The 2021 winner: Black British Women's Theatre by Nicola Abram

The Society for Theatre Research is delighted that the winner of the 2021 STR Theatre Book Prize (for books published in 2020) is

Nicola Abram for Black British Women’s Theatre, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Click here to watch the online presentation on YouTube!

The judges were journalist Lucy Popescu, actress Cleo Sylvestre and Professor Steve Nicholson, chaired by STR Committee Member Howard Loxton and the announcement was made by theatre director and biographer Alan Strachan who himself won the prize last year for his 2019 biography of Vivien Leigh Dark Star.

The judges discussed their choices during this presentation and actress Cleo Sylvestre said of the winning book:

 “Black British Women’s Theatre by Nicola Abram was to me, a female Black actor, a total revelation.  This is an extremely comprehensive study documenting productions and previously unpublished and undocumented material from five different companies drawing on archives and personal collections. Themes of Identity, class, inequality, alienation, are explored by the companies heralding a new dawn of Black female representation on the British stage. Because of Nicola Abram’s forensic research, the book includes reproductions of flyers, photographs and programmes. It is a fine example of the early days of Black British Women’s Theatre that certainly should be not be forgotten.”

As well as thanking the judges and her academic colleagues and publishers the winner Nicola Abram went on to say:

“Much of the history that I write in this book comes from practitioners themselves, from boxes of scripts and publicity materials that were hidden away and not opened for years and I was so humbled to be trusted with those materials and memories and I am proud to play a part in bringing Black British women’s theatre to greater public attention. Black Lives Matter and Black Arts Matter, and thanks to the generosity of the many practitioners I spoke to my book gets to tell of some of the long, rich history of anti-racist and anti-sexist activism in this country.

My research also took me to several formal archives and at the time perhaps I felt that the history preserved by those institutions was somehow less fragile, being professionally preserved and carefully catalogued but the on-going threat to the V&A Theatre and Performance Collections proves me wrong. So receiving this year’s Book Prize I think confirms the vital importance of archives of every kind as well as making the vibrant history of Black British women’s theatre all the more visible. My book follows in a succession of pioneering scholars before me and I very much hope that others will take up this field of research in the future but for now I am so grateful to have the book recognized in this way.”

Theatre Book Prize: 2021 Judges (for books published in 2020)

Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu is a writer, editor and arts critic who reviews both theatre and books. She is theatre editor for Camden New Journal and contributes to various publications including The Observer, Financial Times, TLS, Guardian, Independent, Literary Review, New Humanist and Huffington Post. She worked with the English Centre of PEN for over 20 years and was Director of its Writers in Prison Committee. She is currently chair of the Authors’ Club and has been a judge for a number of literary prizes.

Steve Nicholson

Steve Nicholson is Emeritus Professor at the University of Sheffield, where he was professor in Twentieth Century and Contemporary Theatre and Director of Theatre within the School of English. His publications include British Theatre and the Red Peril: The Portrayal of Communism 1917-1945, Modern British Playwriting: the 1960s, and the 4-volume The Censorship of British Drama 1900-1968 for which he won the Theatre Book Prize, and which was the STR’s Annual Publication for 2019-2020.

Cleo Sylvestre

Cleo Sylvestre was the first black woman ever to play a leading role at the National Theatre in The National Health. She made her West End debut alongside Alec Guinness in Wise Child and has worked widely across British theatre from the Young Vic to Northern Broadsides, the Almeida to the Unicorn. For 20 years she was joint Artistic Director of the Rosemary Branch Theatre. Her many appearances on television include 3 films for Ken Loach and most recently she recorded a guest appearance in the 2020 Xmas special of All Creatures Great and Small. Performances of her one-woman show The Marvellous Adventure of Mary Seacole included one at the House of Lords. As a teenager she recorded with the Rolling Stones and now sings with her blues band Honey B Mama and Friends.

Books Entered for the Theatre Book Prize 2021

Previous winners (by year of publication)

2020 – Black British Women’s Theatre by Nicola Abram (Palgrave Macmillan)

2019 – Dark Star: A Biography of Vivien Leigh by Alan Strachan (I B Tauris)

2018 – Year of the Mad King: The King Lear Diaries by Antony Sher (Nick Hern Books)

2017 – Balancing Acts by Nicholas Hytner (Jonathan Cape)

2016 – Stage Managing Chaos by Jackie Harvey with Tim Kelleher (McFarland)

2015 – The Censorship of British Drama 1900-1968 by Steve Nicholson (University of Exeter Press)

2014 – Oliver! by Marc Napolitano (Oxford University Press)

2013 – The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal (Oberon)

2012 – Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly (Picador)

2011 – Covering McKellen by David Weston (Rickshaw Publishing)

2010 – The Reluctant Escapologist by Mike Bradwell (Nick Hern Books)

2009 – Different Drummer: the Life of Kenneth Macmillan by Jann Parry (Faber & Faber)

2008 – Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era by Patrick Lonergan (Palgrave Macmillan)

2007 – State of the Nation by Michael Billington (Faber & Faber)

2006 – John Osborne: A Patriot for Us by John Heilpern (Chatto & Windus)

2005 – 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber & Faber)

2004 – Margot Fonteyn by Meredith Daneman (Penguin/Viking)

2003 – National Service by Richard Eyre (Bloomsbury)

2002 – A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 by Christopher Morash (Cambridge University Press)

2001 – Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840-1880 by Jim Davis & Victor Emeljanow
– (Iowa University Press/University of Hertfordshire Press)

2000 – Politics, Prudery and Perversions…. Censoring the English Stage 1901-1968 by Nicholas de Jongh (Methuen)

1999 – Garrick by Ian McIntyre (Allen Lane)

1998 – Threads of Time by Peter Brook (Methuen)

1997 – Peggy: the Life of Margaret Ramsay, Play Agent by Colin Chambers (Nick Hern)

Book Prize Archive

The Book Prize has been awarded each year since 1997.

Click on the links for more information.