“A brilliantly bold and ferociously intelligent drama about our slippery times”
The Financial Times


The 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.K. playwright Lucy Prebble for her play A Very Expensive Poison. Awarded annually since 1977, The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the largest and oldest international prize honoring women playwrights. On March 2nd, the transatlantic theatre community gathered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City to honor Prebble and the 9 Finalists. The Prize awarded Prebble with a cash prize of $25,000, and a signed limited-edition print by renowned artist Willem de Kooning, created especially for the Prize. Aleshea Harris received a Special Commendation award of $10,000 for her play What to Send Up When It Goes Down. Each of the additional eight Finalists received an award of $5,000.


The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life. Since its founding in 1978, over 460 plays have been honored as Finalists of the Prize. Many of the Winners have gone on to receive other top honors, including Olivier, Lilly, Evening Standard and Tony Awards for Best Play. Ten Susan Smith Blackburn Finalist plays have subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Prize has also fostered an interchange of plays between the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries.


A Very Expensive Poison was nominated for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize by The Old Vic (London) where it was a five-star hit in the Fall of 2019 and won Best New Production of a Play at the Broadway World Awards.  It recently garnered the inaugural Michael Billington Award for Best New Play at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards.  A Very Expensive Poison is a highly theatrical reimagining of journalist Luke Harding’s book of the same name, which details the events behind the notorious murder of ex-FSB Officer Alexander Litvinenko while he lived in the U.K..  Prebble describes her play as “a meta-theatrical anti-thriller exploding the truth.”  The play employs what critic Michael Billington called a “kaleidoscopic variety of tone”, utilizing a multitude of theatrical devices and leaping from genre to genre to tell a complex political story.  The Artsdesk called it “a bold, resonant piece of political theatre evoking the contradictions of our post-truth world…exhilarating not just for its intelligence but because of the risks it clearly takes, leaping from realism to surrealist cabaret, from gritty tragedy to slapstick.”


Judges for the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are: OBIE Award-winning actor Quincy Tyler Bernstine (U.S.);  Nataki Garrett (U.S.) Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival;  Jim Nicola (U.S.) Artistic Director of the New York Theatre Workshop; film, television and theatre producer Kate Pakenham (U.K); actor-director-writer Nathaniel Martello-White (U.K.) and Oliver and Golden Globe-winning stage, television and film actor, Ruth Wilson (U.K.).

Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are invited to submit plays for consideration.  In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and India. Over 160 plays were submitted for consideration this year.  The submitting theatres of the 2020 Finalists are: Almeida Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Citizens Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Melbourne Theatre Company, New York Theatre Workshop, Orange Tree Theatre, The Movement Theatre Company (NYC), The Old Vic, and The O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.


On rare occasions, the Judges may award a “Special Commendation”. For 2020, the Judges have accorded this honor to Aleshea Harris for What to Send Up When It Goes Down. Writing about the Movement Theatre premiere, Harris stated that the production was created to honor the black lives lost to “racialized violence.” She has described the play as a ritual, a dance party and, above all, “a space in the theater that is unrepentantly for and about black people.” The last Special Commendation award was to Phoebe Waller-Bridge in 2014 for her debut play, Fleabag


The eight additional finalists for the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize are:

Zoe Cooper (U.K.) Out of Water

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig (U.S.)- The King of Hell’s Palace

Anchuli Felicia King (Australia)- Golden Shield

Kimber Lee (U.S.)- untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play

Dominique Morisseau (U.S.)- Confederates

Stef Smith (U.K.)- Nora:  A Doll’s House

Celine Song (U.S.)- Endlings

Anne Washburn (U.S.)- Shipwreck




Lucy Prebble is a writer for theatre, film, television and games.  Prebble is Co-Executive Producer and writer on the BAFTA, GOLDEN GLOBE and EMMY award-winning HBO drama SUCCESSION, for which she has also twice been nominated for a WGA Award. Prebble’s play The Effect, a study of love and neuroscience, was performed at the National Theatre and won the Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Also a Blackburn Prize Finalist, Prebble’s Enron, was a hugely successful piece about the infamous corporate fraud, which transferred to the West End and Broadway after sell-out runs at both the Royal Court and Chichester Festival Theatre. Her first play, The Sugar Syndrome (Royal Court, 2003) won the George Devine Award and was a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist. For television, she has written and co-created I HATE SUZIE with her close friend Billie Piper for Sky Atlantic, to be aired in 2020. She is the creator of the TV series SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL(ITV/Showtime), and has recently made a pilot for HBO starring Sarah Silverman. Lucy also writes for Frankie Boyle’s NEW WORLD ORDER (BBC) and appears on the TV show as a guest as well as appearing regularly on HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU. Lucy is the recipient of the 2019 Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship, allowing her to explore where the world of film meets science and research. Lucy also writes video games and is fascinated by new technology and storytelling. She contributes to major publications as a journalist and wrote a weekly Tech column for the Observer newspaper. In games, she was Head Scene Writer for Bungie’s massively successful first-person shooter video game, Destiny.