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The Robert Holman Award is now open for applications

A new grant from the Royal Literary Fund to support professional playwrights who come from or are based in the North of England.

Portrait of Robert Holman.
  • 4 December, 2023

Applications are now open for a new grant to support professional playwrights who come from or are based in the North of England. The Robert Holman Award has been set up in honour of British dramatist Robert Holman, who died in December 2021. Holman is the author of a number of plays, including Making Noise Quietly, Other Worlds and Jonah and Otto. We interviewed playwright David Eldridge, Robert’s long-time friend and collaborator who set up the Friends of the Robert Holman and spoke to us about the person the new grant was named after.

“Robert’s plays were about people trying to access a better world or a better way of living through connection. His plays were also obsessed with people being brave. One of his frequent stage directions was ‘find the courage,’” said David.

“I think we learn to love, by loving, by listening to another person. Love is paying attention.”Otto in Jonah and Otto by Robert Holman

(Royal Exchange Theatre, 2008; Park Theatre, 2014)

David was originally a fan of Robert Holman, “hunting down copies of his plays like they were a kind of rare earth metal” before he eventually met Robert in person in 1998. Robert was a guest at a launch party at Hampstead Theatre for a season of new plays, one of which was David’s latest play, Falling. “I had too much free wine in the middle of the day. It was a bit embarrassing really, but he was very sweet.” David explained he had read every single one of Robert’s plays but hadn’t managed to track down a copy of his novel, The Amish Landscape, which was out of print. “I thought I’d made a fool of myself there, being a bit of a fanboy, and I wouldn’t see him again.” But a few days later, Robert posted David a copy of his novel with a nice note and an invitation to meet.

“I was in awe of him, really, but then, as the years went by, he became like a mentor to me,” David says. In 2003, Robert suggested that he, David and Simon Stephens collaborated on a play together. David recalls, “Robert said, ‘If we’re going to do it, you can’t be fans anymore. We’ve all got to be equals.’” The final play, A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky was performed at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2010.

David said their relationship continued evolving, “He became a really close friend. When I got married for the first time in 2006, he did a reading at my wedding. And then, in the last few years before he died, he became quite fatherly. He was a bit like Dad Number Two in the end.”

“Robert helped so many people over the years, but he did it quietly; he didn’t shout about it. It’s all there in the title of his play, Making Noise Quietly – that was what he was about. He was always saying to young writers: ‘Your voice is important.’”– David Eldridge

Holman is often viewed as a “playwright’s playwright”, combining authentic characters with surreal moments, a romantic vision and a gentle wit. David added, “Robert was so uncompromising. He was dedicated to his singular vision of what he wanted to do when he set out to write a play. He wasn’t an artist that had commercial bones.”

The RLF supported Holman several times throughout his career, initially by paying off debts for food bills and giving him a grant to buy a computer. Later, when he was ill with cancer and spent long periods in hospital, we continued to support him, paying for his transport to the hospital and buying him an iPad so that he could work and communicate with other writers.

“The RLF were an incredible support to Robert. He’d be delighted by the idea of the Robert Holman Award,” says David. “He understood that the idea of an award was really important for a writer, giving you the confidence and validation to say, ‘I am a writer.’  He’d also like the northern element to it because he cared passionately about the north, where he was from.”

The Robert Holman Award will be given to playwrights of any age or background who have had at least two eligible works performed professionally come from or are based in the North of England.

You can find out more and apply here.

A black-and-white picture of playwright David Eldridge.David Eldridge is widely regarded as one of his generation’s most important British playwrights and has written for the theatre, TV and radio.

His theatre credits include Beginning (Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre), Market Boy (Olivier Theatre, National Theatre), and Holy Warriors (Shakespeare’s Globe). His play Under the Blue Skywon the Time Out Award 2001 for Best New Play and the Theatregoers Choice Award for Best New Play. Festen won the Theatregoers Choice Award for Best New Play in 2005, and The Picture Man won the Prix Europa for Best European Radio Drama in 2008. The Knot of the Heart won the 2012 Off West End Theatre Award for Best New Play. David lectures in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London and in 2007 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Exeter in recognition of his achievement as a playwright.

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