Simon Stephens

Plays by Simon Stephens

Bluebird

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Bluebird is a sensitive and melancholy play, composed of brief conversations and lifelong sorrow.

Taxi driver Jimmy hears about other people’s lives, just for a few moments. In the time it takes to drive them where they want to go, Jimmy hears about walking the streets, lost daughters and changing the lightbulbs by the tube tracks. He is asked whether he believes in ghosts, in love, in the human spirit. And as he drives through the night, the play gets closer to the core of his silences, to the tragedy of his own life, and to where he goes when there’s no one in the back seat of his cab.

Bluebird was first performed in 1998 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London.

Christmas

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

With a sharp ear for the verbal rhythms of conversation, Stephens glimpses the everyday weariness beneath the chat of men down on their luck, in a pub that has fallen out of time.

It is a week before Christmas in Michael Macgraw’s tired and empty pub in London. Michael adds a shot of whisky to his tea, and waits for some customers. Slowly, the regulars trickle in: twitchy, miserable twenty-nine year old Billy Lee Russell, who has just found out who his father was, and Giuseppe Rossi, a proud and elderly Italian barber, who has charged the same price for the last five years. They are joined by a series of strangers who only stay for one drink, and by Charlie Anderson who is on a lonely pub crawl with a cello, and they talk through the long night about what went wrong.

Christmas was first performed in 2003 at the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton.

Country Music

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Country Music is a dramatic play about love, crime and possibly redemption, with a purity of structure that gives it great emotional force.

The play dips in and out of the life of Jamie Carris over twenty years, showing him meeting with his girlfriend, his half-brother and his daughter. It is also the story of his crime – his flight, his time in prison and his attempt to find his way in the world once he is released. Jamie commits a crime, an act of vengeance which is the terrible pivot of the play’s action, but Stephens focuses not on his violence but on his relationships and his humanity.

Stephens was inspired to write the play after leading theatre workshops in prisons, and his delicacy and empathy are visible in this simple and immensely powerful play.

Country Music premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2004.

Fatherland  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Created by Frantic Assembly's Scott Graham, Karl Hyde from Underworld and playwright Simon Stephens, Fatherland confronts contemporary fatherhood in all its complexities and contradictions. Daring in its compounding of words, music and movement, it is a vivid, urgent and deeply personal portrait of 21st-century England at the crossroads of past, present and future. Inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the writers' home towns in the heart of the country, the play explores identity, nationality, masculinity and what it means to belong in a world weighed down by the expectations of others. Tender and tough, honest and true, Fatherland is a vital and necessary show about what we were, who we are and what we'd like to become.

Harper Regan

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Harper Regan suddenly walks away from her husband, her daughter and her job to go and see her dying father, a journey of disconnection and realism.

When she finds out her father has gone into a hypoglycaemic coma, Harper’s odd boss won’t give her the time off. So she leaves her home in peripheral Uxbridge for Stockport to see her father, then travels on to Manchester to see her mother, and to confront the toxic secret in the middle of her marriage. The narrative is episodic, as Harper meets several men – by a canal, in a pub, in a hotel room by arrangement. It is an odyssey that strains towards knowledge but finds acceptance is more important, and acknowledges the dark and secret heart of family life.

Harper Regan is a close and affecting play, an examination of the moralities of sex and death. It was first performed at the National Theatre, London, in 2008.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Is this the strangest thing that two people have ever done in the history of the world?

In this uncertain world, who can predict what brings people together? When two strangers meet by chance amidst the bustle of a crowded London train station, their lives are changed forever.

Multi-award-winning British playwright Simon Stephens brings his hit Broadway play to London for the first time. Brimming with blazing theatrical life it explores the uncertain and often comical sparring match that is human connection.

Having received its world premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club, New York in 2015 Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle makes its UK premiere in the West End in a thrilling production starring Kenneth Cranham and Anne Marie Duff, directed by Marianne Elliot.

Herons

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Herons is a sensitive and mournful play about urban disaffection and brutality, a deeply affecting examination of vulnerability and violence. Flashes of occasional poetry and reverence temper the bleakness of Stephens’s play; it is a sympathetic portrayal of damaged and fragmented lives.

The play is set around Limehouse Cut and the Lee River in East London, by a sluggish and almost-lifeless canal, where fourteen-year-old Billy fishes every day. As he waits patiently for the two or three tiny tench he usually catches, the miserable history of his life and the canal slowly emerges. A year earlier, Billy’s crumpled father witnessed a violent murder and testified in court; now the perpetrator’s brother Scott is taking his revenge on Billy. As Scott and his gang increase their campaign of bullying to a terrible crescendo, the play’s atmosphere of submerged menace becomes horribly real.

Herons premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2001.

Morning

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The end of summer. Two friends about to go their separate ways. But they will always share one moment. A moment that changed them forever.

Morning is a dark coming-of-age play by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens, devised through a workshop involving actors from the Young Company at the Lyric Hammersmith and the Junges Theater Basel. It premiered at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in a production by the Lyric Hammersmith on 1 August 2012.

Motortown

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written during the London bombings of 2005, Motortown is a fierce, violent and controversial response to the anti-war movement – and to the Iraq war itself.

Danny returns from Basra to an England that is foreign to him, the play’s episodic structure leading him through a bleak and bitter portrait of the country he fought to save. His brother tells him that his ex-girlfriend doesn’t want to see him after being frightened by the letters he wrote home. Danny visits her only to find she is now with someone else, sending him on a journey through his once hometown, a place of questionable morals and men selling guns, anti-war protesters and middle class swingers.

Chaotic and complex, powerful and provocative, Motortown portrays a volatile and morally insecure world. The play premiered in 2006 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Nuclear War

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

I want, one more time, to be absolutely in the moment . . . I am going to try as hard as I can to not be a human being.

A series of suggestions on desire, death and time.

Nuclear War is the searing result of a groundbreaking and form-defying collaboration between Simon Stephens and the choreographer and movement director Imogen Knight, developed by Actors Touring Company.

Nuclear War was published to coincide with the world premiere of the play at the Royal Court Theatre, Upstairs, London, in April 2017.

One Minute

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A child goes missing, vanishes into thin air, leaving a tender, fragmentary play about the inarticulacy of grief.

One Minute follows several connected characters through their struggles with Daisy Schults’s disappearance: the two policemen investigating the disappearance; Daisy’s mother Anne; and Marie Louise, a woman who glimpsed Daisy after she had been separated from her mother. Robert is new to the police force, and his enthusiasm for the case is keener than that of his cynical colleague Gary. Mary Louise begins a strange friendship with a woman who knows Gary from the café where she works. Anne’s life has stopped: she wants to know when ‘missing’ becomes ‘presumed dead’.

One Minute is a disquieting portrait of the lives that are united in the single moment it takes for a child to disappear. The play premiered in 2003 at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield.

On the Shore of the Wide World

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set over the course of nine months, On the Shore of the Wide World is an epic play about love, family, Roy Keane and the size of the galaxy.

The play spans three generations of a suffering family. Eighteen-year-old Alex is preparing to introduce his girlfriend Sarah to his parents. His younger brother Christopher is immediately and completely smitten with her. Their parents, Alice and Peter, are unnerved by how quickly Alex has grown up. Peter’s father Charlie is mastering card tricks and keeping his smoking a secret from his long-suffering wife Ellen. Something is about to happen that will change all their lives irrevocably, as the honest scenes of domestic family life melt to reveal a sad picture of disconnection, fragile relationships and missed moments.

On the Shore of the Wide World premiered in 2005 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Pornography

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One week in July 2005. Live 8. G8. London 2012 Olympic bid. 7/7.

Britain feels like the centre of the world. World-changing politics, gigantic charity concerts, the chance to host the Olympics; everything’s happening, and everyone’s talking about it. In schools, offices, streets, shops, parks and homes – there’s a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation. The world’s eyes are focused on Britain and you can feel the energy and possibilities. But in less than an hour in central London, everything will change.

Pornography is the stark and shattering play by Simon Stephens that captures Britain as it crashes from the euphoria and promise of the 2012 Olympic announcement into the devastation of 7/7. Each monologue or playlet focuses on a different individual, walking in their shoes in the run-up to the tragedy.

The play was first presented in 2007 at Hanover, Germany; the UK premiere was in 2008 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Port

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Port by Simon Stephens is set entirely in Stockport, Stephens's hometown. Following his protagonist Racheal Keats, we watch her dissatisfaction with her surroundings ebb and escalate as those she loves begin to let her down or leave her behind. We see her at eleven years of age, hiding with her mother and younger brother from her father; at fourteen as her maternal grandfather dies in the absence of her estranged mother; and so on, until, the age of 24, she finally contemplates the prospect of leaving for herself, to see what's lies beyond the boundaries of her hometown.

Port is a play about leaving from the perspective of one who stays. Its Stockport setting is evoked with a personal touch as intimate as it is poignant: shown to be a town of departures with 'yer A6 for yer cars. Yer got yer viaduct for yer trains. M62. River fuckin' Mersey. Flight paths down Ringway', it depicts the emotional fallout of a transient life.

Port premiered at the Royal Exchange, Manchester in November 2002.

Punk Rock

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Edgy and acute, Punk Rock is a slow-building story of violence at school, told with compelling depth and tension. The play introduces us to seven high-achieving teenagers at a fee-paying grammar school. They are holed up in the Upper School library, tucked away from supervision, revising — or not, as the case may be — for their mock A-Levels.

William, a bright Oxbridge-hopeful, falls for the enigmatic new girl Lilly, but she’s falling for someone else. Watched by his girlfriend Cissy, Bennett bullies the unconfident Tanya and the awkward prodigy Chadwick.

It is a recognisable stew of rivalries, desires and confusions, each character’s uncertainties carefully drawn. But as exam pressure builds, anxiety flares up into aggression, revealing a raw undercurrent of panic and hostility.

Punk Rock premiered in 2009 at the Lyric Hammersmith, London.

Rage  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Simon Stephens' explosive play Rage was written as a counterpoint for Elfriede Jelinek's Wut. Composed as 27 high-energy scenes, each one is based on a series of photos by Joel Goodman which captured the excitement and the mayhem of New Year's Eve 2015/16 in Manchester city centre. Published in the Manchester Evening News the photos quickly went viral in capturing a vital cross-section of a country on the edge.

As the clock strikes twelve the celebratory mood turns into violence, racism, marriage proposals and the opening of portals. Enter the madness and get whisked into the hedonism of youth.

Rage premiered at the Thalia Theatre, Hamburg in Autumn 2016 and had its UK premiere at the Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama in 2018.

The Seagull  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Chekhov’s celebrated masterpiece is given vibrant new life in this dynamic new version by Olivier award-winning playwright Simon Stephens.

Switching effortlessly between the ridiculous and the profound The Seagull forensically examines the transcendence and destructiveness of love. The burning need to create art and how harshly that need can be crushed permeates throughout the play.

Simon Stephen's new adaption of The Seagull received its premiere at the Lyric Hammersmith, London on 3 October 2017.

Sea Wall

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Sea Wall is a delicate monologue, completely devastating and beautifully powerful.

Alex’s story, spoken directly to the audience, begins full of clear light and smiles, as he speaks about his wife, visiting her father in the South of France, having a daughter, photography, and the bottom of the sea. His tone is natural, happy and engaging, with flickers of questions about belief and religion glimpsed under the surface. But his contentment falls away into deep and heart-breaking grief, crumbling to pieces with a vividness that is incredibly moving.

Sea Wall was first performed in 2008 at the Bush Theatre, London.

T5

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

T5 portrays a road trip below the heart of London and follows a darkly magical flight out to the edges of the 21st Century. Visions of violence, and the ancient and modern lights of the city mingle with the dreams and nightmares of family life in this searing monologue.

T5 was written for DryWrite Theatre Company and read by Deborah Findlay as part of their DryDance night at Camden Roundhouse on 7 July 2008. It was subsequently performed by Meg Fraser as part of the ‘Impossible Things Before Breakfast’ series at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 18 and 28 August 2010, in a production directed by Dominic Hill, before receiving its German-language premiere at the Schauspiel Frankfurt on 16 February 2011, in a translation by Barbara Christian, performed by Claude De Demo and directed by Lily Sykes.

A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

On a farm in the north-east of England, four generations gather in an epic play about hope, love, fear and the end of the world.

A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky is a refreshingly subtle and compassionate vision of a world on the edge of apocalypse. The focus is on a single family, their relationships and their regrets, soon to become permanent. Amongst the knotty, realistic dynamics, and the scars of family history, serious themes are elucidated and alleviated with humour and quirky, surreal touches.

The play opened at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2010, and represents a unique collaboration between three of the UK's pre-eminent stage writers. The ambition of the partnership is matched by the ambition of the play's sweeping scope. As the three voices collide, they also ring out individually without sacrificing the play's coherence. A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky represents a rare, fascinating study in stage collaboration.

Three Kingdoms

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Three Kingdoms is a blackly entertaining and unsettling detective story-cum-parable about the devil in us all, international human trafficking and the changing state of Europe.

As the severed human head of an Estonian woman is found in a river in Hammersmith, two British detectives set off in search of her origins in Europe and how she came to be found dead. Accompanied by a Mephistophelian German detective acting as their guide, they gradually sink deeper and deeper into the world of prostitution and international human trafficking. Fighting to cross international borders and language barriers, they enter a nightmarish world that will change one of them forever.

Telling the stories of trafficked women, gangs and the police forces across Europe that attempt to control them, this dark thriller explores an international business where the goods are not products, but people.

Questioning and undermining not just tenets about the nature of Europe with its old and new borders, Three Kingdoms also explodes moral certainties. With good and evil presented not as polarized forces but as disturbingly shifting, overlapping and contradictory, the play provocatively unbalances convictions of truth, ethical codes, violence and justice.

This edition also includes a preface with contributions from playwright Simon Stephens, German director Sebastian Nübling and Estonian dramaturg Eero Epner, discussing this uniquely collaborative and tri-lingual project.

The play was presented in Tallinn at Teater NO99 in Estonia on 17 September 2011, before opening at the Munich Kammerspiele, Germany, on 15 October 2011, and at the Lyric Hammersmith, London, on 3 May 2012.

Wastwater

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set on the edges of Heathrow Airport, Wastwater is an elliptical triptych – a snapshot of three different couples who make a choice that will define the fallout of their future.

Harry is on the point of leaving England. Frieda knows she will never see him again.

Lisa and Mark are on the point of a sexual betrayal that takes them into a darker place than they ever thought possible.

Sian has a terrifying deal for Jonathan. She isn’t going to take no for an answer.

Wastwater was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London on Thursday 31 March 2011. It received its Austrian premiere at the Wiener Festwochen, Halle G in MuseumsQuartier, Vienna on Saturday 14 May 2011.

Picture of Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens began his theatrical career in the literary department of the Royal Court Theatre, where he ran its Young Writers' Programme.

His plays for theatre include Bluebird (Royal Court Theatre, London, 1998, directed by Gordon Anderson); Herons (Royal Court Theatre, 2001); Port (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 2002); One Minute (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 2003 and Bush Theatre, London, 2004); Christmas (Bush Theatre, 2004); Country Music (Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 2004); On the Shore of the Wide World (Royal Exchange Theatre and National Theatre, London, 2005); Motortown (Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, 2006); Pornography (Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hanover, 2007; Edinburgh Festival/Birmingham Rep, 2008 and Tricycle Theatre, London, 2009); Harper Regan (National Theatre, 2008); Sea Wall (Bush Theatre, 2008/Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 2009); Heaven (Traverse Theatre, 2009); Punk Rock (Lyric Hammersmith, London, and Royal Exchange Theatre, 2009); The Trial ofhe Trial of Ubu Ubu (Essen Schauspielhaus/Toneelgroep Amsterdam, 2010); A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky (co-written with David Eldridge and Robert Holman; Lyric Hammersmith, London, 2010); Marine Parade (co-written with Mark Eitzel; Brighton International Festival, 2010); T5 (Traverse Theatre, 2010); and Wastwater (Royal Court Theatre Downstairs, 2011).

His radio plays include Five Letters Home to Elizabeth (BBC Radio 4, 2001) and Digging (BBC Radio 4, 2003). His screenwriting includes an adaptation of Motortown for Film4 (2009); the two-part serial Dive (with Dominic Savage) for Granada/BBC (2009); and a short film adaptation of Pornography for Channel 4's 'Coming Up' series (2009). Awards include the Pearson Award for Best New Play, 2001, for Port; Olivier Award for Best New Play for On the Shore of the Wide World, 2005; and for Motortown German critics in Theater Heute's annual poll voted him Best Foreign Playwright, 2007. His adaptation of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play.