Nicholas Wright

Plays by Nicholas Wright


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A comedy drama set in the world of 17th century London theatre; Cressida was the first original work by Nicholas Wright to be produced in twelve years since Mrs Klein in 1988.

John Shank is an actor, talent scout and trainer of boy players in the seedily glamorous backstage world of London theatre in the 1630s. Up to his eyes in debt, Shank’s only hope of escaping destitution is an unpromising 14-year-old called Stephen Hammerton, who he hopes to train up and sell off at a good price. The play is a humorous investigation into the fate of these young actors who became virtually unemployable after their voices broke. It also examines themes of rebirth and decay, as each of the adult characters in Cressida was once a boy player himself only too aware of the brevity of their career. This nostalgia is tempered by the looming threat of the Civil War and the hostility of the Puritan movement, who actually succeeded in closing the theatres in 1642. They remained shut for eighteen years but were reopened in 1660 to coincide with the restoration of the monarchy in the shape of Charles II.

Cressida was produced by the Almeida Theatre at the Albery Theatre, now known as the Noël Coward Theatre, in the West End in 2000 in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Michael Gambon as Shank.

The Custom of the Country

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

An adaptation of John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s bawdy 17th century comedy set in 1890s Johannesburg.

Missionary Paul Du Boys is engaged to local girl, Tendai. However, an ancient custom dictates that the Chief of her village is permitted to sleep with the bride on her wedding night. In order to escape his clutches, they elope and settle in a village hundreds of miles from her home. During a violent raid on their new quarters they lose sight of one another and Tendai falls into the hands of Scottish agent Dr Jameson who brings her to a house of ill repute, run by the promiscuous Daisy. Meanwhile, Jameson’s brother Roger, a gentleman of leisure and a previous lover of Daisy’s, finds himself on the receiving end of some psychotic jealousy from young Willem, another lover of Daisy’s, who Roger shoots in self-defence. Running for cover, he finds safety in the arms of Willem’s unsuspecting mother, Henrietta, the owner of a huge gold mine, which Jameson has been needling her to sell. When Paul comes looking for his beloved wife, Daisy instantly falls in love with him setting the stage for a romantic battle of wills.

The Custom of the Country premiered at the Barbican Pit in London in 1983.

The Desert Air

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A fast-paced wartime comedy set in Cairo and inspired by ex-Secret Intelligence Service Officer Basil Davidson’s book Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the Anti-Nazi War, first published in 1980.

Cairo, 1942. Pompous and domineering Colonel Gore, known affectionately as ‘The Hippo’, is bending army rules whereby if he is found to be in command of three officers of the same rank as his own he shall be promoted. Therefore, all he needs is three newly minted Brigadiers and he’ll become General. However, the word on the wireless is that the campaign to fight the Nazis in Yugoslavia has been overrun by a highly effective partisan group run by an enigmatic leader called Tito. The problem is that the British have been sending aid to General Mihailovic, who doesn’t seem to be firing on all, or any cylinders, and may even be colluding with the Nazis. Hippo decides to send them weapons to help their cause, but without the support of his immediate superiors, he’s going to have to do it the hard way.

The Desert Air was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1984.

John Gabriel Borkman (trans. Wright)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ibsen’s powerful penultimate play concerns the downfall of a corrupt banker.

John Gabriel Borkman has been in voluntary seclusion in an upstairs room in his drab mansion since enduring a prison sentence for embezzlement. Still blindly hoping his career will be reignited, only his clerk Foldal, an aspiring poet, has remained loyal to him throughout the years. Unhappily married to Gunhild, she is surprised when her twin sister Ella arrives. Having been tossed aside by Borkman in favour of her twin, Ella was left to raise their only child, Erhart. Now that he’s grown up and in love with an older woman, the sisters become locked in a desperate spiritual battle over his future. As Borkman rages against the confines of his claustrophobic household, he ventures out into the snowy hills where he finally learns the true consequences of a love betrayed.

The play forms part of Ibsen’s late symbolic period. Somewhat left behind by the success of his naturalist plays, John Gabriel Borkman enjoyed a resurgence in the late 2000s as the global credit crunch started to bite and the story of Bernard Madoff’s elaborate Ponzi scheme was uncovered. The play enjoyed two hefty revivals in this period: at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2007 directed by its then Artistic Director Michael Grandage and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2010, directed by James Macdonald.

This version of John Gabriel Borkman was first performed at the National Theatre in London in 1996, directed by Richard Eyre and starred legendary stage actor Paul Scofield in his last performance for the National Theatre.

The Last of the Duchess

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Based on Caroline Blackwood’s book of the same name, Nicholas Wright’s play is a study of the corruption of fame, the lure of money and the betrayal that lurks at the heart of portraying the people around us, or the people we love.

It’s 1980 and the Sunday Times plans a fabulous journalistic coup: a photograph by Lord Snowdon of the long-reclusive Duchess of Windsor. Lady Caroline Blackwood, novelist, wit and journalist, is dispatched to Paris to secure it. But no sooner has she entered the Windsor mansion than she finds herself locked in battle with the Duchess’ octogenarian lawyer, Maître Suzanne Blum. As the conflict ignites between them, Caroline begins to find Blum decidedly more fascinating than the Duchess herself. Where did she come from and how did she get power of attorney over the Windsor fortune? One of the Duchess’ last loyal friends, Diana Mosley, introduces a further mystery: why do the famous Windsor jewels keep appearing anonymously on the international market? Since no one has seen the Duchess, there seems to be little proof that she is even alive.

The Last of the Duchess was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 2011.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A version of Frank Wedekind’s erotic masterpiece, subtitled ‘A Monster Tragedy’, which is based on the author’s original text.

Lulu follows the rise and fall of a young woman possessed of a fatal combination of sexuality and innocence. She passes from German to Parisian high society to the streets of Jack the Ripper’s London – destroying, and ultimately destroyed by, her various lovers. This boundary-pushing sexual odyssey was written in 1894 but was deemed to controversial to stage. Wedekind subsequently toned it down and cleft the material into two separate plays: Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. The Lulu plays have since proved incredibly popular and have been performed throughout the twentieth century. Nicholas Wright’s version purposefully restores the daring and explicitness of Wedekind’s original text as well as condensing the two parts into one five act play.

This version of Lulu was first performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2001 and starred Anna Friel as the eponymous heroine.

Mrs Klein

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A study of a mother-daughter relationship inspired by the real life of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. Mrs Klein was a breakthrough success for Nicholas Wright and the first of his plays to premiere at the National Theatre in London, who would go on to produce several of his plays.

In 1934 the son of Melanie Klein, Britain’s most admired psychoanalyst, was reported to have died in a climbing accident. There were no witnesses. Klein had come from Germany to Britain with a controversial mission to extend psychoanalysis to infants but her analysis of her own children damaged her relationship with them almost beyond repair, and the news of her son’s death provokes a bitter confrontation with her daughter. The play shows the effect of the shattering news of her son’s unexpected death on Mrs Klein, her daughter, Melitta and her new assistant Paula, herself a young refugee from Hitler’s Berlin.

Mrs Klein was first performed at the National Theatre in London in 1988 and was a big success transferring to the West End in the same year. It was subsequently staged on Broadway in 1995 with veteran stage actress Uta Hagen in the eponymous role. It was revived at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2009.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

An adaptation of Pirandello’s Vestire gli Ignudi (Clothing the Naked), which was first staged in 1922, the year following the premiere of Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Recently discharged from hospital, beautiful Ersilia Drei is hounded by the press after she sold a journalist the story of her attempted suicide following the death of a child entrusted to her care and her subsequent abandonment at the hands of her lover. Her tragic story proves too alluring for novelist Ludovico. Having offered her shelter, he quickly plots not only to seduce her but also to plunder the details of her life for his own artistic purposes. Standing in his way is Ersilia’s lover Franco, who comes to reclaim her after reading about her downfall. However, when her former employer Consul Grotti also turns up contesting her version of events, the truth about Ersilia becomes ever more elusive. The play contains many of Pirandello’s recurring themes including the fluidity of identity and the interchangeable nature of truth and illusion.

This version of Naked was first performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 1998 and starred French actor Juliette Binoche as Ersilia.

One Fine Day

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Nicholas Wright’s One Fine Day is about the gulf that separates Britain and Black Africa.

It’s 1980 and Steve Winter, a lecturer back in London, has been sent on a fact-finding mission by the Ministry of Education to a People’s Republic in Eastern Africa. In exchange for his month’s stay at a local Teacher Training College he has brought with him the latest in audio-visual technology to show the staff and students. Although the College is known for its progressive values, Steve nevertheless finds himself at odds with the senior management over the profitability of the school’s shambas (fields used to grow crops), which are tended by the students themselves without proper remuneration. The play examines the fate of the students trapped in a cycle of quasi-slave labour and at the mercy of a variety of corporations who are creaming off the profits made at their expense.

One Fine Day premiered at the Riverside Studios in London in 1980.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Based on an unproduced screenplay by playwright Terence Rattigan, Rattigan’s Nijinsky explores the story of the relationship between the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the implications of the dramatisation of their story on Rattigan’s own life.

In a hotel room a once-lauded playwright meets Nijinsky’s elderly widow, Romola, to fight over his latest work. Meanwhile, in the same room, Diaghilev and the young Romola fight over the tormented Nijinsky. In 1974, Terence Rattigan wrote a television script for the BBC about the relationship between Diaghilev, the man behind the Ballets Russes, and Nijinsky, the most renowned dancer of all time, which Rattigan described as the ‘greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet.’ But the playwright withdrew the script and it was never produced. Nicholas Wright’s version re-imagines these events and investigates why Rattigan may have shelved the piece.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky was produced at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011 as part of the writer’s centenary celebrations.

Picture of Nicholas Wright

Nicholas Wright trained as an actor. He joined the Royal Court Theatre as Casting Director and became the first Director of the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, where he presented an influential programme of new writing. From 1975 to 1977 he was joint Artistic Director of the Royal Court. He joined the Royal National Theatre in 1984 as Literary Manager, and was an Associate Director of the National until 1998.

His original plays include Treetops (1978) and One Fine Day (1980) at the Riverside Studios; The Gorky Brigade (Royal Court Theatre, 1979); The Crimes of Vautrin (Joint Stock, 1983); The Custom of the Country (1983) and The Desert Air (1984) for the RSC; Mrs Klein (National Theatre and West End, 1988, Broadway, 1995 and revived at the Almeida Theatre, 2009); Cressida (Almeida Theatre in the West End, 2000); Vincent in Brixton (National Theatre, 2002 and winner of the Olivier Award for Best Play); The Reporter (2007) and Travelling Light (2012) for the National Theatre. His stage adaptations include Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman (1996); Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (2003) all for the National Theatre; Pirandello’s Naked (1998) and Wedekind’s Lulu (2001) for the Almeida Theatre; Rattigan’s Nijinsky (2011), from an unproduced screenplay by Terence Rattigan, for Chichester Festival Theatre; The Last of the Duchess, adapted from the book by Caroline Blackwood (2011); A Human Being Died That Night, adapted from the book by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (2013) for Hampstead Theatre, and Regeneration, adapted from the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Pat Barker for the Royal & Derngate, Northampton (2014).

Nicholas Wright wrote the ballet scenario for Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the Royal Ballet (2011), the libretti for Rachel Portman’s opera The Little Prince (Houston Grand Opera, 2003) and for Jonathan Dove’s opera for television, Man on the Moon, based on the Apollo 11 moon landing (Channel 4, 2006). Other writing for television includes adaptations of More Tales of the City (Channel4/Showtime, 1998 and nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or Movie) and The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (BBC/HBO, 2008).

His writing about theatre includes 99 Plays, a personal view of playwriting from Aeschylus to the present day, and Changing Stages: A View of British Theatre in the Twentieth-Century, co-written with Richard Eyre.