Stephen Jeffreys

Plays by Stephen Jeffreys

The Clink  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play The Clink is a satirical farce set in Elizabethan England, about a comedian who becomes unwillingly involved in the political skullduggery surrounding the dying queen. It was first staged by Paines Plough at Theatre Royal Plymouth on 20 September 1990, ahead of a tour of Britain and Holland.

The play opens in the Liberty of the Clink, an area on the south bank of the Thames which historically was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county's high sheriff, and where the renowned prison known as The Clink was to be found. Lucius Bodkin, one half of traditional comedy duo the Bodkin Brothers, wants a brilliant career and, unlike his brother Thomas, is willing to take any risk to achieve it. His opportunity arrives when he is chosen to entertain a visiting delegation from the Dutch Republic. But the Queen is at death's door, conspirators are everywhere, and Lucius has reckoned without the backstabbers and wide boys that stand in his way.

The Paines Plough production was directed by Sally Furse and designed by Sally Jacobs. It was performed by Tony Bluto, Shelagh Fraser, David Gant, Didi Hopkins, Liz Kettle, Mark Lockyer (as Lucius Bodkin), Ric Morgan, Keith Osborn and Taiwo Payne.

Finsbury Park  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play Finsbury Park is a short autobiographical monologue. It was first performed by Stephen Jeffreys as part of Paines Plough’s Come to Where I’m From at Park Theatre, London, on 6 July 2016.

The play is closely autobiographical, a series of anecdotes and recollections of Finsbury Park and Crouch End, of growing up there as a boy in the 1950s, of Arsenal games, buses, London fog and the kindness of strangers.

In her Introduction to the collection Stephen Jeffreys: Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2018), Jeffreys' wife Annabel Arden writes: 'The house Stephen grew up in, 45 Weston Park, had been acquired by his paternal grandfather in 1936, and three generations as well as many lodgers lived there in a very particular post-war austerity. It was a childhood full of eccentric characters, English humour and stoicism. His monologue Finsbury Park... captures the essence of this.'

A Going Concern  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play A Going Concern is a drama about an ailing family business in 1960s London that specialises in making billiard tables as the trade is overtaken by the times. It was first staged at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 2 September 1993.

The action of the play takes place in the workshop of Chapel and Sons (Billiards) Ltd in the City Road, London, in April 1966. The company still makes billiard tables the old-fashioned way, in a dilapidated workshop, where three generations conspire against each other for control of the firm, while their livelihood is threatened by technological advances and the coming of American pool.

In her Introduction to the collection Stephen Jeffreys: Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2018), Jeffreys' wife Annabel Arden writes: '[Stephen's] father’s family ran a business making billiard tables, where he himself spent a short time working after university and which he immortalised in his play A Going Concern. According to family legend his great-grandfather taught the Pankhurst sisters how to play billiards.'

The Hampstead Theatre production was directed by Matthew Lloyd and designed by Sue Plummer. It was performed by Henry Stamper, David Horovitch, David Killick, Adam Godley, Reece Dinsdale, James Clyde, Shaun Prendergast and Samantha Holland.

I Just Stopped By To See The Man  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play I Just Stopped By To See The Man is a drama about the myth surrounding an old blues singer. It was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 30 November 2000.

The play is set in a bare ‘shotgun’ house in a small town in the Mississippi Delta in the summer of 1975. It is home to Jesse Davidson, 75, last of the old-time Delta blues singers, who is thought to have died fourteen years ago, and to his daughter Della, 34, on the run after her involvement with the Black Panthers. Their peace is shattered by the arrival of Karl, 31, an English rock star who idolises Jesse and whose band has been doing a gig in Memphis, Tennessee. Karl, facing the break-up of his band, sees salvation in persuading the reluctant Jesse to step back into the limelight for one last stand.

The Royal Court production was directed by Richard Wilson and designed by Julian McGowan. It was performed by Ciarán McMenamin (as Karl), Tommy Hollis (as Jesse) and Sophie Okonedo (as Della).

Interruptions  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play Interruptions is a drama exploring ideas about democracy, politics and leadership. It was written while he was resident at the University of California, Davis, and first performed at UC Davis Main Theatre on 26 April 2001.

The play shows an imaginary country preparing for an election, undergoing a military coup, and then living through the consequences. There are about eighty different characters, each intended to reflect a different part of society. Each of the seven scenes (Politics, Game, Death, Food, Sex, Work and Song) shows a group of people engaging in a basic human activity, and being frustrated in their attempts.

In her Introduction to the collection Stephen Jeffreys: Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2018), Jeffreys' wife Annabel Arden writes: '[Interruptions] sprang from [Stephen's] fascination with the Japanese aesthetic principle of Jo-ha-kyu and his desire to create a particular narrative form to express our struggles with democracy and leadership.'

In an Author's Note in the same edition, Jeffreys writes: 'My fellow playwright, David Edgar, once pointed out to me the large number of scenes in Shakespeare which could be described as ‘interrupted rituals’ (e.g. the play scene in Hamlet, the banquet in Macbeth). I worked on this idea of a single interrupted ritual – including burial, circumcision, and negotiations for a wedding. Interruptions is my own contribution to the genre. It asks the questions: "Do we need to be led?" "How do we decide who leads?" and "What happens when there are no leaders?"'

The UC Davis production was directed by Annabel Arden with scenic design by Brian Garber. It was performed by Cara Burgoyne, Simon Burzinski, Diane DiPrima, Elias Escobedo, Michelle French, Virginie Magnat, Juan Manzo, Cooky Nguyen, Linda Noveroske Rentner, Bill Ritch, Damion Sharpe and Isaac Hirotsu Woofler. 

The Libertine

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys' play The Libertine is a historical drama and comedy of manners about John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a Restoration poet, playwright and renowned libertine. It was first performed, in a production by Out of Joint, at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on 20 October 1994 and then on tour, culminating at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 6 December 1994.

The play opens with a prologue delivered by Rochester direct to the audience, in which he declares: 'I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.' As the play opens, Rochester is already a writer and dramatist of reputed brilliance, a sexual adventurer of polymorphous tastes, a feverish alcoholic and a mischief-maker. He amuses the degenerate but shrewd King Charles II, but his irreverence is losing acceptability and Rochester is sternly reminded that 'there is a time to be for things.' Nevertheless, he continues to compulsively test the limits of his society. Most perilous of all, he falls madly in love with Elizabeth Barry, a young actress he attempts to mould. But Barry is more than his match, and Rochester's downfall is set in motion.

The Out of Joint premiere was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and designed by Peter Hartwell. It was performed by David Westhead (as Rochester), Cathryn Bradshaw, Amanda Drew, Bernard Gallagher, Barnaby Kay, Katrina Levon (as Elizabeth Barry), Tim Potter (as Charles II), Nicola Walker, Jason Watkins and Tricia Thorns.

It was premiered in America in 1996 by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in a production directed by Terry Johnson, with John Malkovich as Rochester.

A feature film adaptation with a screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys was released in 2004, directed by Laurence Dunmore and starring Johnny Depp as Rochester and John Malkovich as Charles II.

A major revival of the play by the Theatre Royal Bath and Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2016 was directed by Terry Johnson and starred Dominic Cooper as Rochester.

Valued Friends  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play Valued Friends is a comedy of manners about the property market. It was first staged at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 9 February 1989, winning Jeffreys the Most Promising Playwright Award at both the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Awards.

The play is set in the basement flat of a large Late-Victorian house in Earl’s Court, London, between June 1984 and May 1987. The flat is home to four people: Sherry, a wacky girl trying to make it as a comedienne; Paul, a pop music journalist; Paul's girlfriend Marion; and Howard, who is writing a left-wing analysis of the corruption of capitalism under the Thatcher government. They all are perfectly content living where they are until a developer offers them a huge sum of money to vacate. Soon, their talk about music and idealism gives way to heated discussions about real estate, capital appreciation and negotiating tactics. They decide that they can force the developer to raise his offer by renovating the house; and three years of this leave them with a huge capital gain, and a deep spiritual loss.

The Hampstead Theatre production was directed by Robin Lefevre and designed by Sue Plummer. It was performed by Jane Horrocks, Peter Capaldi, Tim McInnerny, Serena Gordon, Martin Clunes and Peter Caffrey. 

Picture of Stephen Jeffreys

Stephen Jeffreys (1950-2018) was a British playwright and a key figure at the Royal Court Theatre, London, where he was Literary Associate for eleven years, then a member of its Council. His celebrated playwriting workshops have influenced many writers. Jeffreys' plays include The Libertine and I Just Stopped By to See the Man (Royal Court); Valued Friends and A Going Concern (Hampstead); Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad (part of the Tricycle Theatre’s Great Game season about Afghanistan); The Convicts’ Opera (Out of Joint); Lost Land (starring John Malkovich, Steppenwolf, Chicago); The Art of War (Sydney Theatre Company) and A Jovial Crew (RSC). His adaptation of Dickens’ Hard Times has been performed all over the world. He wrote the films The Libertine (starring Johnny Depp) and Diana (starring Naomi Watts). He co-authored the Beatles musical Backbeat which opened at the Citizens Theatre and went on to seasons in London’s West End, Toronto and Los Angeles. He translated The Magic Flute for English National Opera in Simon McBurney’s production.