Plays by Steve Waters

The Contingency Plan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A double bill of plays from the frontline of climate change - an epic portrait of an England of the near future, in the grip of unprecedented and catastrophic floods.

On the Beach is set in an England in the grip of unprecedented flooding, glaciologist Will Paxton returns from months in Antarctica to tell his parents that he will take up a role within Government. Thirty years ago, his father silenced his own radical thinking on climate change. Yet behind the reunion with his father lies years of secrecy and bitterness. As the truth surfaces, the family is torn apart, and Will’s parents must face the rising tide alone. The dialectic between Will and his father is explored with an urgent intensity which reflects the state of national emergency in which England finds itself. Waters blends the personal with the political turning this large-scale play into a compelling human drama.

In Resilience, England faces an uncertain future as catastrophic flooding on an unprecedented scale is predicted to hit its battered shores. The Tory Government that has just come to power wants radical answers to the imminent floods. Their newly appointed expert Will Paxton (who features prominently in the first part of the double bill, On the Beach) posits an extreme scenario. He declares England, potentially from coastline to capital, to be in total peril. Tory Minister for Climate Change, Chris is blind to the realities being placed before him, much to the chagrin of Will and his colleague, Colin, the Government’s Scientific Advisor. Resilience shows that Will’s fight to implement a proper policy, built from scientific research, derives in part from the old familial wounds aired in On the Beach.

Resilience and On the Beach premiered as a double bill at the Bush Theatre in London in 2009.

Impressive in scale and chilling as a prediction of our immediate future, the two plays are complementary but can also stand alone.

Fast Labour

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Steve Waters’ Fast Labour focuses on the growing culture of human exploitation in the UK focusing specifically on the experience of migrant workers.

In the Ukraine, Victor had a business, a family and a home, but things have changed and he’s fled to the UK in search of a better life. Now he’s doing everything from gutting fish to picking carrots. But he’s a strong-minded man who is determined not to stay at the bottom of the economic food chain forever. He decides to build a business of his own with the aid of two fellow East Europeans and his Scottish mistress. By offering cheap labour to a big shot gang master, Victor builds up a highly successful empire. But this rapid expansion exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of his business – by lining his own pockets he is necessarily cheating those illegal migrants whom he employs. Waters subverts an audience’s expectations by turning the victim into the perpetrator and also points to our own complicity in these exploitative working methods with our increasing consumer demands.

Fast Labour was first performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in 2008 before transferring to the Hampstead Theatre in London.

Ignorance / Jahiliyyah

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ignorance/Jahiliyyah is another political play from Steve Waters that delves into the life and legacy of Egyptian poet Sayyid Qutb whose writings have come to shape relations between the West and radical Islamists.

It’s 1949 in small-town Colorado. A group of American students struggle to accept foreign student and Muslim Sayyid Qutb into their lives. Their unthinking behaviour will have terrible consequences that are to change world history. Qutb, disgusted by the hollowness of American society and what he deemed as its over sexualisation, would go on to become a major force in the Muslim Brotherhood in the 60s and 70s. He described the malaise at the heart of Western society as resembling ‘jahiliyyah’, which roughly translates as an ignorance of Godly values. In London, sixty years later, a university professor’s work analysing those consequences takes on a frightening personal dimension when student Layla Ahmad walks into his office.

Ignorance/Jahiliyyah premiered at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs in London in 2012.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Steve Waters' play Limehouse is a dramatisation of the clandestine meeting of the so-called Gang of Four that in 1981 led to a breakaway from the UK Labour Party and ultimately the formation of the Social Democratic party. It was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 8 March 2017 (previews from 2 March).

The play is set in Limehouse, London, in a house belonging to Labour MP David Owen and his wife Debbie, on Sunday 25 January 1981. Disillusioned with his party's leftwing bias, Owen has convened a meeting of supposedly like-minded figures: Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. Torn between ancestral loyalty to Labour and dismay at what they see as its current zealotry, the four are desperate to find a political alternative. Should they split their party, divide their loyalties, and risk betraying everything they believe in? Would they be starting afresh, or destroying forever the tradition that nurtured them? As the day proceeds, the time for decisive action draws ever nearer.

The Donmar Warehouse production was directed by Polly Findlay and designed by Alex Eales. It was performed by Nathalie Armin as Debbie Owen, Tom Goodman-Hill as David Owen, Paul Chahidi as Bill Rodgers, Debra Gillett as Shirley Williams and Roger Allam as Roy Jenkins.

Little Platoons

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A satirical comedy and a family drama, Little Platoons takes the pulse of Coalition Britain and explores what the retreat of the state and the growth of people power really means for its citizens.

When Rachel’s ex threatens to remove their son from London to sort out his education, she joins a local group of parents setting up a ‘free school’. Her new friends, led by the charismatic Nick, want to create an education their children can enjoy not endure. But the vision of the Big Society they seek to create tears their lives apart. Waters’ play opens up the debate around free schools and highlights the double standards that some people apply when it comes to schooling their children. Ultimately, the education project becomes a battleground between those putting themselves before the greater social need, and vice-versa. The play also exposes the complexities behind David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ policy, which aimed to give local communities more power.

Little Platoons premiered at the Bush Theatre in London in 2011 as part of the theatre’s Schools Season.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Steve Waters' play Temple is a fictionalised account of the occupation of the area outside St Paul's Cathedral in London by the protest movement Occupy London in October 2011, and the subsequent enforced eviction of the protesters. It dramatises the different, often conflicting attitudes towards the protest by the Cathedral authorities, the wider Church of England and the City of London. It was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 27 May 2015 (previews from 21 May).

The play's action is set in the Cathedral's Chapter House on 28 October 2011. The Cathedral, after a week’s closure because of the protestors, is about to re-open. The Dean is anxious to resume worship, but he is beset on all sides by problems. The Canon Chancellor, sympathetic to the Occupy movement, noisily resigns; the Virger feels the building is unready; and the Bishop of London still holds out hope of reaching some accord with the protesters. Above all, the Dean must decide whether or not to support the City of London in its plan to evict the protesters – if necessary by force.

The Donmar Warehouse premiere was directed by Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley, with Simon Russell Beale as the Dean, Rebecca Humphries as his PA, Paul Higgins as the Canon Chancellor, Anna Calder-Marshall as the Virger, Malcolm Sinclair as the Bishop of London and Shereen Martin as the City Lawyer.

The Unthinkable

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Unthinkable is a political fable for the Blair generation that dramatises the fate of a group of influential left-wing students.

The five founding members of think tank, Polis, have met to toast the success of their organisation in the remote Derbyshire farmhouse where it all began. It has been fifteen years since they set Polis up, which went on to become one of the most influence policy-making groups of their generation. Fifteen years of second-guessing the next big idea, shaping politics and thinking the unthinkable. Once youthful idealists, now influential thinkers, they have remained close friends. But there’s a spectre at the feast. A scandal is about to break that might ruin everything. The relationships between the five have changed too ¬as some members have swung from idealism to cynicism thus souring the initial leftwing dream as they unthinkingly embrace the right.

The Unthinkable was first performed at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield in 2004.

World Music

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The troubled and bloody relationship between Africa and Europe spills into the personal lives and loves of two generations.

The first part of the play is set in Brussels where MEP Geoff Fallon is entertaining his backpacking son, Tim. Having spent his gap year in Africa, Geoff feels an affinity for the continent. However, the reality of the consequences of an African genocide that has taken place in the fictional state of Irundi hit home when local community leader, Jean, seeks refuge in the European city having been exiled from his homeland. The second part of the play shifts the action to Irundi and time rewinds as we see a younger Geoff gradually fall in love with Africa. Waters explores the legacy of colonisation and exploitation and its devastating impact upon the present by filtering the action through a collection of personal relationships.

World Music was first performed at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 2003 and subsequently transferred to the Donmar Warehouse in London.

Picture of Steve Waters

Steve Waters is a British playwright. He ran the Birmingham MPhil in Playwriting for several years and teaches Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He is also the author of The Secret Life of Plays.

His plays include English Journey (1998) and After the Gods (2002) at Hampstead Theatre; World Music (Sheffield Crucible and Donmar Warehouse, 2003); The Unthinkable (Sheffield Crucible, 2004); Out of Your Knowledge (Menagerie Theatre/Pleasance, Edinburgh/East Anglian tour, 2007-08); Fast Labour (West Yorkshire Playhouse/Hampstead Theatre, 2008); The Contingency Plan (Bush Theatre, 2009; shortlisted for the John Whiting Award); Capernaum as part of 66 Books (2011) and Little Platoons (2011) both at the Bush Theatre; Ignorance/Jahiliyyah (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 2012) and Temple (Donmar Warehouse, 2015). Theatre adaptations include Habitats, translation of the play by Philippe Minyana (Gate Theatre, 2002 and Tron Theatre, 2004) and Flight Without End, adapted from the novel by Joseph Roth (LAMDA, 2006).

Writing for television and radio includes Safe House (BBC4), The Air Gap and The Moderniser (BBC Radio 4).