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One of the characteristic in-yer-face themes of 1990s theatre. In keeping with the unideological character of that decade, most plays which examine this issue feature not only politically incorrect and often highly explicit scenes of abuse, but also show the complicity of the victims with their victimisers.

Adamson, Samuel
Adelaide-bred Aussie (b 1969) who has spent his working life in London. Leapt to fame with Clocks and Whistles (Bush, 1996), one of the highlights of this venue's London Fragments season. His insightful and subtle approach to everyday emotions and character can also be seen in Grace Note (Old Vic, 1997), part of Dominic Dromgoole's season at this grand, old barn. Adamson's work also includes adaptations of Chekhov and Ibsen. Flavour of the month, nay decade, at the National, his metrosexual Southwark Fair (National, 2006) was directed by supremo Nicholas Hytner. He also adapted Spanish auteur Pedro Almadovar's 1999 film All About My Mother (Old Vic, 2007).

Adshead, Kay
The great survivor (b 1954). Feminist playwright who is also great fun, Adshead emerged in the 1980s with hard-hitting plays such as Thatcher's Women (Tricycle, 1987). Her Juicy Bits (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1998) was a memorable account of desire. More recently, she's pioneered political plays that mix wit with compassion, and critique with formal innovation. She's a dreamer, eccentric and poet. Basically, she rocks: check out The Bogus Woman (Bush, 2000), Animal (Soho, 2003), Bites (Bush, 2005) and Bones (Bush, 2006).

Agbaje, Bola
One of the best new writers to emerge from the Royal Court Young Writers' Programme in the new millennium, she first came to notice with her thrilling debut, Gone Too Far! (Royal Court, 2007). This show started out at the Theatre Upstairs studio, before being restaged in the main house. Her Detaining Justice (Tricycle, 2009) was a powerful account of migration, and her Off the Endz (Royal Court, 2010) an elegant story about life chances.

Super trendy north London theatre that stages both new plays and revivals of classics, under the joint directorship of Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid, 1990-2002. They introduced fashionable London audiences - you get jostled by a better class of person here - to some obscure corners of the European and American repertoire. In the 1990s, memorable examples of new(ish) writing include Han Ong's The LA Plays (1993), Phyllis Nagy's Butterfly Kiss (1994), Louis Mellis and David Scinto's Gangster No 1 (1995), Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of the Bird (1997) and Neil LaBute's Bash: Latterday Plays (2000), The Shape of Things (2001) and The Distance from Here (2002). The Almeida really loves American playwrights. It has also pioneered the vogue for movie stars to appear on the London stage, attracting names such as Juliette Binoche, Claire Bloom, Jonny Lee Miller, and Gael Garcia Bernal. Current head since 2002: Michael Attenborough.


Barry, Sebastian
One of the best Irish writers (b 1955) of the decade, whose plays - for example, White Woman Street (Bush, 1992), The Steward of Christendom (Royal Court, 1995) and Our Lady of Sligo (Out of Joint, 1998) - are award-winning classics. Barry has successfully mined his family history for material which he has dramatised to great effect. His more overtly political play, Hinterland (Out of Joint, 2002), was a lot less successful. Barry has also translated Lorca. His Whistling Psyche (Almeida, 2004), starring Claire Bloom and Kathryn Hunter, was extremely wordy, a reminder perhaps of his parallel career as a novelist.

Bartlett, Mike
One of the most exciting new voices (b 1980) to emerge in the late 2000s, Bartlett has been lucky enough to attract ace directors who have given his excellent plays the innovative stagings they deserve. For example, his debut, My Child (Royal Court, 2007), was set in a claustrophobic tunnel which was half tube train and half trendy bar. More recently, his Artefacts (Bush, 2008) saw the stage turned into a theatre-in-the-round, and his Contractions (Royal Court, 2008) was staged in an upstairs office space. His latest, Cock (Royal Court, 2009), was given an experimental production, directed by James Macdonald.

Bean, Richard
A son of Hull (b 1956), the prolific Bean's trademark at first was gritty work plays (with loads of hairy male casts) - Toast (Royal Court, 1999) and Under the Whaleback (Royal Court, 2003) - but he also excelled in politically incorrect black comedy: The Mentalists (National, 2002), The God Botherers (Bush, 2003) and Honeymoon Suite (Royal Court, 2004). Added to that, the versatile Bean also wrote state-of-the nation comedies such as Mr England (Sheffield, 2000) and Smack Family Robinson (Live, 2003). His Harvest (Royal Court, 2005) was an ambitious and superbly entertaining comic epic. A founder-member of the Monsterists, he was involved in the Monster Day Out. Recent work includes the disappointing In the Club (Hampstead, 2007) and the wonderful The English Game (Headlong, 2008). Bean's typically acerbic humour and epic vision characterised his England People Very Nice (National, 2009), one of the most controversial plays of the year. He is Brit theatre's agent provocateur.

Bent, Simon
Bent's succinct and economical style, coupled with his careful use of ambiguity, have led to him being labelled a Bondist, with his Accomplices (Sheffield, 2000) being directly compared to Edward Bond's Saved. Bent's other works - including Bad Company (Bush, 1994), Goldhawk Road, Sugar, Sugar, The Associate (National, 2002) and The Country of the Blind (Gate, 2002) - all demonstrate these qualities, as well as a striking humanity. He has also developed as a prime adaptor of novels and books. His stage version of A Prayer for Owen Meaney (National, 2002), was followed by the Scandinavian novel Elling (2007), which was a big hit for the Bush, and transferred to the West End. He then wrote the stage version of Prick Up Your Ears (Comedy, 2009). Nice.

Bhatti, Gurpreet Kaur
Bhatti worked as a journalist, refuge worker and actress before turning to writing. Her debut Behsharam (Shameless) broke box office records at the Birmingham Rep and Soho theatres in 2001. Her 2004 follow-up, Behzti (Dishonour) at Birmingham Rep was the biggest new writing cause celebre since Sarah Kane's Blasted. Militant action by local Sikhs, reportedly offended by its portrayal of sexual corruption inside a temple, forced its early closure. Bhatti also writes for Westway on radio and EastEnders on tv. Long may she thrive.

Blakeman, Helen
Liverpool-bred playwright. Family tensions and the power of the past run through much of Blakeman's output. Her early work includes Caravan (Bush, 1997) and Normal (Bush, 2000). More recently, The Morris (Everyman, Liverpool, 2005) had the unusual subject of female Morris dancers.

A key play of the 1990s, Sarah Kane's debut, Blasted, opened at the Royal Court in January 1995. Raw in style, horrific in content and experimental in form, it gave critics apoplexy and received some of the worst reviews of the decade. Blinded by its scenes of horror, most critics failed to see that what was really disturbing was the play's radical structure, in which a first half set in Leeds hotel suddenly explodes into a war zone in the second half. Defended by writers such as Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Edward Bond and Martin Crimp, Blasted soon found its rightful place in the canon of contemporary drama. But not without a fight.

Block, Simon
London writer (b 1966) whose smart plays, with their ping-pong dialogue, never neglect the emotional undercurrents that bounce between their characters. Good examples are Not a Game for Boys (Royal Court, 1995), Chimps (Hampstead, 1997), A Place at the Table (Bush, 2000) and the less successful Hand in Hand (Hampstead, 2002). He also took part in The Chain Play (2001), where different authors contributed a scene to a one-off performance, part of the National Theatre's 25th anniversary celebrations.

Bradwell, Mike
Great guy: big, hairy and Falstaffian. Founder of the alternative Hull Truck theatre company in 1971, and artistic director of the Bush theatre between 1996 and 2007. Over the years, he has directed more than 30 shows at that venue, his spiritual home. Passionate advocate of new plays, and massive storyteller. The Naked Talent season (Bush, 2004) demonstrated his commitment to provocative, but entertaining, new writing. Also: he has his moments of vision. Plus: check out his book. After retiring from the Bush, he wrote his autobiography, The Reluctant Escapologist: Adventures in Alternative Theatre (Nick Hern, 2010), a really thrilling and informative read. Get it!

Brat pack
Although the young writers of the 1990s were often seen as a group, they were in no sense a movement. The best metaphor to describe their relationships to each other is that of a network or web.

Brown, Ian
Artistic director of the Traverse, Edinburgh, between 1988 and 1996, who based his policy on two strands: developing Scottish work with Scottish actors, and finding the best international new writers. Staged fine plays by Scottish writers such as David Greig and David Harrower as well as memorable American imports. Since 2002, he has been artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

Buffini, Moira
Actor turned writer, Buffini (b 1965) first attracted attention when she co-wrote (with Anna Reynolds) and performed Jordan in 1992. Since then, her versatility - and love of allegory - can be seen in plays as diverse as Blavatsky's Tower (1997), Gabriel (Soho, 1997), Silence (Birmingham Rep, 1999, toured in 2002, revived by RSC in 2005), Loveplay (RSC, 2001) and Dinner (National, 2002, and West End, 2003). In April 2005 Buffini contributed to Greenwich Theatre's mini-season of political works, aimed at combating voter apathy before the general election. As a founder member of the Monsterists, she advocates big, imaginative plays rather than naturalistic soap opera dramas.

Burke, Gregory
Scottish writer (b 1968) who shot to fame with his first play, Gagarin Way (Traverse, 2001), whose sizzling, high-octane linguistic brilliance amazed all who saw it, and won a whole clutch of awards. His follow up, The Straits (Traverse, 2003), looked at four Gibraltar teenagers during the Falklands War of 1982, and provided a powerful metaphor for Britain's role in the War on Terror. His On Tour (Royal Court/Liverpool, 2005) was fast, furious and funny, and his Black Watch (Traverse, 2006) looks set to be one of the definitive plays about the Iraq War and soldiering.

Bush Theatre
Pub theatre in west London that helped kick-start the explosion of new writing in the 1990s when Dominic Dromgoole, the new artistic director, started putting on an eclectic mix of young playwrights, from Billy Roche to Philip Ridley. Memorable productions in this claustrophobic 100-seat venue include Trainspotting, Tracy Letts's Killer Joe, David Eldridge's Serving It Up and Richard Zajdlic's Dogs Barking. Dromgoole's successor, Mike Bradwell, has staged equally cutting-edge work, including Mark O'Rowe's Howie the Rookie. The Bush was refurbished in October 2000 and now stages new writing in all its splendid variety. Since 2007, its new artistic director has been Josie Rourke. Controversially, she wants to run a new-writing theatre without a literary manager.

Butler, Leo
Sheffield born and bred, Butler (b 1974) had his first play, Made of Stone (2000), put on as part of the Royal Court's Young Writers fest and instantly won an award for Most Promising Playwright. His subsequent plays, Redundant (Royal Court, 2001) and Lucky Dog (Royal Court, 2004), have also been widely praised for their gritty documentary realism and attention to detail. He's master of the slow burn and of emotional bleakness. Now works as tutor on the Court's Young Writers Programme, and his latest plays include I'll Be the Devil (RSC, 2008) and Faces in the Crowd (Royal Court, 2008).

Butterworth, Jez
Butterworth is an often reclusive playwright (b 1969) whose exhilarating first play, Mojo (Royal Court, 1995), had a huge impact
, and soon became a contemporary classic. Then Butterworth disappeared into filmland, making - among other projects - a disappointing version of this stage debut. In 2001, he co-wrote (with brother Tom Butterworth) and directed The Birthday Girl, which starred Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin. At the Royal Court, Butterworth made great theatrical comebacks with The Night Heron (2002) and The Winterling (2006): lovely writing. Really. He then made yet another comeback in 2009, with the excellent Parlour Song (Almeida) and the state-of-the-nation pastoral Jerusalem (Royal Court). His trademark is the exploration of the male psyche in plays which are structured around the tension between what happens onstage and what happens offstage. His humour is wicked, and his eccentric characters unforgettable.


Cameron, Richard
Doncaster bard. Poet of post-industrial South Yorks. Specialises in tender and hilarious accounts of northern working-class life. His lyrical vision embraces tough women and violent men. Graduating from the National Student Drama Festival in the 1980s, Cameron had his Can't Stand Up for Falling Down staged in Edinburgh, then at the Hampstead in 1990. Six of his plays have been staged by the Bush: Pond Life (1992), Not Fade Away (1993), The Mortal Ash (1994), All of You Mine (1996), The Glee Club (2002) and the deliciously hilarious Gong Donkeys (2004). He also won the first Dennis Potter Award for Stone Sissors Paper (BBC, 1995).

Carr, Marina
Master of the poetic realist style, Irish-born Carr (b 1964) is not an easy writer but her work, characterised by emotional fierceness and allusions to classical tragedy, can be remarkably rewarding. A regular at the Abbey, Dublin, her plays include Low in the Dark (Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 1989), The Mai (Peacock, Dublin, 1994), Portia Coughlan (Peacock, Dublin, 1996), By the Bog of Cats (Abbey, 1998) and On Raftery's Hill (Druid/Royal Court, 2000). Her recent work includes Ariel (2002) and Meat and Salt (2003), written for 8-12-year-olds. Carr's By the Bog of Cats was staged in the West End (Wyndhams, 2004), with Holly Hunter playing the lead. Her Woman and Scarecrow (Royal Court, 2006) was fearsomely brill.

Churchill, Caryl
British theatre's greatest living writer (b 1938). Okay? Is that clear enough? Churchill seems to reinvent herself, and theatre form, in every play. She is responsible for top world classics such as Cloud Nine (1979), Top Girls (1982) and Serious Money (1987). Mixing acute political insight with theatrical experiment, her plays are always both intellectually and dramatically thrilling. Worked creatively with Max Stafford-Clark. Her list of successes is dauntingly long, so look it up yourselves! In the 1990s, The Skriker (National, 1994) was a wild fantasy that seemed to equate femininity with the irrational; Blue Heart (Out of Joint, 1997) was an audacious experiment with lingo; Far Away (Royal Court, 2000) a visionery account of global war and ecological apocalypse; A Number (Royal Court, 2002) a profound meditation on genetic engineering. Her controversial short play, Seven Jewish Children (Royal Court, 2009) was written as a response to the Israeli incursions into Gaza and provoked hysteria from pro-Israelis. Such arseholes! Whatever she does, it's a surprise. Untameable.

Written by Patrick Marber, Closer is arguably the key 1990s play about personal relations. First put on at the National in May 1997, it was hugely successful, influencing dozens of writers by its frankness of tone, its rush for the explosive punchline and its excoriating honesty about emotions. For a moment, it lit up the sex war with a garish light. As one critic put it, of the many four-letter words, 'love is undoubtedly the most brutal'. In 2004, Closer was adapted into a film, directed by Mike Nichols - although well received, much of the original's dark humour failed to translate from stage to screen. And the film's ending was a cop-out.

It's clear from 1990s drama that all is not rosy in the capitalist garden. One of the key themes of the decade was a profound scepticism about consumer culture, as evidenced by plays such as Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking or David Greig's The Architect. The strength of this current of anti-consumerism gives the lie to the legend that political theatre is dead and that young playwrights are non-political.

Cooke, Dominic
Artistic director of the Royal Court theatre since 2007, where he has successfully rejuvenated the venue. His policy of developing the best new playwrights, instead of running after every novelty, distinguishes him from many on the new writing scene. Has championed Bola Agbaje, Polly Stenham and Anupama Chandrasekhar. Before taking up this post, Cooke (b 1966) was an associate at the RSC, where his directing credits included a fine revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. At the Court, he has also directed Vassily Sigarev's Plasticine, Leo Butler's Redundant and Michael Wynne's The People Are Friendly.

Craig, Ryan
Craig is a versatile writer (b 1972) whose trademark is the well-plotted issue play that, at its very end, leaves audiences hanging in the air. His early work includes Happy Savages (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1998) and he learn much of his craft by writing for television and radio. In 2005, his Broken Road won a Fringe First in Edinburgh and What We Did to Weinstein (Menier) got the Peggy Ramsay Award. His latest is The Glass Room (Hampstead, 2006). Founder member of the Monsterists.

Crimp, Martin
Although slightly older (b 1956) than most of the new writers of the 1990s, Crimp has been highly influential both as a playwright and as a translator. He made his mark on the decade with daring and innovative drama, especially The Treatment (Royal Court, 1993) and Attempts on Her Life (Royal Court, 1997), arguably the most exciting new play of the past 25 years. With a back catalogue which includes the much revived Dealing with Clair (Orange Tree, 1988), he's also a firm fav with students. His The Country (Royal Court, 2000), Face to the Wall (Royal Court, 2002) and Fewer Emergencies (Royal Court, 2005) prove that his originality and power remain undiminished. And, as his exciting adaptations of Moliere, Marivaux and Koltes show, he's a cracking translator. His Cruel and Tender (Young Vic, 2004), adapted from Sophocles's The Women of Trachis, shows that you can talk about terrorism without resorting to verbatim theatre. The City (Royal Court, 2008) was a compendium of his obsessions, and showed him at his playful best.


Daldry, Stephen
Artistic director of the Royal Court theatre from 1992 to 1998. Before that, his biggest success was an Expressionist staging of An Inspector Calls (National, 1992). At the Court, his conversion to the policy of staging as many new writers as possible led to the 1994-95 season, which saw the debuts of Joe Penhall, Judy Upton, Nick Grosso and Sarah Kane. Daldry's fundraising flair and showmanship helped make provocative subjects and an in-yer-face style the staples of the Court's studio theatre. His tastes defined his theatre's public image. After he was succeeded by Ian Rickson in 1998, Daldry went on to direct the hit film Billy Elliot (1999) and the Oscar-nominated The Hours (2003), etc. He has also directed recent plays by Caryl Churchill and Billy Elliot the Musical (Victoria Palace, 2005).

Dowie, Claire
Writer and stand-up who specialises in fraught but hilarious comedy: who says you can't laugh in the face of tragedy? Classics include Easy Access (for the Boys), Why Is John Lennon Wearing a Skirt? and Adult Child/Dead Child. An irrepressible guide through the darkness and light of sexual identity.

Dromgoole, Dominic
Artistic director of the Bush theatre between 1990 and 1996. Claims credit for kick-starting the boom in 1990s new writing by staging an eclectic mix of plays, which included Billy Roche's Wexford trilogy (1991) and Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing (1993). His version of events is published in The Bush Theatre Book, edited by his successor Mike Bradwell. After leaving the Bush, he was briefly New Plays Director at the Old Vic, before going on to run the Oxford Stage Company and then Shakespeare's Globe, London, from 2006. His book, The Full Room, is a smartly written but highly controversial round up of new writers.


Eldridge, David
Having made his debut at the age of 22 with a stonking drama called Serving It Up (Bush, 1996), Eldridge (b 1973) soon mellowed into a writer whose trademarks are empathy, social observation and truthful dialogue. Summer Begins (National/Donmar, 1997) and Falling (Hampstead, 1999) are perfect accounts of the hopes and anxieties of daily life, while his 2000 Royal Court play, Under the Blue Sky, demonstrates his wicked sense of humour and confident use of innovative form. In 2004, he produced a cracking version of Festen (Almeida, and West End) and another moving account of family life, M.A.D. (Bush). In 2005, Eldridge continued to use the family as a focal point for his work, and experimented in writing from a subjective point of view, in Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness (Royal Court). Active member of the Monsterists: in 2006, his Market Boy was an outstanding Monster success on the National's huge Olivier stage. He's also a fine adapter of Ibsen.

Elton, Ben
Loveable cheeky chappie (b 1959) who caught the essence of the debate about screen violence, and dramatised it in Popcorn (Nottingham, 1996). If at times Elton falls prey to the same soundbite values he criticises, his play remains one of the liveliest - and funniest - accounts of the way Hollywood exploits violence for profit. He has since moved on to musicals, writing the words for The Lion King (Lyceum, 1999) and We Will Rock You (Dominion, 2002). Imagine his royalties cheque.

Experiential theatre
Describes the kind of drama, usually put on in studio spaces, that aims to give audiences the experience of actually having lived through the actions depicted on stage. (But not literally!) Instead of allowing spectators to just sit back and contemplate the play, experiential theatre grabs its audiences and forces them to confront the reality of the feelings shown to them. Yes, it's in-yer-face, and it's here to stay (well, more or less).


Farr, David

Onetime artistic director of London's tiny Gate Theatre (1995-98), and the man who commissioned Sarah Kane's second play, he is also a playwright who mixes great plotting, farcical comedy and emotional bleakness. His Elton John's Glasses (Watford, 1997) was a joyful comedy about football fandom, failure and the trials of masculinity. It started life as Neville Southall's Washbag at the Finborough in 1992, and ended up briefly in the West End. His The Danny Crowe Show (Bush, 2001) is a ferociously funny and satisfyingly savage satire on celebrity culture. Other work includes Night of the Soul (RSC, 2002), Crime and Punishment in Dalston (Arcola, 2001) and The UN Inspector (National, 2005), an adaptation of Gogol's The Government Inspector. Farr was (joint) artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic (2002-05) and then head of the Lyric, Hammersmith (2005-08). Now directs for the RSC.

Finborough theatre
Tiny pub theatre in London's Earl's Court, the Finborough has nevertheless played a vital part, especially under the direction of Phil Willmott, in the explosion of creativity in British theatre in the 1990s. It was here that Max Stafford-Clark first glimpsed the potential of Mark Ravenhill. The pub and theatre got a facelift in 2003, and the theatre is now run by Neil McPherson, who loves plays about war, plague and famine. In 2005, he celebrated the venue's 25th anniversary.

Fitch, Georgia
Actress turned playwright, Fitch is one of the Bush theatre's most exciting discoveries. Her debut, Adrenalin... Heart (Bush, 2002), not only wowed West London audiences but also had a gob-stinging effect in Japan, where it toured. It was also revived at the Bush.
Her follow-up was the delicious I Like Mine with a Kiss (Bush, 2007).

While some of the characteristics of in-yer-face theatre are obvious - bad language, sexual explicitness and overt violence - it is worth noting that some of the best 1990s playwrights were most concerned with the form, or structure, of their work. Indeed, the holy grail of new writing is plays that are both distinctive in voice and exciting in form. Good examples of innovative form include Sarah Kane's Blasted, Phyllis Nagy's The Strip, Rebecca Prichard's Essex Girls and Martin Crimp's Attempts on Her Life. And that's just from the 1990s. Oh, and make sure you check out anything by Caryl Churchill.

Frantic Assembly
Who said that physical theatre can't be cutting edge? Frantic - now led by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett - mix techno beat, bouncy dancing and, at their best, some ace writing. Hits include the cult Generation Trilogy (1995-98), Michael Wynne's Sell Out (1998), Chris O'Connell's Hymns (1999), Nicola McCartney's Underworld (2001), Abi Morgan's Tiny Dynamite (2001), Isabel Wright's Peepshow (2002) and Glyn Cannon's On Blindness (2004). Also contributed to the movement work in Gregory Burke's exquisite The Straits, Mark Ravenhill's lovely Pool (No Water), and many others.


Gilman, Rebecca
American writer (b 1964) who brings a fierce intelligence to big issues such as racism - Spinning into Butter (Goodman, Chicago, 1999) - sexism - Boy Gets Girl (Goodman, Chicago, 2000) - and cultural envy - The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (Royal Court, 2004), which starred Gillian Anderson. On the negative side, her writing tends to be a little too well mannered for its own good. In Britain, Gilman's work has been promoted by the Royal Court: all of the above, plus The Glory of Living (Royal Court, 1999). Her recent plays include Bill of (W)Rights (Mixed Blood, 2004).

Green, Debbie Tucker
Hailed - with pardonable exaggeration - as the new Sarah Kane, Tucker Green arrived with a bang in 2003 with dirty butterfly (Soho), which she quickly followed up with born bad (Hampstead, 2003). Her style is a mix of in-yer-face directness with a freefloating poetry and an experimental attitude to form. Her Stoning Mary (Royal Court, 2005) is a real masterpiece and her Random (Royal Court, 2008) was very impressive.

Greig, David
Prolific Scottish playwright (b 1969), who has constantly innovated and experimented in his choice of subject matter and form. His key tropes are guilty men abroad and the notion of borderlands where nothing is quite like it seems. Plays include Europe (Traverse, 1994), The Architect (Traverse, 1996), Caledonia Dreaming (7:84, 1997), The Speculator (Edinburgh, 1999), The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union (Paines Plough, 1999, revived at the Donmar in 2005), Victoria (RSC, 1999) and Outlying Islands (Traverse, 2002). In 1990, he also founded, with Graham Eatough, Suspect Culture, whose Mainstream (1999) is one of the most evocative plays of that decade. Their Casanova (2001) is a masterpiece, and 8000m (Tramway, 2004) was equally well received. Greig's prolific output has continued with Caligula (Donmar, 2003), When the Bulbul Stopped Singing (Traverse, 2004) and The American Pilot (RSC, 2005). His Pyrenees (Paines Plough, 2005) and Damascus (Traverse, 2007) are two of my personal favs. And (I know) I've missed several out.

Grosso, Nick
Laddish playwright (b 1968) who emerged at the Royal Court theatre in 1994 with his cracking debut, Peaches. Follow-ups include Sweetheart (Royal Court, 1996), Real Classy Affair (Royal Court, 1998) and the seriously surreal Kosher Harry (Royal Court, 2002). Writes superb dialogue and is a master of the subtext, but deliberately refuses to end on a dramatic climax and so the last scenes of his plays are a bit of a comedown. Made a cracking comeback to the stage with the high-powered Ingredient X (Royal Court, 2010).

Gupta, Tanika
Bilingual British Bengali (b 1965) whose award-winning plays are written in a mix of realism and lyrical imagination. After working on Grange Hill and EastEnders, she explored her Asian-British heritage: Voices on the Wind (National, 1995), A River Sutra (National, 1997) and The Waiting Room (National, 2000). But her recent work - Sanctuary (National, 2002), Inside Out (Clean Break, 2002) and Fragile Land (Hampstead, 2003) - is more concerned with contemporary issues. Gupta has written lots of original plays as well as adapting Wycherley's The Country Wife (Watford, 2004), Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan (National, 2001) and Brighouse's Hobson's Choice (Young Vic, 2003). Her recent work includes the campaigning Gladiator Games (Birmingham Rep, 2005), White Boy (Soho, 2007) and the enormously successful Sugar Mummies (Royal Court, 2006). NB: It's an insult to pigeonhole Gupta as an Asian writer - she's a playwright full stop! In 2008, she was awarded an MBE.


Hall, Lee
Geordie writer (b 1966), whose Billy Elliot and Spoonface Steinberg (1999) have made him world famous. His style is rude, funny, robust, popular but also profound. Often seeing the world through the eyes of the victimised, his plays - which have often been put on by Max Roberts's Live theatre - include Wittgenstein on Tyne (1997), Cooking with Elvis (1998) and Bollocks (1998). He has also successfully adapted Brecht, Goldoni, Collodi's Pinocchio and Heijermans's The Good Hope (National, 2001). 2005 has seen Hall working at the Bristol Old Vic, where his Child of the Snow and Two's Company were well received. His film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, came out in 2005. Returning to Billy Elliot territory in 2008 with The Pitmen Painters (Live), he had yet another hit.

Hampstead Theatre
Known for its loyalty to its playwrights, the Hampstead theatre was run by artistic director Jenny Topper until 2003. Recent examples of its role in promoting new writing include plays by Philip Ridley, Jonathan Harvey, David Eldridge, Shelagh Stephenson and Judith Thompson. It also hosted plays such as Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, which were first seen at the Traverse in Edinburgh. Topper favoured well-made plays whose ideas come garbed in humour, and supervised the move into a new building. Her successor is Tony Clark, who has staged the work of older playwrights such as Clare McIntyre, Hanif Kureishi and Stephen Lowe, as well as upcoming new talents such as Dennis Kelly and Ryan Craig. In 2009, the venue celebrated its 50th anniversary: not bad going for a fringe theatre.

Harris, Zinnie
A zoologist who trained as a theatre director, Harris's By Many Wounds (Hampstead, 1999) introduced audiences to her talent for language and emotional truth. Further Than the Furthest Thing (Tron, Glasgow and National, 2000) - her amazing play about Tristan da Cunha - was a wow and has been revived more than once. Her Nightingale and Chase (Royal Court, 2001) was an effective chamber piece. Harris's Midwinter (2004) was part of the RSC's new writing season, and has been revived at the Soho (2005). Her Solstice (RSC, 2005), a kind of prequel to Midwinter, was less well received.

Harrower, David
Scottish playwright (b 1966), whose sublime debut, Knives in Hens (Traverse, 1995), was in its confident use of language one of the most original plays of the past decade. Also wrote Kill the Old Torture Their Young (Traverse, 1998) and Presence (Royal Court, 2001), The Girl On The Sofa (Royal Lyceum, 2002), Purple (Traverse, 2003) and Dark Earth (Traverse, 2003). He has also translated Pirandello's Six Characters Looking for an Author (Young Vic, 2001) and Buchner's Woyzeck (Royal Lyceum, 2001). In 2005 Knives in Hens was revived at The Tron, Glasgow.

Harvey, Jonathan
Liverpudlian playwright (b 1968). His Beautiful Thing (Bush, 1993) was a landmark play which looked at the lives of gay teenagers on a council estate with great humour and lack of preachiness. When the play transferred to the West End a year later, it was denounced by the London Evening Standard as part of 'a plague of pink plays'. Other work, which usually features a mix of funny one-liners and wry observation (often with the pervading theme of death), includes Babies (Royal Court, 1994), Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club (Contact, Manchester, 1995), Hushabye Mountain (Hampstead, 1999) and Out in the Open (Hampstead/Birmingham Rep, 2001), Closer to Heaven (Arts, 2001) and Taking Charlie (Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 2004). Harvey also writes for the TV series Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and Coronation Street. Etc. His epic Canary (Liverpool/Hampstead, 2010) marked his return to the stage.


I Licked a Slag's Deodorant
Perhaps the most evocative play title in a decade of evocative play titles. Jim Cartwright's short, sharp shock of a play - about the odd relationship between a repressed Man and a frantic Slag - opened at the Royal Court theatre in November 1996.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the new theatre of the 1990s has been is lack of overt ideology. Unlike the state-of-the-nation writers of the 1970s or the feminist writers of the 1980s, the latest new wave has focused less on big political statements and more on the politics of everyday life. Shaking off ideology and political correctness liberated young writers in the 1990s.

Commonly used description - by critics and practitioners alike - of the more extreme and cutting edge plays of the 1990s. Take it or leave it.


Sex and violence on the contemporary stage is sometimes called 'neo-Jacobeanism', an allusion to the blood and guts approach of Jacobean writers such as John Webster (1570-1625), Cyril Tourneur (1570-1626) and Thomas Middleton (1580-1627): 'When the bad bleed, then is the tragedy good.' But take care with this label: it suggests that playwrights are looking back, when it might be worth stressing the fact that they are also facing forward.

Johnson, Terry
The master (b 1955) of the fictional meeting play and of the humorous twister. His
scintillating best includes Hysteria (Royal Court, 1993), Dead Funny (Hampstead, 1994), Hitchcock Blonde (Royal Court, 2003) and Piano/Forte (Royal Court, 2006). However, only the most desperate aficionados love his tribute to Carry-On movies, Cleo, Camping, Emmanuel and Dick (National, 1998), or his hit West End version of The Graduate (2000). His Insignificance (Royal Court, 1982) was made into a cult film by Nicholas Roeg in 1985. Get the DVD.

Jones, Alex
Black Country lad. Actor turned writer, whose Noise (Soho Theatre Company, 1997) woke people up to his particular brand of in-yer-face intensity. Other work includes Mickey and Me (New Birmingham Theatre) and News of the World (Watermill, Newbury, 1997). His Mr And Mrs Schultz (Warehouse, Croydon, 2004) saw him apply his trademark intensity to the Holocaust.

Jones, Charlotte
Actress turned writer. Mixing witty jokes with emotional truth, Jones's style is one of gutsy realism laced with affectionate loopiness. Her first play, the beautifully quirky Airswimming (1997), opened at the Battersea Arts Centre and was broadcast on Radio 4. In Flame (1999) transferred to the West End after starting at the Bush theatre, and Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis (1999) premiered at the Bolton Octagon. Fab. Her award-winning, and much-revived masterpiece, Humble Boy (2001), was a hit for the National, and her more recent work includes The Dark (Donmar, 2004) and The Lightning Play (Almeida, 2006). She also wrote, whisper it quietly, the words for Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White (2004).


Kane, Sarah
Quintessential 1990s writer (b 1971) whose debut, Blasted, set off a massive controversy which put the new theatrical sensibility on the map. Not only did Kane produce a body of work which constantly challenged the restraints of form, but she also worked hard at teaching other writers. Her plays, Blasted (Royal Court, 1995), Phaedra's Love (Gate, 1996), Cleansed (Royal Court, 1998), Crave (Paines Plough, 1998) and 4.48 Psychosis (Royal Court, 2000) are among the best written in a decade crammed with great writing. In her short career, she also made a handful of wonderfully perceptive comments on new writing. Kane committed suicide in February 1999.

Kelly, Dennis
Cockney dreamer and agent provocateur (b 1970).
Kelly burst onto the new writing scene with the vividly imaginative Debris (Latchmere, 2003) and his follow-up, Osama the Hero (Hampstead, 2005) was a storming in-yer-face shocker, and so was After the End at the Traverse. In 2007, his Love and Money (Young Vic) demonstrated his talent for experimenting with form while Taking Care of Baby (Hampstead) confirmed his ability to mix theatrical intelligence with artistic daring. His messy but exciting epic, The Gods Weep (RSC, 2010), starred Jeremy Irons. Kelly is a great storyteller, and it's an edgy experience to watch him write himself into a corner, and then out again. And again.

Kennedy, Fin
Multi-award-winning experimental playwright (b 1976) whose interest in fresh ideas and politics have made him an outstanding new arrival on the new writing scene. Protection (Soho, 2003), about social workers, was followed by Unstated (Red Room, 2008), about asylum-seekers. Plays for teens include East End Tales (Half Moon, 2004), Locked In (Half Moon, 2006), a hip-hop drama, and Mehndi Night (Mulberry, 2007). His How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found (Sheffield, 2007) is a real masterpiece.

Khan-Din, Ayub
Actor turned writer (b 1961), whose debut East Is East (Tamasha/ Birmingham/ Royal Court, 1996) was a huge theatrical success, and was later made into a successful film. However, his follow up, Last Dance at Dum Dum (New Ambassadors, 1999), was markedly less convincing. Recent work includes the affecting Notes on Falling Leaves (Royal Court, 2004) and the family comedy Rafta, Rafta (National, 2007). He also works a lot in film.

Kwei-Armah, Kwame
Actor, singer and king-size media personality, Kwame (b 1967) is a tri-cultural self-made guy who branched out into writing and became one of the most powerful chroniclers of the Black British experience with his super trilogy: Elmina's Kitchen (National, 2003), Fix Up (National, 2004) and Statement of Regret (National, 2007). Long live the play of ideas! He has also written plays with music, such as Blues Brother, Soul Sister (2001), and other dramas such as Let There Be Love (Tricycle, 2008) and Seize the Day (Tricycle, 2009). Yes, he's an ideas man who delights in human singularity and specialises in punchy one-liners.


LaBute, Neil
Controversial American playwright (b 1963) who has earned the title of theatre's Mr Nasty because of the sheer emotional intensity and agonising explicitness of some of his work. Once a Mormon, now a theatre-maker, novelist and film director, some of his prolific output has been outstanding. Ace films include In the Company of Men (1997) and Your Friends & Neighbors (1998). Theatre plays are headed up by Bash: Latter-Day Plays (Almeida, 2000), The Shape of Things (Almeida, 2001), The Distance from Here (Almeida, 2002), The Mercy Seat (Almeida, 2003), This Is How It Goes (Donmar, 2005), Some Girl(s) (Gielgud, 2005) and Fat Pig (Trafalgar Studios, 2008).

Lavery, Bryony
British playwright (b 1947) who excels in a whole range of genres. Her long and impressive list of plays starts with Helen and Her Friends (1978), and carries on up to today. Go on, google her! In the 1990s, she wrote Wicked (1990), Kitchen Matters (1990), Flight (1991), the award-winning Her Aching Heart (1992), Nothing Compares to You (1995) and Ophelia (1996). She has also written tons for radio. And... she has written (help) several plays for the National Theatre's youth Connections season. Finally, her Frozen (1998) is a classic about serial killers, remorse and redemption, while A Wedding Story (Birmingham, 2000) is a hilarious mix of pain and pleasure. Her most recent play (well, one of them!) is Stockholm (Plymouth, 2007). Great stuff. Check her out.

Lenkiewicz, Rebecca
Born (1968) in Plymouth, Lenkiewicz is a former actor, and table-dancer, whose plays wryly explore various aspects of the female experience now and in the past. Her work includes Soho: A Tale of Table Dancers, which won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001 (Lenkiewicz played Stella). Next came The Night Season (National, 2004) and Shoreditch Madonna (Soho, 2005). Recently, Her Naked Skin, a history play about the suffragettes, was widely hailed for being the first new play by a woman to be staged in the National's massive Olivier space. Some audience members found its scene of forced feeding simply too in-yer-face.

Letts, Tracy
Former actor (b 1965) with the Steppenwolf Company in Chicago, Letts developed a form of 'kick ass theatre' which excited audiences with its powerful violence and explicit sexuality. His Killer Joe (Traverse, 1994) is a classic account of the brutalising effects of the culture of violence on a family of 'trailer trash' Americans. Rumours of his bad behaviour have yet to be denied: what a guy! Also wrote Bug (Gate, London, 1996), which has subsequently been adapted for the big screen, with Ashley Judd (2006). Other work includes Man from Nebraska, Superior Donuts and the multi-award-winning epic family drama, August: Osage County (Steppenwolf, 2007).

Live Theatre
Newcastle upon Tyne's answer to the Royal Court, Live Theatre is that rare beast: a specialist new writing theatre outside London. The company - originally founded on Tyneside in 1973 by Geoff Gillham, Val McLane and Tim Healy - has a strong regional identity and has been based on the Quayside since 1982, expanding over the years to become an arts complex, which reopened after a 5.5 million refurbishment in September 2007. Modest, but dynamic, the 200-seat venue has thrived under artistic director Max Roberts, enjoying relationships with writers such as Peter Flannery, Lee Hall, Alan Plater and Peter Straughan. Its partnership with the RSC has resulted in plays touring nationally. In 2003, it won the Peggy Ramsey Award for the best new writing company in the country.

London New Play Festival
Set up by Phil Setren, the London New Play Festival started in 1989 and, despite having to be run on a shoestring, has staged the early work of ace writers such as Biyi Bandele, Joe Penhall, Mark Ravenhill, Judy Upton, and Naomi Wallace. Great stuff. Great guy. Shame the fest is now defunct.


Marber, Patrick
After a career in stand up comedy and television - the BBC's The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You (with Alan Partridge) - Marber (b 1964) wrote and directed two of the finest plays of the decade: Dealer's Choice (National, 1995) and Closer (National, 1997), with the latter becoming an almost legendary event, discussed in countless newspaper columns. In 2004, Closer was adapted into a film. Marber's next original play Howard Katz (National, 2001) was less successful than his adaptations of Strindberg, After Miss Julie (Donmar, 2003), and Moliere, Don Juan in Soho (Donmar, 2006). Marber also wrote The Musicians (National, 2004) and the excellent screenplay for the film Notes on a Scandal (2006).

Masculinity in crisis
One of the key themes of today's theatre has been the crisis of blokedom: as well as the 1990s fad for boys plays - from Mojo to Not a Game for Boys, and from Peaches to Our Boys - masculinity and its discontents has featured in many plays about abusive males, impotent fathers and confused youngsters. This idea could run and run. (And, indeed it has!)

McDonagh, Martin
The writer as meteor: now you see him, now you don't. Born (b 1970) in south London of Irish parents. Shot to instant success in 1996 with The Beauty Queen of Leenane, quickly followed up by the rest of the Leenane trilogy (A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West). Next sighted at the National with The Cripple of Inishmaan. He then disappeared into the world of film, only to reappear with the equally triumphant The Lieutenant of Inishmore (RSC, 2001) and the gobsmackingly brilliant The Pillowman (National, 2003). Writes with a stunning mix of wild hilarity and incisive intelligence. One recurring theme is the way that childhood injustice results in adult vengefulness. His recent film, In Bruges (2008), which he wrote and directed, was something of a triumph.

McPherson, Conor
One of the most original, and successful, playwrights of recent years, Irish-bred McPherson (b 1971) developed a recognisable style consisting mainly of monologue narratives: see This Lime Tree Bower (Crypt, Dublin, 1995) and St Nicholas (Bush, 1997). His gentle, yet deeply redemptive, play The Weir (Royal Court, 1997) transferred to the West End and its highly successful run helped bail out the Royal Court when money was short. When the theatre reopened its refurbished Sloane Square building in 2000, McPherson's Dublin Carol was its first mainstage offering. In 2001, his Port Authority (New Ambassadors) wowed his fans. Recent work includes Come On Over (Gate, Dublin, 2004) and a haunting pair of dramas, Shining City (Royal Court, 2004) and The Seafarer (National, 2006).

Mitchell, Gary
Belfast-bred writer (b 1965) who specialises in thrilling plots and revealing anatomies of the Loyalist mindset. In 1995, he became the first Protestant to win the prestigious Stewart Parker award for his play Independent Voice. His cracking dramas include In a Little World of Our Own (1998), As the Beast Sleeps (1998), Trust (1999), The Force of Change (2000) and Loyal Women (Royal Court, 2003). In December 2005, he was attacked by rogue Loyalist paramilitaries.

Powerfully written play about a gang of motormouthing crims by Jez Butterworth, its Royal Court debut, directed by Ian Rickson, in July 1995 was hyped as the first time since John Osborne's Look Back in Anger that a first play had leapt straight onto the main stage. A classic 'lads play', it put its stamp on a whole genre. Sadly, few critics realised its debt to Philip Ridley's The Pitchfork Disney. More sadly, the film version only exposed its faulty plot.

Monsterists, The
A group of writers who originally met during Trevor Nunn's valedictory Transformations season at the National i
n 2002. Practitioners such as Richard Bean, Ryan Craig, Sarah Woods, Colin Teevan, Simon Bowen, Moira Buffini, David Eldridge, Tanika Gupta, Jonathan Lewis and Roy Williams issued the Monsterist manifesto 'to promote new writing of large-scale work in the British theatre'. They want to see new work that is large in theme and large in ambition on the largest stages in Britain - good luck guys.

Morgan, Abi
Genius of quirk, whose tv work has brought fame at the cost of some loss of personality in her writing. She worked closely with Paines Plough, producing for them Splendour (Traverse, 2000) and the brilliantly observed and theatrically stunning Tiny Dynamite (Traverse, 2001). Morgan's work is structurally clever, with lots of lovely formal and linguistic creativity. Her other work includes Sleeping Around (Donmar, 1998) - co-written with Mark Ravenhill, Hilary Fanning and Stephen Greenhorn - Fast Food (Royal Exchange, Manchester, 1999) and Tender (Birmingham Rep/Hampstead Theatre, 2001). Her Sex Traffic (C4) was an effective two-part television drama, starring John Simm.

Moss, Chloe
Discovered by the 2002 Royal Court Young Writers fest, Moss (b 1976) comes from Liverpool and her work is characterised by an eloquence that imbues beautifully observed everyday situations with both touching and tragic qualities. Plays include A Day in Dull Armour (Royal Court, 2002), How Love Is Spelt (Bush, 2004) and Christmas Is Miles Away (Royal Exchange, Manchester, 2005). Her Clean Break play, This Wide Night (2008) won awards and plaudits.


Nagy, Phyllis
American writer (b 1962) who made London her home and produced a succession of highly imaginative, innovative and ironic dramas. If you don't know her work, check out Weldon Rising (1992), Butterfly Kiss (Almeida, 1994), Trip's Cinch (1994), The Strip (Royal Court, 1995) and Never Land (Royal Court, 1998). Read also her wonderfully provocative essay in David Edgar's collection, State of Play. Sadly, we've lost her to Hollywood.

National Theatre
Although the National is not strictly a new writing theatre, it has staged some fine examples of the genre, especialy in its smallest Cottesloe theatre (it has two other stages, the big Lyttelton and the giant Olivier). Literary managers include Jack Bradley and Christopher Campbell. Also, its secret weapon, the National Theatre Studio, has helped playwrights develop their work through offering spaces in which to write, contacts with other playwrights and staged readings. Often, playwrights who have enjoyed the facilities of the Studio go on to have their work staged at one of the specialist new writing theatres. Since Nicholas Hytner became artistic director of the National, its new writing record has improved, although too many new works are boring history plays.

National Theatre of Scotland
Set up in 2003, the National Theatre of Scotland is the only new major cultural institution established north of the border since devolution. Without the bother of running a separate building, it is a body that commissions and produces new work, which is then staged at established venues, and sometimes in found spaces. Run by artistic director Vicky Featherstone and literary manager John Tiffany (both formerly Paines Plough), it has had amazing successes with work such as Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia (2007) and Gregory Burke's Black Watch (2006). Really hot, hot, hot.

Neilson, Anthony
Scottish playwright (b 1967) whose narrowly focused but extremely powerful plays - Normal (Pleasance, Edinburgh, 1991), Penetrator (Traverse, 1993) and The Censor (Finborough, 1997) - are great examples of experiential drama. In Penetrator, Neilson wrote some of the most brutally explicit sexual fantasy as well as staging one of the tensest fight scenes ever. His immense theatrical verve is exemplified in the gobsmacking Stitching (Traverse, 2002) and he finally arrived on the main stage of the Royal Court in 2002 with The Lying Kind, his black comedy about truth-telling. Some of Neilson's subsequent work has been more absurdist in temper, including Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness (Plymouth, 2002), Twisted (Theatre Workshop, 2003) and, most remarkably, The Wonderful World of Dissocia (Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 2004). It is worth noting that his rehearsal methods value devised work, and that they aim to bring a blast of fresh - emotionally truthful and physically alive - acting to the stage: for sensation freaks, this is good news. Recent plays include Realism (Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 2006), God in Ruins (RSC, 2007) and the chilling Relocated (Royal Court, 2008).

New Writing
Although all playwrights (yes, even Shakespeare) start off as unknown new writers, the term New Writing usually refers to all those young British writers who emerged in successive new waves in the wake of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court in 1956. Genre godfather: George Devine. Each new wave reinvented theatrical language, and New Writing (in capital letters) can be defined as plays by young writers put on by subsidised theatres. These plays are usually contemporary in language, urgent in theme and preferably (although not always by any means) experimental in form. Normally, New Writing does not include history plays, nor adaptations of novels or films. Nor boring soaps written in plain televisual language. What aficionados look for is evidence of an individual writer's personal voice. A unique and distinctive language. The term New Writing also has several agendas: it implies that the writer is at the centre of the theatrical process, but leaves unresolved the question of exactly when new writers become old hands. It also assumes the existence of state-subsidised New Writing theatres, in which the literary manager is a key figure.

Once onstage nudity was a symbol of sexual liberation; more recently, it has been seen as a troubling sign of abuse and domination.


O'Rowe, Mark

Award-winning Dublin-based writer (b 1970) best known for his thrilling third play, Howie the Rookie (Bush, 1999), 'a white-knuckle ride through a nightmare Dublin'. A huge hit. His Crestfall (Gate, Dublin, 2003; 503, 2007) was criticised for its lack of humour, but who cares? It's a simply dazzling piece of multiple narration, glowing with imagination and linguistic brilliance.

Out of Joint
Set up by former Royal Court artistic director Max Stafford-Clark and Sonia Friedman in 1993, Out of Joint is a touring company which has specialised in producing cutting edge-drama, as well as occasionally pairing a classic with a new play. Successes include Sue Townsend's The Queen and I (1994), Sebastian Barry's The Steward of Christendom (1995), Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking (1996), Simon Bennett's Drummers (1999) and Rita, Sue and Bob Too/A State Affair (2000). More recently, Stafford-Clark has pioneered the revival of verbatim theatre, especially with The Permanent Way (2003) and Talking to Terrorists (2005).

Owen, Gary
Welsh drama's rising star, his work is both hard-hitting and imaginative, often mixing grit with a great heart. In fact, one of the great things about it is that it's not very Welsh (if you see what I mean: it's bigger than that). His Crazy Gary's Mobile Disco (Chapter, Cardiff, 2001) was a sizzling debut, followed by The Shadow of a Boy (National, 2002), and The Drowned World (Traverse, 2002).


Packer, Mike
Screamingly in-yer-face writer who started out as an actor, and now deals out hilarity like a paedophile giving out sweets to kids. His debut Card Boys (Bush, 1999) was an unforgetable night, dizzy, dizzy. And his follow-ups, A Carpet, a Pony and a Monkey (Bush, 2002) and tHe dYsFUnCKshOnaIZ! (Bush, 2007) were also a screeeam. Well, I do love sensation on stage, don't I? Not for the fainthearted.

Paines Plough
Formed in 1974, this new writing company has been in the forefront of the recent explosion of talent. Led by director Vicky Featherstone, it played a vital role as an advocate of new writing in the mid-1990s, when Mark Ravenhill was literary manager and Sarah Kane ran the Wild Lunch workshops. Helped develop the work of writers such as Parv Bancil, David Greig, Linda McLean and Abi Morgan. John Tiffany, former literary manager of the Traverse, joined in 2001. And, yes, everyone hates the company's name, which comes from the pub in which the company's founders were drinking when they first hit on the idea. New artistic director Roxanna Silbert took over in 2005, following the controversial and inspiring This Other England season. As well as promoting new talents such as Dennis Kelly, she has also staged Mark Ravenhill's epic play cycle, Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat (2008).

Penhall, Joe
Ace writer (b 1967) who has made the theme of mental illness his own with two excellent plays, Some Voices (Royal Court, 1994) and the superb Blue/Orange (2000). A keen observer of everyday life, two of his other plays - Love and Understanding (Bush, 1997) and The Bullet (Donmar, 1998) - were implicit criticisms of the idea that new writing has to be about sex and violence. Later, Penhall's Dumb Show (Royal Court, 2004) was a critical look at the relationship between celebrity and the tabloid press. Look out for his typical motif: two brothers in struggle. As in, for example, his thrilling Landscape with Weapon (National, 2007). Oh, and he also writes great screenplays...

The death of political theatre had been prematurely announced on several occasions during the 1990s. What really happened is that when many young writers abandoned the heavily ideological and cumbersome state-of-the-nation plays, they focused their political feelings on more private scenarios, without any dilution of their anger or their radicalism. Since 9/11, politics have made a terrific comeback with a spate of vivid satires and verbatim pieces. Massive.

Whether their authors know it or not, many plays of the 1990s have been touched by a distinct postmodern sensibility, which involves contemporary ideas that privilege discourses, surfaces, irony, denial of closure and such like over the more traditional theories about aesthetics and value. At its worst, postmodernism implies that 'anything goes'; at its best, it encourages productive mixes of high and low culture, experiments in theatrical form and a sense of playful irony that is as intelligent as it is amusing. Still, a new ethical theatre practice (which originates in early modernism) needs something that pomo can't provide. What could that be?

Prebble, Lucy
Playwright (b 1981). First came to notice with her one-act play, Liquid, at the 2002 National Student Drama Festival. Followed up with her beautifully written, award-winning debut, The Sugar Syndrome (Royal Court, 2003). Then she disappeared into telly-land, scripting, among other things, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which starred Billie Piper. Her reappearance in theatre was the superb Enron (Headlong/Royal Court, 2009), one of the most succesful plays of the decade.

Prichard, Rebecca
Writer (b 1971) who tackled gritty subjects, but always paid attention to the emotional relationships between her characters. Her first play, Essex Girls (Royal Court, 1994), was as much an experiment in form as an account of teenage pregnancy. In Fair Game (Royal Court, 1997), she adapted Edna Mazya's Games in the Backyard, and in Yard Gal, her 1998 play for Clean Break theatre company, she produced one of the decade's best plays about girl gangs.



A more cutting edge label than 'gay', 'queer' stands for the idea of the homosexual as sexual outlaw and is often preferred to gay, which suggests assimilation into mainstream society. In recent years, queer has itself become a style label - and some gays prefer the more ironic 'postgay'. A distinct queer sensibility can be glimpsed in plays by writers such as Brad Fraser and Mark Ravenhill, but their work should not be reduced to the sexuality of their authors.


Ravenhill, Mark
Author of Shopping and Fucking (Royal Court, 1996) and one of the quintessential writers of the 1990s (b 1966). Ironic in tone, controversial in stage imagery and constantly questioning of social mores, Ravenhill's plays include Faust Is Dead (ATC, 1997), Handbag (ATC, 1998) and Some Explicit Polaroids (Out of Joint, 1999). Don't you just love those titles? His big-stage Mother Clap's Molly House (National, 2001) restates his characteristic obsessions: sexual sensationalism, cultural politics and gobby irony. In the 2000s, Ravenhill became an iconic figure on the new writing scene, helping younger writers and penning provocative journalistic pieces. He is also one of the most generous individuals you could hope to meet. He has written two plays for teenagers - Totally Over You (National, 2003) and Citizenship (National, 2005) - and his dystopic The Cut (Donmar, 2006) starred Sir Ian McKellen. Product (Traverse, 2005) was his acting debut and was followed by Pool (No Water) (Plymouth Drum, 2006). Both were strongly influenced by the work of Martin Crimp. As was his amazingly ambitious epic play cycle, Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat (Paines Plough, 2008).

Rickson, Ian
Born in 1963, Rickson was artistic director of the Royal Court from 1998 to 2006. Under his predecessor Stephen Daldry, he made his name by directing the work of Joe Penhall, Jez Butterworth and Conor McPherson. During his own tenure, he took an eclectic approach, mixing work from Royal Court old hands, such as Caryl Churchill, David Hare and Timberlake Wertenbaker, with new plays from Roy Williams, Laura Wade, Richard Bean and, of course, McPherson and Butterworth. In the teeth of controversy, Rickson also produced Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, and, to great acclaim, directed Harold Pinter in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, before finally saying goodbye with Chekhov's The Seagull, a show that moved successfully to Broadway.

Ridley, Philip
Poet Prince of London's East End. One of the most imaginative, innovative and visionary writers (b 1964) in British theatre, Philip Ridley's three plays - The Pitchfork Disney (Bush, 1991), The Fastest Clock in the Universe (Hampstead, 1992) and Ghost from a Perfect Place (Hampstead, 1994) - showed what could be done by mixing fantasy with real emotional undercurrents. Prolific output includes films, novels and young people's plays. Vincent River opened at the Hampstead in 2000, and recent work includes his brilliant shocker Mercury Fur (Paines Plough, 2005) and the superb Leaves of Glass (Soho, 2007). The last two were parts of an informal trilogy of work about brotherly love, which culminates in Piranah Heights (Soho, 2008). Repeated revivals of his work confirm the excellence of Ridley's theatrical vision. Hey, this guy really rocks.

Royal Court theatre
Leader of the powerhouse theatres that specialise in new writing, with its two spaces, a main stage and the Theatre Upstairs studio. The proud legacy of George Devine, its first artistic director. Reinvented itself in the early 1990s under its artistic director Stephen Daldry, who championed new writers such as Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Jez Butterworth and dozens of others. The West End success of Conor McPherson's The Weir helped bail it out financially. Next headed by director Ian Rickson, who led the company back to its refurbished Sloane Square building in February 2000. Specialises in high-definition, cutting-edge productions. Champion. New artistic director Dominic Cooke took over in 2007, and soon gave this iconic institution a noticeable overhaul - and a much-needed injection of energy.

Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)
The Royal Shakespeare Company stages New Work at both its Stratford-upon-Avon home and at various locations in London (after the company abandoned its permanent base at the Barbican in 2002). Its original remit, under Peter Hall, in the 1960s was to stage both Renaissance and contemporary plays. Its Peter Brook Theatre of Cruelty season, inspired by Artaud, is now legendary. The main resource that the RSC could provide was a large cast and large stage, something of a luxury for new writing. Although, in the 1990s, the RSC relied very heavily on just one playwright, the American Richard Nelson, it never entirely abandoned its interest in New Writing. When Michael Boyd took over as artistic director from Adrian Noble in 2003, this part of the company's mission got a renewed boost, and several younger playwrights have been encouraged to write new plays as responses to the work of Shakespeare. Boyd appointed Dominic Cooke, and literary managers such as Paul Sirett and Jeanie O'Hare, to promote ambitious new work. Playwrights who have benefited include Zinnie Harris, Joanna Laurens, Anthony Neilson, Leo Butler and Roy Williams.


Sex and sexuality

Well, what can I say? Best to stay silent.

Shinn, Christopher
American playwright (b 1975) who produces some of the most thoughtful and engagingly slow-burning work to appear on British stages. His trademark subtlety can be seen in Other People (Royal Court, 2000), The Coming World (Soho, 2001), Where Do We Live (Royal Court, 2002) and Dying City (Royal Court, 2006).

Shopping and Fucking
A key play of the 1990s, Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking attracted attention partly because of its provocative title and partly because of the desperation of its stage images. A controversial critique of consumer society, its cool ironic tone contrasted sharply with the horror of its vision of urban alienation.

Soho Theatre Company
Originally set up in 1972 as the Soho Poly, which devoted itself to new writing in the following two decades, the Soho Theatre Company began the 1990s at the Cockpit Theatre, then in March 2000 moved into a new building in Dean Street, in London's Soho. Led by Abigail Morris, who pioneered the short, no-interval drama, its memorable plays include Diane Samuels's much-revived Kindertransport (1993), Jonathan Lewis's Our Boys (1993), Daniel Magee's Paddywack (1994) and Alex Jones's Noise (1997). Recent hits include Shan Khan's Office and Gurpreet Bhatti's Shameless. New artistic director Lisa Goldman began in 2007, and redefined the theatre's remit, focusing especially on political drama and international work.

Stafford-Clark, Max
Stafford-Clark pioneered the workshop method in the 1970s with Joint Stock theatre company and writers such as Caryl Churchill and, later, Timberlake Wertenbaker. Longest ever artistic director of the Royal Court theatre (1979-93), he then set up Out of Joint theatre company and directed the work of new writers such as Mark Ravenhill and Simon Bennett as well as older hands such as April de Angelis and Sebastian Barry. He also developed verbatim theatre shows such as David Hare's The Permanent Way (2003) and Robin Soans's Talking to Terrorists (2005).

Stenham, Polly
Playwright (b 1987). Made her storming debut with That Face (Royal Court, 2007) and then developed her characteristic voice, viscerally punky, hilariously dirty and thrillingly fierce in its emotions, in her follow-up, Tusk Tusk (Royal Court, 2009).

Stephens, Simon
Stockport-raised Stephens (b 1971) writes precisely and lyrically about hope, honesty and humour, as well as brutality and despair. Although his work seems to be part of the great British tradition of naturalism, actually it's more in the style of poetic realism. In Stephens's work, a cool British noir sensibility meets a warmly redemptive humanism. Check out Herons (Royal Court, 2001), Port (Manchester, 2002), One Minute (Actors Touring Company, 2003) and Christmas (Bush, 2004). Or Country Music (Royal Court, 2004) and On the Shore of the Wide World (Manchester, 2005). After that, his Motortown (Royal Court, 2006), memorably directed by Ramin Gray, was a storming success. His latest work includes Harper Regan (National, 2008) and Pornography (Birmingham, 2008). As well as being a writer, Stephens has also had a proper job: he was tutor on the Royal Court Young Writers Programme for five years before becoming the National's first ever Writer in Residence in 2005.

Stephenson, Shelagh
Northumberland-born writer who mixes dark themes - usually about death - with comic dialogue. The laugh offers a relief from the bleakness, and counterpoints it perfectly. A typical quote from her: "We're all so obsessed with sex and it's so boring. It's so twentieth century. Death is the new sex." Her super award-winning debut, A Memory of Water (Hampstead, 1996), was followed by An Experiment with an Air Pump (Manchester, 1997), Ancient Lights (Hampstead, 2000), Five Kinds of Silence (Lyric Hammersmith, 2000), Mappa Mundi (National, 2002), Enlightenment (Abbey, 2005) and The Long Road (Soho, 2008). She also writes for radio, television and film.


Theatre Royal Stratford East
Aka Stratford East. Home of the legendary Joan Littlewood in the 1950s and 1960s, this community theatre was first a rival of the Royal Court, and then was run for 25 years by Philip Hedley. Hosts black and Asian groups, and has an especially lively audience. Good for modern musical theatre; ditto for radical populism; less good at cutting edge new writing. In 2004, the new artistic director, Kerry Michael, took over.

Theatre 503
Formerly the Latchmere, and before that the Grace, this is the London fringe's foremost new writing venue. With no funding, an intrepid bunch of volunteers have made their contribution to creativity and innovation. Given a boost by Paul Higgins in 2002, and now led by Paul Robinson and Tim Roseman (since 2006), this is a brave and exciting venue.

Thorne, Jack
Master of the bruising encounter. Responsible for Stacy (Arcola, 2007), one of the most excruciating plays (in the best possible sense) of the new millennium. Before that, he came up with the similarly intense When You Cure Me (Bush, 2006). After, he continued his career with 2nd May 1997 (Nabokov/Bush, 2009), over which hovered the blushing angel of embarrassment...

Seminal book about the splendours and miseries of drug addiction by Irvine Welsh. First published in 1993, Trainspotting gave its name to a whole generation. (The title comes from a scene in which the book's young heroes are hanging around the disused Leith station, where a tramp asks them ironically if they're trainspotting.) Trainspotting was adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson, and first put on at the Glasgow Mayfest in 1994. It was then revived time after time, becoming one of the most successful plays of the 1990s.

Traverse theatre
Powerhouse of new drama in Edinburgh. Yes! After twenty-five years in Grassmarket, the Traverse moved to a new building in Cambridge Street in July 1992. Under artistic director Ian Brown, it imported and staged some of the most daring and excoriating plays of the early 1990s, including Tracy Letts's Killer Joe (1993), Simon Donald's The Life of Stuff (1992), and Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love (1992). Many confrontational plays that arrived in London were first seen in Scotland. Brown's successors, Philip Howard (since 1996) and Dominic Hill (since 2008), have sought to balance local talent with the best new plays from abroad, including England.

Tricycle theatre
Community theatre run by Nicolas Kent. Hosts black, Asian and Irish groups. Before the recent vogue for verbatim drama, Kent pioneered documentary theatre based on reconstructions of public enquiries, such as that into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence (The Colour of Justice, 1999). Other examples of this kind of tribunal theatre include the West End hit Guantanamo: 'Honor Bound To Defend Freedom' and Justifying War: Scenes from the Hutton Inquiry (both 2003). Occasionally also stages cutting-edge new writing.


Upton, Judy

One of the brat pack of new writers introduced by Stephen Daldry's 1994-95 season at the Royal Court. Upton is a prolific writer (b ????), and - to list just a brief selection of her work - her Ashes and Sand (Royal Court, 1994), Bruises (Royal Court, 1995), The Girlz (Orange Tree, 1998) and Confidence (Birmingham, 1998) established her as a gutsy and vivid new voice. Oddly enough, her impassioned Ashes and Sand, a play about a girl gang, didn't attract the media outrage that welcomed Sarah Kane's Blasted. Oh well. Anyway, her writing has great clarity and documentary power. Despite its unlikely premiss, Sliding with Suzanne (Out of Joint, 2001) is her best yet.



While many plays in the 1970s and 1980s tended to show victims of political or personal persecution as innocent but powerless victims, recent drama has discovered a more complex way of representing those at the receiving end of violence. Often the victims are in some way complicit with their victimisers, who in turn are usually seen as victims themselves.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of in-yer-face theatre is its preoccupation with and ability to stage acts of violence, whether they are random acts of urban crime or more personal assaults and abuse. In the hot confines of experiential theatre, the effect can been deeply disturbing.


Wade, Laura
Wade was brought up in Sheffield (b 1977), and specialises in showing the problems of communication, the effect of emotional stress on the body and the bafflement caused by technology. Her writing is very precise and she has a clear understanding of structure. In one year, she made her debut with two plays running simultaneously in London: Colder Than Here (Soho, 2005) and Breathing Corpses (Royal Court, 2005). Both pieces took death as a central theme, but were more about the difficulties of talking. Other Hands (Soho, 2006) shows her at her very best.

Walker, Che
Gentle giant, actor, director and writer (b 1968: hence the name), Walker's debut, Been So Long (Royal Court, 1998), was characterised by a brilliant use of language and a confident command of the confusions of desire and love. Early in his career, I remember being at a reading of his work: the small audience went wild, drunk on the deliciously lush words. His fantastically hilarious follow up, Flesh Wound (Royal Court, 2003), took a while, but was worth the wait. In the same year, Walker was awarded the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright (bit late!). His recent work includes translations (Akos Nemeth) and directing (Amy Evans' Achidi J's Final Hours (Finborough, 2004)), plus the enormously popular The Frontline (Globe, 2008-09). Now mixes funky music with his bouncing lines...

Wallace, Naomi
Kentucky-raised Wallace (b 1960) came to Britain and soon established herself as a poetic playwright who is both committed politically and fascinated by experiments with form. Her many plays include The War Boys (Finborough, 1993), In the Heart of America (Bush, 1995), One Flea Spare (Bush, 1995), Slaughter City (RSC, 1996), The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek (Traverse, 2001) and The Inland Sea (2002). Lovely titles. Much of Wallace's recent political work has been been on the fringe in the wake of 9/11, including The Retreating World (Theatre 503, 2003), Two Into War (Theatre 503, 2003) and the critically acclaimed A State of Innocence (Theatre 503, 2005).

Walsh, Enda
One of the most original and imaginative writers (b 1967) to have been spat out of Ireland in the 1990s
. With his visions of dysfunctional families and enclosed worlds, few can challenge his position as the Irish bard of homely claustrophobia. Walsh World has been described as an uneasy mix of solitary kids, damaged parents and twisted feelings. Yes. His plays, especially Disco Pigs (1997) and Bedbound (2000), are frantic and furious, written with an astonishing energy that makes them exciting examples of experiential theatre. Walsh's other work includes Chatroom (2005) - for Connections at the National - and The Small Things (Paines Plough/Menier, 2005). He specialises in inarticulate characters who struggle to find a language with which to express themselves. His masterpiece, The Walworth Farce (Druid, 2006), is a stunning work of wild imagining. Whoaaaa. And don't forget Misterman (1999) and The New Electric Ballroom (2004).

Welsh, Irvine
Novelist (b 1958) whose iconic Trainspotting was adapted by Harry Gibson into a classic text of in-yer-face theatre. Despite Welsh's evident relish for staging sex and violence, his other plays, Headstate (Boilerhouse, 1994) and You'll Have Had Your Hole (West Yorkshire Playhouse, 1998) were markedly less successful. A one-hit wonder.

Williams, Roy
Top writer (b 1968) for exploring the tensions between black and white youth. His trademark is sizzling dialogue and a streetwise ear for cultural conflict. In general, his writing is characterised by a willingness to say the unsayable, and by its keynote complexity. Sometimes his work is a tad didactic, but it's always worth seeing, and his prolific output includes: The No-Boys Cricket Club (Stratford East, 1996), The Gift (Birmingham, 2000), Lift Off (Royal Court, 1999), Clubland (Royal Court, 2001), Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads (National, 2002) and Fallout (Royal Court, 2003). Williams's recent work has been praised for its power as well as for its sensitive and sympathetic characterisation. Believe. And he's so productive! Latest work includes Joe Guy (Soho, 2007), Category B (2009), as well as a television version of Fallout (2008). In 2008, he was awarded an OBE.

Willmott, Phil
Artistic director, during the 1990s, of the tiny Finborough theatre in London's Earl's Court. Helped the new writing boom by telling writers they were free to use their imaginations and by mounting large-scale plays in a tiny space.

Woods, Sarah
Because her work is not staged in London, Woods has been unfairly ignored by metropolitan critics. Check out her plays for Birmingham Rep: Nervous Women, Bidding and Binding, and especially Trips (1999). She has also written extensively for radio. Supporter of the Monsterists. Woods's new work includes Soap (Scarborough, 2004) and Through the Woods (Chichester, 2004).

Wynne, Michael
Spirited and humorous Liverpudlian writer, whose The Knocky (1994) was part of the explosion of creativity at the Royal Court in the mid-1990s. Also worth checking out is his The Boy Who Left Home (Actors Touring Company, 2000), an adult fairy tale, and his hilarious comedy The People Are Friendly (Royal Court, 2002). Wynne's Dirty Wonderland (Brighton, 2005) was a critically lauded site-specific piece energetically staged by Frantic Assembly.


Generation X

A bit naff as a label, but still routinely used to describe Thatcher's Children - or any other generation that happened to be born after about 1970, growing up in the 1980s. Vague, eh? Suggests a post-ideological attitude, in which ideas about leftwing and rightwing, east and west, are superseded by a 'post' mentality: postmodernism, post-political, post-feminism, post-colonial, even post-gay. On the negative side, it suggests the casual attitude to drugs, death and decay typical of recent American blank fiction. On the positive side, it describes a generation that is both 'can do' and 'do it yourself'.



Often written as 'yoof'. Ugh. One of the significance results of the emergence of in-yer-face theatre in the 1990s was that it brought stage drama into synch with youth culture, thus attracting new audiences and new interest in the theatre. Health warning: youth can also be a curse, and the cult of youthfulness can result in an obsession with novelty at the cost of quality.


Zajdlic, Richard
Essex-bred writer, one of twins (b 1962). The great thing about having a surname beginning with Z is that you always get a place in an A-Z. Not that anyone needs an excuse to include the writer who created the second series of This Life, the cult BBC soap, and sizzling plays such as Infidelities (Tabard, 1990), Dogs Barking (Bush, 1999) and Cannibal (Union, 2001). Nice titles.

Trendy word for spirit of the times, which just means 'all the stuff that's going on today'. Pretension alert: use sparingly.


• Plus: see also this new writing bibliography

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