40 episodes

Playwright Simon Stephens talks to some playwrights including Jez Butterworth, April de Angelis, Rachel De-lahey, Tanika Gupta, David Hare, Robert Holman, Dennis Kelly, Alistair McDowall, Anthony Neilson, Joe Penhall, Lucy Prebble, Anya Reiss, Polly Stenham and Enda Walsh.

Royal Court Playwright's Podcast Royal Court

    • Performing Arts
    • 4.9, 92 Ratings

Playwright Simon Stephens talks to some playwrights including Jez Butterworth, April de Angelis, Rachel De-lahey, Tanika Gupta, David Hare, Robert Holman, Dennis Kelly, Alistair McDowall, Anthony Neilson, Joe Penhall, Lucy Prebble, Anya Reiss, Polly Stenham and Enda Walsh.

    S4 Ep6: Sabrina Mahfouz talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep6: Sabrina Mahfouz talks to Simon Stephens

    The following content may contain strong language.
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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    I first met the playwright, poet, performer, presenter, screenwriter, anthologist and librettist Sabrina Mahfouz in the Houses of Parliament. In 2015 we had been invited by the theatre company Paines Plough to talk about the political nature of and political representation in British playwriting. It was a remarkable night which lingers in my head predominantly for that meeting and a rather daunting oil painting of former Tory Party Home Secretary Michael Howard. Four and a half years later I was thrilled by the energy and intelligence of her Royal Court debut show the gender obliterating dramatic lecture A History of Water in the Middle East. I have seen few shows in the past twelve months that more trippingly illustrated the political potential we were talking about on that odd night.
     The show marked her final production of a decade of quite extraordinary creative energy. She has written and produced up to twenty plays in the last ten years, it is genuinely hard to keep count. Her first play 2011’s Dry Ice was directed by David Schwimmer at the Underbelly Edinburgh before moving to the Bush Theatre.  Her 2013 play Clean won the Herald Angel Award when it played at the Traverse Edinburgh before moving off-Broadway. The following year’s  Chef was short listed for the Carol Tambor Award after being staged in the Brighton Fringe and at the Soho Theatre. Paines Plough produced the Stef O’Driscoll directed With a Little Bit of Luck at a sell out run at the Camden Roundhouse. Quite uniquely amongst all the writers I’ve spoken to in these conversations she has had a play performed at Wembley Stadium, her history of women’s football co-written with Hollie McNish, Offside. She has written for NT Connections, adapted Malorie Blackman’s celebrated Noughts and Crosses for Pilot Theatre and was one of the writers on the Wende Song Project her at the Court this year.
    She has compiled anthologies of British Muslim Women’s writing, 2017’s The Things I Would Tell You and considerations of working class identity Smashing It published this autumn 2019. She wrote beautifully in Nikesh Shukla’s collection The Good Immigrant. She has published a novel as well as several celebrated collections of poetry; originated television; written a libretto for the Royal Opera House and worked and written about her working life in Mayfair Strip Clubs and the Ministry of Defence alike.
    Her failed attempt to get Top Secret Security clearance while working at the MOD runs like a spine through A History of Water in the Middle East. From this spine she reaches outward to interrogate her own identities as a South London born Muslim woman of Egyptian heritage as well as lacerate the culpability of the British Government in the last hundred and fifty years of political turmoil, economic instability and bloodshed in the part of the world that her family came from.
    It was a remarkable show. Defined by a pulsing musical score by Kareem Samara with operatic counterpoint by Laura Hanna it managed to both explore and explain British Imperialism and Mahfouz’s place within it. Mahfouz is a compelling performer, passionate and witty and savage and self-deprecating by turn. Her performance and her show seemed emblematic of an energy that has driven one of the most dizzyingly prolific and formally surprising careers in contemporary British Theatre.

    • 1 hr 23 min
    S4 Ep5: Jack Thorne talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep5: Jack Thorne talks to Simon Stephens

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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    One of the challenges of hosting these podcasts is perfecting the art of concision and distillation. There are writers I have had the honour of interviewing whose careers have spanned four, five or even six decades and composing a pithy introduction or marshalling a career interview into an hour can be challenge.
    This has never felt the case with a writer who has been writing professionally for a decade and a half.
    Today, however, I am interviewing Jack Thorne.
    Born in Bristol in 1978 Jack Thorne’s dramatic output in the past fifteen years has been simply breath taking. He has written with energy and tireless commitment for radio, television, film and stage alike. He has written the most popular play of the century.  He has written quite beautifully for the Royal Court.
    It was here at the Court that I first met Jack when he joined an Introduction to Playwriting Group while I was writers tutor at the Young Writers Programme. I remember a tall, studious, shy writer with the occasional flash of a chuckle and grin. The plays I remember him writing at the time were defined by their darkness. It seemed as though he was making work that cast a fantastical shadow from the legacy of those writers who came out of this theatre at the end of the last century. Mark Ravenhill, perhaps. Sarah Kane or Anthony Nielson.
    Some of this darkness lingered in his early work for theatre. When You Cure Me at the Bush in 2005, Fanny and F****t at the Finborough in 2007 and Stacy at the Arcola in the same year.
    But in the years that followed there seems to have been, to my eyes at least, a remarkable deepening and brightening in his work. It may be a coincidence that this deepening and brightening began at the same time as he began of one of the most remarkable careers in television writing of modern times.
    Jack Thorne started writing for television, working on Shameless and Skins and co-creating Cast Offs. In the time since then he has gone on to win five Bafta Awards including for his series Shades and his remarkable collaboration with Shane Meadows that led to the This is England series 86, 88 and 90 and Thorne’s work co-writing The Virtues. His newest television creation, the adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials started last week and was the first TV drama that I’ve watched excitedly with my kids for about five years.
    He has written successfully for film and radio.
    In recent years, for theatre, has written new English language versions of Buchner’s Woyzeck and Durrenmatt’s The Visit. He has made a new musical, Junkyard with Stephen Warbeck. He also adapted Dickens Christmas Carol for the Old Vic, a production that is about to be re-mounted on Broadway.
    His theatre work in recent years has been marked by a collaboration with one of this theatre’s Associate Directors, John Tiffany.
    Together they adapted John Advide Linquvist’s masterpiece Let the Right One In. In 2016 their multi award winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, co-written with the Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, opened magnificently in the West End. And they have worked on beautiful, tender political studies here at the Court Hope in 2014 and the end of history… which played in summer 2019.
    When I think about the darkness of the work that I read for the Young Writers Programme and see the work that has poured from that point, if there is one possible unity I notice in Jack’s work, it is a faith in the possibility of the sometimes redemptive, sometimes corrosive power of story. Whether that is the epic volte-face of Scrooge, the horror of Let The Right One In, the heroic yearning of Harry Potter or the political mythologies of the end of history…

    • 1 hr 18 min
    S4 Ep4: David Ireland talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep4: David Ireland talks to Simon Stephens

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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    David Ireland is a man whose family names makes writing short essays about his paradoxical national identity, biography and work tremendously complicated.
    He was born and raised in Belfast at the start of the 80s. He trained, as a young man, as an actor in Glasgow at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. And it was in Glasgow, with the performance of a brilliant sounding one man show Tonight David Ireland will Lecture Dance and Box, preventing an anticipated return to Belfast, that his working life as a playwright began to take shape.
    In 2010 What The Animals Say, a two hander that explored the relationship between two Northern Irish boys who, like their author, also moved to Scotland, they to engage in the contrasting worlds of frustrated acting and professional football was celebrated for the rattle of its dialogue and the heightened surrealism of its tone when it was staged at the City’s Oran Mor theatre,
    Everything Between Us from the same year written for Belfast’s celebrated Tinderbox Theatre Company, explored the latent simmering psychoses underpinning the truth and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland. Summertime, an exploration of the psychosis of homophobia in contemporary Northern Ireland was also staged by Tinderbox.
    He was made the Writer in Residence at the Lyric, Belfast.
    His first play for the Lyric Can’t Forget About You from 2013 explored the fall out in a young man’s family when he falls in love with a woman twenty years his senior.
    It was his 2016 play Cyprus Avenue directed by Royal Court Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone in a co-production between the Court and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre that propelled Ireland to international attention.
    It crystallised those themes that Ireland had been returning to. It excavated the psychosis of religious extremism, not as an ideological flaw but as a genuine type of madness and how that psychosis skewers a Belfast family. Beautifully played by Stephen Rea it moved from the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs to the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs before being re-staged for a controversial run at the Public Theatre in New York. It won the Best Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017 and the James Tait Black Award.
    Throughout this time, he has continued to act starring in DC Jackson’s Kill Johnny Glendening. As well as taking a part in episode one of the Derry Girls.
    He updated Lorca’s Blood Wedding at the Dundee Rep.
    2018’s Ulster American – winner of the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award – plays out the unsettling provocations of an Oscar Winning Hollywood actor taking a lead role in a West End play only to explode a series of moral hand grenades in the face of the plays English director and Irish writer.  It is one of those rare things, a compelling play about playwriting. Like peak David Mamet, a writer who Ireland sometimes remind me of, here he uses the ethics and processes of making theatre to consider the ethics and processes of making a culture.
    The Royal Court’s relationship to Irish playwriting, from both sides of the border, is rich and fundamental to the theatre’s history. From Samuel Beckett to Conor McPherson and Marina Carr, the dramas produced on that landmass have captivated the imaginations of this institution. The question of whether or not people born in Ulster think of themselves or can be thought of as Irish at all runs like a thread throughout David Ireland’s work and is a question he has returned to mull on himself.
    It seems a paradox befitting of the skewered identity politics and political discourses of our age that, with his sense of the psychosis of ideology and the madness of family, rattling dialogue and cons

    • 1 hr 8 min
    S4 Ep3: Stef Smith talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep3: Stef Smith talks to Simon Stephens

    The following content may contain strong language.
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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    I sometimes think that our theatrical landscapes are defined as much by the shows we missed and deeply regret missing as they are by the shows that we’ve seen. Having not borne actual witness to the things they grow and develop in our imagination to become unthinkably brilliant.
    Certainly, this is the case in my mind with the play that brought then recent Edinburgh University graduate Stef Smith to the attention of the world, her famously coruscating site specific dramatisation of the raw horrors of sex trafficking Roadkill. Audience members were taken on a bus through the edges of the various cities that the play was staged in to engage with the childlike protagonist who shared the bus with them, came to a stop at the site of her enslavement and experienced their culpability in the ongoing crime against humanity that their cities ignored. I never saw it. I very much wish I had. It lives with me.
    It was the springboard for a working life that has over the last decade seen Smith become one of the UK’s most urgent theatre makers.
    Her play for the National Theatre’s Connections series, 2015’s Remote, was staged throughout the country. The same year saw Swallow debut at the Traverse Edinburgh as part of the festival.
    She made her Royal Court debut in 2016 with the chilling nightmare Human Animals, directed by Hamish Pirie, a surrealist exploration of an ecology in the throes of terrifying collapse.
    She returned to dystopian futures with 2017’s Girl in the Machine. Staged at the Traverse, Edinburgh it charted the emotional nightmare of a species in the thrall of an untethered technology.
    Her radical new version of Henrik Ibsen’s Dolls, House, Nora: A Doll’s House opened to rapturous reviews when it premiered at Glasgow’s Tramway Theatre produced by the Citizens Theatre. It will open in London at the Young Vic at the start of 2020.
    In 2019 her most recent play for the Traverse, Enough became the fastest selling play in that theatre’s history.
    As well as writing for film and television she has written for public art installations taking part in Edinburgh’s Love Letters to Europe in January 19 and written songs for the Song Project for Dutch singer Wende.
    On her website she describes herself as “Scottish. Feminist. Restless.”
    She presents the words in that order. All three characteristics clearly underpin her work. It is her concluding choice, her restlessness that sings through them most clearly. She is restless, it strikes me, not just in the face of her world’s deep grained political and economic injustices of the highest order but also in the capacity for conventional theatre forms to properly explore those injustices.
    It is this restlessness that has driven and defined one of the most compelling theatrical biographies of the decade.

    • 1 hr 19 min
    S4 Ep2: Christopher Hampton talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep2: Christopher Hampton talks to Simon Stephens

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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    I first came across the writing of Christopher Hampton by accident.
    In the early 90s I was flicking though the television. This was in the five-channel days when television was something that was possible to feasibly flick through. I stumbled upon the beautiful English actor Jeremy Irons talking directly to the camera in what appeared to be the adaptation of a stage play. He appeared to be talking with wit and grief alike and excavating the remarkable world of Hollywood as a home for exiles in the Second World War. I’d not seen anything like it on television before.
    I was transfixed.
    It was, I discovered, the television adaptation of Hampton’s 1984 stage play Tales From Hollywood. A sharp and tender exploration of that world and the lives of Bertolt Brecht and his Austrian peer Odon Von Horvath as they made sense of their position within it.
    From that point onward I paid particular attention to the name of Christopher Hampton wherever it appeared. I quickly discovered that it is a name that has appeared in many, many, many places.
    Born in 1946, Hampton’s family moved around the world in his childhood. His father’s work for the CABLE AND WIRELESS company took him and his family from Alexandria to Zanzibar.
    After what appears to have been a dramatic return to England, Hampton settled into a more conventional schooling at Lancing School in West Sussex where he was a contemporary of David Hare and won House colours in boxing.
    He read German and French at New College in Oxford where he wrote and saw produced his first play When Did You Last See My Mother?
    A tender exploration of the vitality of a gay love that was still illegal at the time, he sent the play to legendary theatre agent Peggy Ramsay. Ramsay loved it. She took the 19 year old writer onto her books. Sent the play to Royal Court Artistic Director Bill Gaskill who produced it at the Court before transferring it to the Comedy Theatre in the West End in 1966. England won the world cup and Hampton became the youngest playwright to have a play produced in the commercial theatre in the modern age.
    Between 1968 and 1970 he was the resident dramatist and Literary Manager at the Royal Court.
    Through the course of the seventies he wrote with great elegance and success for the theatre. His work for the Court is, to my mind, defined by a startling diversity of theme and world.
    Total Eclipse 1967 is an exploration of the creative and sexual relationship between the great French symbolist poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.
    The Philanthropist 1968, a response to Moliere’s Misanthrope ran in the West End for four years won Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy and transferred to Broadway.
    1973’s Savages dramatised the brutal decimation of the Cintas tribe by the Brazilian dictatorship in the previous decade.
    Treats inspired by his work on adaptation of Ibsen’s Dolls House. Opened in 1974.
    After a thirty-year break from the Court Hampton’s version of Chekhov’s Seagull was directed by then Artistic Director Ian Rickson in 2006 as part of the theatre’s fiftieth anniversary season. Kristin Scott Thomas played Hampton’s Arkadina in a beautiful production that transferred to the West End and Broadway.
    It is fair to say that he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs in the intervening decades.
    He has written widely for cinema, with over twenty credits to his name. He has thrived in the Hollywood he dramatised with such guile. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Atonement in 2007 after winning that most celebrated award in 1988 for his screen version of his stage play of Dangerous Liasons. He has collaborated with amongst others Andrew Lloyd Webber on musicals and P

    • 1 hr 23 min
    S4 Ep1: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti talks to Simon Stephens

    S4 Ep1: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti talks to Simon Stephens

    The following content may contain strong language.
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    Full introduction by Simon Stephens:
    The protest and controversy that surrounded the 2004 production of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Bezhiti (Dishnour) at the Birmingham Rep Theatre had several wounding consequences. It kindled an anger and confusion around, towards and from the significant Sikh Community in that city; it left that theatre looking embarrassed by the haste and clumsiness with which it handled the play and then decided to close it early. It led to threats of violence against Kaur Bhatti and her family.
    It also has distracted many people, I think from the fierce energy, honesty and clarity of her plays.
    Born in Watford, Kaur Bhatti engaged in a theatre education at the Writers Group of the Birmingham Rep in the end of the 90s. At the same time as starting work writing for television and radio she wrote her first stage play Behsharam (Shameless) . It broke box office records at the Soho Theatre and Birmingham Rep when it played there in 2001.
    She followed Behsharam with Behzti  three years later. A poised and unflinching consideration of the hypocrisies that lie underneath a local Sikh Community the play culminates in an unsettling dramatization of a rape in the grounds of a Sikh Gurdwara. This dramatic gesture was perceived as sacrilegious by many in the local Sikh community and led to protests outside the theatre. As the protests became increasingly angry and violent the Rep decided to close the play and Kaur Bhatti was advised by the police to go into hiding.
    Bezhti is an honest, compassionate play that won the 2005 Susan Smith Blackburn Award and has been translated into French and Italian and enjoyed international success.
    Behud (Beyond Belief) , staged at Coventry Belgarde and Soho Theatre in 2010 is an attempt to dramatise the issues that underpinned that controversy.
    Kaur Bhatti made her Royal Court debut in 2014 with  the beautiful Khandan (Family). Elephant opened at Birmingham Rep in 2017.
    She has continued to write for screen and radio in the decades of her career. She has written for  EastEnders and The Archers alike as well as making successful and warmly received single dramas for BBC and Channel 4.
    As we speak she is preparing to go into rehearsal for her newest play A Kind of People, which opens in December of this year.
    She has spoken about an early admiration for the passion and fury of Sean O Casey and Fedrico Garcia Lorca. A writer who she claims she is certain to be Punjabi. She shares with those writers a forensic honesty. Her insistent dissection of gender politics and the myths that ultimately sustain and paralyse families alike evokes, to my mind, Henrik Ibsen. Like those in Ibsen’s world her characters are defined by the lies that they tell and the stories they believe. She writes with elegance and force about those moments when the lies are revealed and the stories begin to crumble.

    • 1 hr 12 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
92 Ratings

92 Ratings

Bend it like Beckett ,

Entertaining, Informative, Inspiring.

This podcast is a joy to listen to. I learn about new writers and plays every episode, and hearing the origin stories of so many great writers is hugely inspiring. Most importantly though, listening immediately fills me with the fire to sit down and write write write! Please keep this magnificent series going!!!

Morgylondon ,

Love it.

Brilliant podcast.

Garage games ,

I am not affiliated with Simon Stephens in any way

I mainly like Andy McDowell

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