In celebration of Benedict Lombe and the EWG

A couple of months ago, we saw one of our writers, Benedict Lombe, win the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Lava which premiered at the Bush in 2021. We wanted to take a moment to mark her achievement, and look at the way Bene grew through the Bush’s artist development programmes to be the huge success she rightly is today.

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is the oldest and largest playwriting prize honouring women writing for English-speaking theatre and Bene is the first recipient in its 44-year history to receive this prize for a debut play. The image above shows her with Adjoa Andoh who presented the prize. We couldn’t be more proud of what she has achieved!

Bene said previous winners “have probably all influenced my writing in some way, so to be in the company of some of the greatest women playwrights is the greatest honour.”

Read on to discover more about Bene, her experience of being part of our Emerging Writers’ Group, and the path to Lava being commissioned for our main stage.

You can help us find more brilliant writers just like Bene by donating to our New Writing Fund.

The New Writing Fund is a one-off donation fund, launched to celebrate 50 years of the Bush discovering new talent and pushing the boundaries, and to enable us to continue doing so for the next 50 years and beyond.

Give today and we’ll double your donation!

I did Drama at college – and I wasn’t seeing, reading or, for that matter, being taught anything I could relate to.

Bene is a Kinshasa-born British Congolese writer and theatre-maker based in London. She became a writer to to experience stories written by us, so the world could actually see us how we saw us“.

I wanted us to see ourselves. I thought we deserved that. I had nothing to lose, so thought I’d give playwriting a go.”

She has been a writer on attachment with the National Theatre Studio, BBC Writersroom Drama Room and Theatre503. In 2019, Bene took part in the Bush’s Emerging Writers’ Group (EWG) after submitting a play during our open submissions window.

Bene said the EWG was a real community. It’s not one of those ‘okay, you’ve done a scheme for a few months, now it’s over, have a nice life’ programmes. It’s a real investment in you, as an artist and more importantly, as a human being – that continues long after the scheme is done.

Then in 2020, we commissioned six pieces of work to respond to the Black Lives Matter protests and one of those pieces was Bene’s Do You Hear Us Now?, which you can watch on our website here as part of our Protest Series.

The short piece developed into a full commission, which saw the creation of the “a captivating and continent-spanning one woman show” (Guardian) Lava, which took our main house by storm last summer.

Since Lava, Bene has been working on a new piece for the Bush and with production companies to develop original film and TV projects. She continues that focus on boldly reclaiming diasporic stories without compromise or apology, and doing it with flair, humour and heart.

At the Bush, we are all about championing new writers and the EWG is an important part of what we do. Bene is part of the Bush family and this is why we’re especially proud to have staged Lava as one of our first shows after COVID-19 closures.

Bene says: “The Bush Theatre, and the EWG, are changing the game. Long may they continue to nurture talent, build community and give a platform to the stories that the world has yet to hear, and that deserve to be told.

Staging Lava showed our commitment to supporting emerging artists and to helping diversify the theatre landscape, and we are passionate about continuing to do this throughout our 50th birthday year and beyond.

To give us the freedom to continue discovering and developing new talent through our Emerging Writers’ Group, open submissions, our busy slate of commissions and more, we rely on generous donations. Our ticket revenue and Arts Council England grant cover only 70% of the income we need every year so the rest is raised through fundraising, including our special birthday campaign, the New Writing Fund.

The Bush don’t just talk the talk – they really walk it, too. They are straight up leading the UK theatre scene as far as I’m concerned, and everyone should take note.”

Support our Emerging Writers’ Group today

The EWG is a just one of the ways we support new writers and new writing. Any donation you can give to the New Writing Fund will make a real difference and help us continue this vital work for the next 50 years.

Learn more and donate here.