The playwright Simon Stephens is a rebel at the heart of British theatreby Michael Coveney / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Women are shown as deer in Stephens’s Three Kingdoms (2011), a play about sex trafficking © Ene Liis Semper
The most prolific playwright of our new century, 41-year-old Simon Stephens, sits at the very centre of new British theatre, a ubiquitous activist who believes in “making” theatre, not writing it, relishing what he calls “the gang mentality” involved.
Port, which opens at the end of January at the National Theatre, defines Stephens’s talent and areas of interest almost perfectly. A story of growing up and escape in his native Stockport, Port charts the odyssey of a young girl over 12 years as she strikes out on her own, with a much younger brother. Pushed to the margins in the shadow of a big city, she embodies the spirit of melancholy and alienation Stephens admires in the music of Morrissey and the Smiths.
Last year alone, Stephens had six titles performed in Britain, including the controversial Three Kingdoms at the Lyric, Hammersmith (only someone “debauched beyond redemption” could enjoy the dildo-and-bondage scenes, I wrote, somewhat primly). The play, which begins with the discovery of a headless female corpse in Hammersmith, followed two British detectives through the lower depths of the European vice-trade and sex-trafficking business.
Stephens also served up two acclaimed, award-winning adaptations, both re-surfacing this year: brilliant versions of Mark Haddon’s hit novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, transferring to the West End from the National Theatre in March, and of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, returning to the Young Vic in April.
There is a time-honoured division in British theatre: on one side stand the Roundheads of the R…