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Interview with Simon Stephens

Ahead of his day-long writing workshop at Bloomsbury Publishing on 11 April 2015, playwright Simon Stephens speaks about his recent theatre-going, his early influences, and what's up next.

What’s the best play that you’ve seen recently?

Alistair McDowall’s POMONA at the Orange tree felt like a gauntlet to all of us. It was astonishing in its ambition and humanity and daring structure and thrilling line writing. I think he is a writer of real force and substance.

What was the first play you saw/the first play that really moved you?

I saw Braham Murray’s production of MACBETH at the Royal Exchange Manchester in 1987 and its visceral horror lives with me even now. A play I knew from the classroom was turned into an experience that was as alive as any rock and roll gig I’d seen.

Have you ever acted in/directed your own work?

I cherish the collaboration of working with directors and the bravery of actors too much to do anything but sit quietly in their rehearsal room in awe and maybe make them a cup of tea. Occasionally I have read SEA WALL in public. That’s the easiest because it’s a monologue.

What was the first piece of yours you saw on stage?

A play I wrote as a student called GOOD ROCKING TONIGHT. It had a live band in. I played in the band actually so saw it from backstage. It was about a teenage Elvis obsessive and I played rhythm guitar in an early Elvis covers band.

On writing days, how do you get started?

I take my daughter to school. Ideally cycle off. Maybe have a swim. Get to my office. Make some coffee. Spend five hours reading the Internet. Get suddenly terrified about how much procrastination I’ve done and panic myself into writing something quickly!

Do you write every day?

I try and fail to write five days a week. Four hours is an ample writers day. But sometimes the pressures of travel or rehearsal render this impossible. Writing days don’t necessarily involve writing dialogue. They can be planning days or mulling days, days to ponder and generate ideas. Those days, the days I’m on my own in my office, are the days that keep me sane.

What did you work on most recently? (How did it come about?)

My version of Odon Von Horvath’s KASIMIR AND KAROLINE which I’ve renamed THE FUNFAIR for the new Home Theatre in Manchester. The Artistic Director asked me to write it. I was far too busy to take on any new work but the thrill of working in a new theatre in Manchester and my love for that play left me with no option but to say yes. I loved every second of working on it.

 If you could have written any play in history, what would it be?

I don’t think writers work like that. The joy of being a playwright is that it is metabolically impossible to write anybody else’s plays s to hanker after it would be strange. Having said that every time I read Chekhov’s plays I reel at how I will never, ever write anywhere nearly so well.

If budget/cast size/stage size were unlimited, what story would you tell?

I think the joy of theatre is that economics can be overwhelmed by imagination. I am very keen to write a very, very long play. Like one that last six hours. That leaves the audience immersed completely and sends them blinking into the night.

What's next?

I’ve got a new play at the Almeida, CARMEN DISRUPTION and then a play at MTC in New York, HEISENBERG. A monologue with Toneelgroep Amsterdam that open s in Sao Paulo called SONG FROM FARAWAY and then FUNFAIR at Home

Which living playwright do you most admire?

As a writer Robert Holman for his humanity and Caryl Churchill for her fearless imagination. As a human Glen Neath who is one of my favourite people in the entire world.

If you had one piece of advice for an emerging playwright, what would it be?

Write. Read. Write again. Read again. Think. Write again. Read more. Write more. Never stop reading. Never strop writing. Never stop thinking. Success comes from work. There is no such thing as talent.

Simon Stephens is one of Britain's best-loved playwrights. You can find out more here on his author page at

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