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Homage to Craft

Theatre Writer Book

Stephen Jeffreys- Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to Write , Nick Hern Books , July 30, 2019
Theatre Writer Book by Stephen Jeffreys- Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to Write E M Forster wrote in an essay wryly, but truthfully, about the distractions that affect a writer. Half an eye to eternity, he said, is tempting but not helpful. Posterity makes its own judgements. It is a rare play that lasts a generation but that has occurred with Stephen Jeffreys' “Valued Friends.” Michael Fentiman, who was at the Sherman this last winter, directs a revival for the Rose, Kingston this September.

The play, which opened at the Hampstead Theatre 9th February 1989, reads well at an interval of 30 years. It won the author Most Promising Playwright Award at both the Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Awards. Its timing is quite precise, the scenes dated June 1984 to May 1987. It opens with a monologue by a wannabe stand-up comedian. It was an explosive start, my first sight of a young Jane Horrocks. She was one of a considerable cast, made up of Peter Capaldi, Tim McInnerny, Serena Gordon, Martin Clunes and Peter Caffrey. There are nice lines like Marion's “Marketing's funny. They all sit around and say things like “in five years time, every home will have a computer like every home has a toaster.” The roots of the politics of 2019 can be discerned.

Stephen Jeffreys (1950-2018) is best known for “the Libertine” but “Valued Friends” is stronger. His career in theatre was long and fertile, including decades of masterclasses on the craft of the playwright. The tributes that he was given last year have few equals. “What Stephen Jeffreys doesn't know about playwriting isn't worth knowing” from Stephen Daldry. From Simon Stephens “Stephen Jeffreys is as important a teacher as he is brilliant a writer… Without him, I wouldn't have been able to write the plays that I have written”

Kwame Kwei-Armah: “What Stephen taught me has shaped my mind and I have shared this with countless writers.” Abi Morgan “'Stephen was a true mentor… I still draw upon much of what he taught me today.” John Malkovich: “Would that all playwrights had his openness, his talent, his hard-headedness, his experience, his enthusiasm, his audacity, his complexity, and perhaps best of all his talent and interest in eliciting the best in others.” Simon McBurney: “his easy laugh set a room alight; he was a genuine geek, an obsessive about the craft of writing.”

“Playwriting” has been posthumously edited and compiled from his notes and plans by Maeve McKeown, Suba Das: “the most astonishing analysis of the craft ever. He was a genius on structure and character, the nuts and bolts of it, the practical as well as the ethereal.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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