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Brecht, Brexit, and Beyond: An Interview with Simon Stephens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2023

Markus Wessendorf
Affiliation:
University of Hawaii, Manoa
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Summary

Simon Stephens is one of the most prolific playwrights in twenty-firstcentury British theater; his exuberant creative imagination is reflected in his idiosyncratic and daringly experimental approach to theater-making that has yielded highly innovative and stylistically eclectic plays which have set Stephens apart from the tradition of new writing in British theater. One of the most outstanding characteristics of his theater practice is the extent to which Stephens interrogates conventions by crossing aesthetic, dramaturgical, and cultural borders. For Stephens, taking a (geographical) distance, exploring different cultures, and drawing on them as a source of inspiration for his own work is a fundamental prerequisite not only for adopting a fresh perspective on but also for better getting to know and establishing a more intimate relationship with one's “home”—and oneself: “When we travel abroad we see our home with a clarity that we may never have been offered before.”

These border-crossings have informed his work as a playwright on multiple levels, most notably regarding the composition, development, and production of his plays. Throughout his career, Stephens has closely collaborated with European directors, for example Ivo van Hove, who has directed Stephens's Song from Far Away (2015), and Sebastian Nübling, under whose direction several of his plays premiered in Germany; indeed, many of his works have been popular outside Britain, especially on the German-speaking stage. Accordingly, for Stephens, “theater practice is not simply about staging the imagination of a playwright but a multi-authored process of collaboration, conflict, intervention and exploration.” His work as a writer is thus based on a dynamic understanding of the relationships between playwright, director, actors, and audiences. Emphasizing this spirit of interaction, he prefers to describe himself as a playwright rather than an author because the former term “is charged with connotations of life as a theater worker.” As he further explains below, notions of authority and authorial control over his texts are much less interesting to Stephens than collaboration as a source of creative inspiration.

It is in this collaborative and interactive vein that adaptation has played a defining and increasingly important role in Stephens's theater practice. His projects have ranged from turning novels into dramatic texts—most famously Stephens's adaptation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2012)—to writing new translations of plays by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and Bertolt Brecht.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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