprise her with the news in a message hidden amongst the trees as her play is set in magical forest.

Ruby, now 14, from Lancashire

Ruby entered the competition with a comedy set in modern-day Liverpool. It’s a story about the relationships between a quiet schoolgirl and her imaginary friend – William Shakespeare! Finding comedy in the Bard’s fish-out-of-water situation as he finds himself in 21st Century Liverpool, Ruby also finds heart in her tale in the gradual mending of the protagonist and her father’s relationship.

Ruby said: “It would be amazing to see my idea being performed on stage, that’s a HUGE dream of mine which I’ve had for a while.”

Holly, 11, from Bristol

Holly’s play jumps from the past to the present and back in a story that explores the themes of family, friendship and prejudice. The play sees a young girl in Nazi-occupied Germany magically communicate with another girl in the present-day through a mysterious bookcase that can teleport their letters to one another through time.

Holly said: I would like people to enjoy my play and perhaps understand what it is like for people when they are not treated as equally as others. It would be really exciting to see my ideas come to life on the stage.”

Hannah, 13, from Hampshire

Hannah’s play is set in the exciting world of a Victorian travelling circus, but tragedy strikes when young girl Elise – who always dreamt of becoming a trapeze artist like her mother – is in an accident that leaves her blind. Despite this, years later Elise does not give up on her dream and is determined to follow in her now ailing mother’s footsteps when she encounters a magic forest…

Hannah said what it would mean to see her play performed on stage: “On opening night, I would see my imagination come to life in a way I had only dreamed of. I would probably explode with excitement! I have my entire life ahead of me and countless adventures just waiting to be written, and this is one adventure I want more than anything.”

Acclaimed Playwright and competition judge Natasha Gordon said of this category: “The standard of the entries was absolutely incredible, and from these three in particular, I was so impressed with the boldness of their ideas, the richness of the worlds they created, and the depths of their characterisations. I’m just so excited to see where they take it next.”

ACT THREE (aged 14 – 16 years)

For our oldest age category in the competition, acclaimed children’s author and As You Write It competition judge Frank Cottrell-Boyce spoke to all three finalists to let them know the good news that they’d made it through to the next stage of the competition.

As well as surprising them with the news they were all finalists, The One Show had also lined up a special celebrity message for each of them. Ana, whose play focuses on themes of identity, sexuality and gender had a message from Michelle Visage, she said: “I’m so happy and so proud of you.”

Whilst Sophie received a message of encouragement from one of her heroes, West End performer and author Carrie Hope Fletcher, and Emma, a massive fan of ‘The Durrells’ was given a congratulatory message from actor and star of the TV series, Callum Woodhouse.

Ana, 16, from Brighton

Ana’s play focuses on a teenager called Anne, who lives in a town so conservative that it only has one radio station, which no-one ever turns off! But Anne’s cherry-red transmitter (which she hides in her wardrobe next to her mum’s old sewing machine), one day picks up something else and she hears an advert for a Drag Night downtown…

Ana wrote in her entry: “I’m very interested in theatre that tells the story in unique and experimental ways.”

Sophie, 14, from the South East

At the beginning of Sophie’s play, we see a young girl returning from a failed drama audition in a theatre – but things soon take a supernatural turn, when the girl discovers she cannot only see, but talk to, the ghosts of this theatre’s past. Featuring an array of fantastical – and theatrical – ghostly characters, Sophie’s play sees her protagonist taking a leap into the unknown.

A big fan of the West End herself, Sophie said: Having this opportunity would be a dream come true!”

Emma, now 17, from Devon

Emma’s play is set at a wedding and tells four distinct stories of four people in attendance, all of whom have very different thoughts on love and marriage. Emma covers some big subject areas, including forced marriage, the consequences of war, and going against familial expectations – all the while throwing in Shakespearean references.

Emma wrote in her entry: “It is my ambition to become a writer and develop a career for myself in the arts, it would therefore be an incredible opportunity for me to work with professionals on this project.”

Frank Cottrell-Boyce said of the ideas in this category: “Being a judge on the As You Write It Competition was an honour. I was bowled over by all the entries we received, it was very, very hard to choose!”