Radio drama earns Ugandan playwright global literary prize

Friday April 12 2013

Angella Emurwon at the 23rd International Playwriting Competition awards ceremony in London. Photo/Courtesy

Angella Emurwon at the 23rd International Playwriting Competition awards ceremony in London. Photo/Courtesy  


Ugandan playwright Angella Emurwon’s radio drama, Sunflowers Behind a Dirty Fence, has won the first prize in the English as a Second Language category in the 23rd International Playwriting Competition.

The judges described the story as “a touching, purposeful adventure in which the characters jumped straight off the page.”

Jamaican Janet Morrison took the prize in the English as a First Language category with The Fisherman.

The competition is run by the BBC World Service and the British Council and Commonwealth Writers.

It features writers from outside Britain. This year’s event attracted more than 1,000 contestants. The entries included plays about Gorgons in Australia, art forgery in India, men stuck in holes in Greece and cockroach races in Qatar. The breadth of imagination was limitless, the organisers said.

“The entries were incredibly strong. Many of the plays were gripping from start to finish,” said Steve Titherington, a senior commissioner at BBC World Service and a member of the judging panel.

“I was thrilled to be one of the judges this year. I enjoyed the shortlisted plays, the themes they explored, and the range of emotions they evoked. It was a privileged insight into the colours, sights and sounds of so many different worlds,” said Neil Webb, director of drama and dance at the British Council.

Sunflowers Behind a Dirty Fence, directed by Rosalynd Ward, was aired on the BBC World Service at the end of March 2013.

Emurwon and Morrison visited London in late February for the prize-giving ceremony.

Emurwon’s play tells the story of Yakobo (Arnold Oceng), a boy who takes an ill-advised trip to the big city and ends up having quite an adventure with the help of various people he meets on the way.

Yakobo has always enjoyed a warm and affectionate relationship with his maternal grandfather (Cyril Nri). As the old man battles a debilitating illness, he becomes vindictive and paranoid.

Yakobo steals his grandfather’s memento – an old photograph of a sunflower garden – plays truant, borrows his mother’s camera and goes off to find the sunflower garden to recreate the photograph.

In Kampala without money, Yakobo joins forces with a smart street urchin called Tony (Vanessa Babirye) with whom he goes on a whirlwind adventure, ending in the discovery that Tony is a girl, and entry into the sunflower farm. The journey transforms them and they are reunited with their families.