South of the River Pictures and SISTER have announced the winner  of their Screenshot programme, designed to seek out new comedy writer/performers for TV.

Lolly Adefope, Rosie Jones, Phoebe Waller – Bridge and Olivia Colman led the judging panel at a closed-door showcase held at The Royal Court Theatre on Saturday 1st May.

31 year-old Bahraini/British performer Jenna Al – Ansari has won Screenshot with writing duo Dawn Sievewright and Brennan Reece, sisters Madelyn and Rose Smedley, Krishna Istha, Sophie Bentinck and Natasha Brown confirmed as the five runners up.

Produced by Tamasha theatre producer Debo Adebayo alongside the Sister and SOTR Development teams, the initiative is a direct response to the impact Covid-19 has had on the performing arts, designed to create opportunities for emerging comedy writer-performers to showcase their work. First announced in October 2020, SCREENSHOT received over 600 entrants. These were whittled down to the 13 finalists who performed at the live, socially distanced showcase.

Jenna Al- Ansari fought off stiff competition with her one-woman political satire Protect and Survive being described by the judges as “full of big ideas, so silly, heartening and brave”.  Al – Ansari, who only started writing in 2019, took to the stage as newly minted Conservative MP Bambi Buttery-Potts battling to have her Protect and Survive nuclear protection campaign taken seriously, with Olivia Colman saying “it’s one of the best, most complete performances I’ve seen in a long time.” The Bahraini/British 31-year-old will be brought onto the SISTER/ SOTR development slates and commissioned to write a pilot episode of Protect and Survive.

The calibre of performances was so high that two of five bursaries up for grabs for the runners up were elevated to treatment commissions: Dawn Sievewright & Brennan Reece and Madelyn & Rose Smedley will now work with the development teams at SISTER and SOTR to produce a television outline for their projects.

Runners up Krishna Istha, Sophie Bentinck, and Natasha Brown will receive a contribution towards the development or budget of their next live theatrical show.

The judging panel was comprised of acclaimed writer-performers Lolly Adefope (Ghosts, Shrill) Rosie Jones (Live at the Apollo and Sex Education S3) and Phoebe Waller – Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve) whose careers have all been built on the foundations of self-penned, solo stage shows. They lined-up alongside industry experts including comedy dignitaries Olivia Colman (The Favourite, Peep Show), BBC Commissioning Editor Tanya Qureshi (I May Destroy You, Dead Pixels, Flowers), Channel 4 Head of Comedy Fiona McDermott (Stath Lets Flats, Derry Girls, Maxxx) and Sky Commissioning Editor Tilusha Ghelani (Breeders, Urban Myths, Bloods). SISTER was represented by Co – Founder and Chief Creative Officer Jane Featherstone (Chernobyl, Giri/Haji and Utopia) and Executive Producer Naomi de Pear (Flowers, Don’t Forget the Driver, The Power) and South of the River Pictures co-founder and writer Ed Sinclair (Landscapers).

Jenna Al – Ansari says – “Being able to perform in a theatre for the judges, and to watch so many talents onstage was a delight and a privilege in itself. I am absolutely thrilled that now I have the opportunity to develop this project with these incredible teams and take this experience further. This has meant so much to me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.”

SOTR and SISTER say “We could not be more delighted with how the SCREENSHOT Final unfolded.  What a joy it was to be reminded of the vital, visceral magic of the theatre, and its unique ability to generate shared laughter. Our heartfelt thanks and congratulations go out to all our talented, dedicated and extremely funny finalists.  We can’t wait to build on the relationships we have formed, and to continue to reach out a hand of friendship and support from TV to theatre.”

Performer Judges – Olivia Colman, Lolly Adefope, Rosie Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge say:  ” It was truly magical to be back in the theatre. Thank you so much to all 13 Finalists for allowing us to laugh and cry together for the first time in too long!”

Tanya Qureshi, Fiona McDermott and Tilusha Ghelani say – “Spending the day watching such a talented group of writer-performers was an enormous privilege. The standard was unbelievably high and served as a vital reminder to nurture emerging voices, given all the industry has suffered over this past year. Congratulations to these future stars of stage and screen!”

Screenshot Scheme Producer Debo Adebayo says “Protect and Survive is as much belly achingly funny as it is brave. Jenna’s performance was outstanding; she is a thoroughly deserving winner and I can’t wait to see what she develops. Huge congratulations to all the finalists for making it down to the last 13. Each and everyone one is a wonder.”

Jon Creamer

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