Published: Thu 29 Feb 24

Q&A with Sam Grabiner, winner of our 2022 Verity Bargate Award for new writing

The Verity Bargate Award-winning play Boys on the Verge of Tears receives its world premiere at ours in spring 2024. We sat down with the play’s writer Sam Grabiner to ask him what it was like to win the award.


Where were you when you heard you’d won the Verity Bargate Award -and how did you react to the news?

I was in my bedroom, and I got an email from Gill, Soho’s Literary Manager, saying: ‘can I call you, it’s not urgent’, so I was pretty convinced I was about to get a gentle let-down call. She phoned, we had what felt like a very long conversation about our weekends, and then all of a sudden she told me I’d won. From what I remember, I shouted ‘fuck off’ down the phone to her, and she said, very politely, ‘why don’t you call me back later.’ I called her back and said sorry I think I was being a bit unprofessional. And then I called my mum.

In your own words, can you describe your play, and what inspired you to write it?

Boys on the Verge of Tears is a play set in a toilet. Five actors play loads of different parts as different people drift in and out of the space. It’s about playing a version of yourself for other people, and how ridiculously exhausting that performance can be. It’s all shot through with a bodily kind of theatricality and – I hope – a real sense of playfulness.

In terms of what inspired the play, first and foremost I thought it would be fun to put a toilet on stage. The space struck me as a sort of playground. I also love watching actors play lots of different parts. I find that very live and strange and theatrical. So I started writing scenes with people in toilets. I must have had about a hundred of those before the play started to emerge, in a pretty organic way.

What made you decide to submit your play to the Verity Bargate Award?

I’d always been aware of it, as an aspiration really, and I love Soho and everything about the theatre. So when the deadline lined up with having a play ready, I submitted.

Did you have any writing experience?

I’ve been writing plays since I was a teenager. I’ve always wanted to write for the theatre, but this will be the first production of a play of mine. So this feels like part of a long journey, but very new at the same time.

Are there any theatre folk who have inspired you?

So many. Too many to list! At the moment I’m really enjoying Richard Nelson’s work. Particularly his Apple Family trilogy. He’s a playwright who’s become a bit of a lodestar for me. I love María Fornés for very different reasons and I come back to Annie Baker over and over again. Tennessee Williams will also always have a big chunk of my heart. I suppose there’s a tradition of writers whose work is in some way rooted in naturalism, in representing the world as it appears, but really what they’re striving towards is something mystical. I love Chekhov. David Storey’s plays too. The thing about the theatre that most excites me is the intimacy, the strange kind of closeness you can feel. Ultimately, it’s about something sacred. I’m drawn to work the makes me feel close to something inexpressible and tender and transcendent.

What have you been up to since winning the award?

Trying to write, mainly!

Your play will receive a Soho Theatre production in April. How do you feel about working with us on it?

I feel good! It’s quite a big play. Lots of actors, a big set. So it’s a real joy to feel supported by the building. So much of your time as a playwright is spent alone in a room. It can be easy to start feeling estranged from the communal, embodied, collaborative work that made you fall in love with this art form in the first place. And so to have the opportunity to think about the play in relation to other people is a total joy. It’s very addictive.

The next Verity Bargate Award opens for submissions as Boys on the Verge of Tears goes into previews at Dean Street. What advice do you have for any emerging playwrights thinking of entering?

I don’t know about advice. But one thing I’d say is: Soho as a building has a very specific sense of itself, it has a very strong identity. In many ways Boys on the Verge of Tears is in keeping with that, but in other ways it really isn’t. So don’t second guess what a reader is looking for, all you need to do is write for yourself.

Our Writers' Lab course

Our Writers’ Lab programme is an entry-level course designed to support new writers to create a play over 9 months, through a three-draft process with one-to-one feedback support, with an opportunity at the end of the process for writers to submit to our annual Tony Craze Award.

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