Theatre Plays



A selection of plays written by Stephen Poliakoff all published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama


my city

Almeida Theatre (2011)

My City is a lyrical exploration of storytelling, interwoven personal and political histories, memory and the ties of the past. The play presents a series of strange, seemingly coincidental encounters with others which evoke momentous trends in the city they live in and the shifts of society throughout history.
Two former school friends are reunited with their erstwhile teacher, the glamorous, gracious Miss Lambert who is now engaged in nightly pilgrimages on foot across London as an antidote to her chronic insomnia. In the course of these nocturnal journeys, she witnesses a paradigmatic range of incidents reflecting today's society: the kindness and the violence, the glut of discarded rubbish and the sanctity of that which is carefully preserved, as well as the ghostly vestiges of the past.
The play marked Tracey Ullman's return to the London stage after a gap of over twenty-five years and she was powerfully supported by Tom Riley, David Troughton, Siân Brooke, Sorcha Cusack and Hannah Arterton.

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remember this

Royal National Theatre (1999)

Stephen Poliakoff's fourth play for the National Theatre, Remember This, was directed by Ron Daniels and starred Stanley Townsend and Geraldine Somerville.
Poliakoff looks at the insidious role that technology plays in all our lives. The video camera becomes an interruption in the daily existence of Rick and Victoria and their friends and relations as the couple prepare for their wedding, to such an extent that the video diary they are recording begins to take over their lives. If events have not been recorded they have not been lived. Their memory of events is only what exists on tape for an audience to see or hear. When the stress of modern living reaches a critical peak, Rick's forsakes real life for one totally imagined. Remembering becomes harder and harder.

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Talk of the city

The Swan Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company (1998), Young Vic (1999)

Broadcasting House, London, in the late 1930s. With war in Europe looming on the horizon, in light entertainment radio there is the bizarre spectacle of costumed singers and dancers performing live in a medium where they can only be heard and not seen. Robbie, the mercurial Master of Ceremonies of the popular 'Friday Night at Eight', has a playful and devious imagination. Together with radio producer Clive the two hatch a dangerous and subversive new form of radio broadcast to bring home to listeners the sinister truth of the devastating storm rumbling in Europe.
Poliakoff himself directed this play at Swan Theatre, it was designed by Tim Hatley and it's fine ensemble cast included David Westhead, Angus Wright, Kelly Hunter, Julian Curry, Tom Goodman-Hill and Dominic Rowan.

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blinded by the sun

Royal National Theatre (1996)

When the retiring professor in a Chemistry department of a northern university chooses Al, a mediocre scientist but a brilliant administrator, to succeed him as head of the department, he sets in motion a chain of events that will test the department's endurance to the limit.
Al begins reorganizing the department, but soon finds that Christopher his peer and rival, and Elinor, his one-time teacher whom he worships, are unwilling to change the mysterious, isolated way in which they work.
Then Christopher announces a major breakthrough, which should assure a prosperous future for all... but ultimately has disastrous results.

Blinded by the Sun was a major success at the Cottesloe (now Dorffman) Theatre when it opened in the Autumn of 1996. And it subsequently went on to win the Critic's Circle Best Play of the Year Award. It was also nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Play.
Its tremendous cast included Douglas Hodge, Frances De La Tour, Hermione Norris, Orla Brady, Duncan Bell and Graham Crowden.

In 2008 Radio 4 mounted a production that starred Alex Jennings, Harriet Walter and Jodie Whittaker.

Victoria Hamilton in the 2003 production at the Duke of York's Theatre, London

Victoria Hamilton in the 2003 production at the Duke of York's Theatre, London

Sweet Panic

Hampstead Theatre (1996), revived at Duke of York’s Theatre (2003)

A successful psychologist, Clare Attwood is a happy woman. Her work is satisfying, her partner attentive and supportive - she knows her mind and she knows how to live in a hectic urban environment. But, a series of ill-judged decisions incurs the wrath of Mrs Trevel, the mother of one of her young clients.
As Mrs Trevel's behaviour becomes increasingly sinister and her obsession takes hold, this once confident psychologist is forced to re-appraise both her own life and that of the young people who are in her charge.

Sweet Panic marked Poliakoff's return to Hampstead Theatre after a gap of twenty years when Clever Soldiers, his first major play, was staged there.  Harriet Walter and Saskia Reeves both received enormous acclaim in the leading roles and they were given powerful support by Philip Bird, Mark Tandy and a young Rupert Penry-Jones.

In the West End production, seven years later, these roles were played by Victoria Hamilton, Jane Horrocks, Philip Bird, John Gordon Sinclair and Rupert Evans.

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Sienna Red

Peter Hall Company (1992)

Cecilia, a woman who has taken refinement in her life to its very limits, has an affair with a man who, by being uniquely himself, is able to exert control over those around him. A startling love story and a fascinating comedy of opposites.
Sienna Red transforms the seemingly ordinary into the extraordinary where the mundane environment of a DIY emporium becomes a place of surprising riches and disturbing passions.

Sienna Red was the third time Poliakoff and Peter Hall worked together. The play starred Martin Shaw and Francesca Annis and premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse before going on a national tour.

Pictured: Tim Spall in the Radio Four version of the play, 2010

Pictured: Tim Spall in the Radio Four version of the play, 2010

Playing With Trains

The Barbican, Royal Shakespeare Company (1989)

A successful and wealthy engineer has made a fortune from a brilliant development in gramophone technology but nevertheless bemoans the lack of support for invention and innovation in British industry. Eccentric in dress and behaviour, protagonist Bill Galpin, is genial enough, with admirable ecological concerns and a willingness to back young talent but his fierce energy, his constant mobility and his conviction that he ultimately knows best, are not endearing.
Set over two decades, beginning in the late 1960s, Playing with Trains observes a family's relationship in which there is tension between admiration for innovators with drive and an awareness of the destructive potential of extreme single-mindedness.

Playing With Trains premiered at the Barbican in London in a production by Ron Daniels and featured a superb cast. Michael Pennington played the entrepreneur Bill Galpin and he was supported by Simon Russell Beale, Lesley Sharp and Ralph Fiennes.

In 2010 Radio 4 mounted a production that starred Timothy Spall as Bill Galpin, Zoe Tapper and Geoffrey Streatfeild.

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Coming In To Land

Royal National Theatre (1987)

Maggie Smith played Halina, a Polish woman, who wants to find a way of staying in England at a time when the Cold War was still being played out and it was still extremely difficult for people to remain in the UK from behind the Iron Curtain unless they were seeking asylum.
She enters into an arranged marriage with a thirty-something solicitor Neville (Anthony Andrews) who is disillusioned with his life having just broken up with his girlfriend and wishes to try to do something useful. He thinks by helping Halina he may find a new purpose and is therefore he is astonished when she suddenly decides that taking on the immigration authorities on her own is a lesser evil than being married to him, even as a mere arrangement. 

Coming In To Land is a dark comedy that charts the clash between Halina's desperate need and the middle class sterility of Neville's life in London at the height of Margaret Thatcher's rule. It also shows the Cold War in its last suffocating moments just two years before the Berlin Wall fell.

Coming In To Land marked Maggie Smith's return to the National after many years away in a production directed by Peter Hall. She received wide praise for her performance as the Polish asylum seeker. The production also starred Anthony Andrews and Tim Pigott-smith.

Maggie Smith and Poliakoff worked together again when she starred in the television production Capturing Mary for which she was nominated for an Emmy.

Still from the Nottingham Playhouse Production, 2008

Still from the Nottingham Playhouse Production, 2008

Breaking The Silence

Barbican, Royal Shakespeare Company (1984), Mermaid Theatre (1985)

Stephen Poliakoff's intriguing and moving play is inspired by his own family's experience in Russia. Father spends his time, and government money, in trying to record sound onto film. With the death of Lenin, however, the research must be abandoned and the family is forced to flee. the play follows the material and spiritual adjustments the upper-middle-class Pesiakoff family have to make when forced to live for years in a railway carriage.

Breaking The Silence premiered at the Barbican and originally starred Daniel Massey, Gemma Jones and Juliet Stevenson.
In 1985 it transferred to the Mermaid Theatre where it ran for 8 months and starred Alan Howard, Gemma Jones and Jenny Agutter. Both productions were directed by Ron Daniels.
In 2007 Radio 4 mounted a production that starred Anton Lesser, Juliet Stevenson (now playing the mother Eugenia) and Anna Madeley.


Favourite Nights

The Lyric, Hammersmith (1981)

Favourite Nights is set in parts of the West End that few of us ever see, a strange, surreal landscape of gambling casinos with piped muzak and seedy language school which offer foreign businessmen English lessons by day and escort girls for the evening. The world Poliakoff is describing is absorbing and there is also a real depth to the characters beneath the dazzling surface.

The original cast included Pete Postlethwaite, Susan Tracy, John Duttine and Gwyneth Strong. The production was directed by Peter James.

Dexter Fletcher as Mister David in the Sheffield Crucible production Photo: Viewfinder Associates

Dexter Fletcher as Mister David in the Sheffield Crucible production
Photo: Viewfinder Associates

The Summer Party

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (1980)

The promoters and stars of a mammoth open air music festival are gathered in the VIP enclosure when they receive an unscheduled visit from the top brass of the police.

A fascinating cast was gathered on the main Crucible stage to populate this VIP enclosure, it included Alan Rickman, a fourteen-year-old Dexter Fletcher, Roger Lloyd-Pack (of Only Fools and Horses) and Hayley Mills. Brian Cox played the Chief Constable who overcomes their initial hostility and rescues the evening when the concert threatens to descend into violence.

Phil Daniels, Toyah Wilcox and Caroline Embling in the UK production

Phil Daniels, Toyah Wilcox and Caroline Embling in the UK production

American Days

ICA (1979)

"American Days unfolds in the the sterile London offices of an international entertainment conglomerate... The furniture, carpets and walls all come in cool shades of grey and blue; the decorations include minimalist paintings, framed platinum records and a chrome refrigerator. When the three rock singers, all working-class refugees from England's boondocks, arrive in search of fame and fortune, even their neon-hued punk outfits are swallowed up by the antiseptic atmosphere of their corporate surroundings."       - New York Times, Jan 1981.

American Days was a tremendous success when it opened at the ICA Theatre (at that time an important venue for new work). Its remarkable cast included Antony Sher in the starring role of the record company executive and Phil Daniels, Toyah Wilcox, Caroline Embling and Mel Smith.

Poliakoff had a long association with Mel Smith who had directed revivals of The Carnation Gang (starring Alan Rickman) and Hitting Town at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Mel Smith also appeared in Poliakoff's Bloody Kids, was an Executive producer at Talkback which made many of Poliakoff's later TV dramas and then played his last acting role in Dancing on the Edge.

The play was presented at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York in 1981 with John Shea in the leading role.

Barbara Eda-Young and Ellen Barkin in Shout Across The River in New York

Barbara Eda-Young and Ellen Barkin in Shout Across The River in New York

Shout Across The River

Donmar Warehouse, Royal Shakespeare Company (1978)

Shout Across The River tells the story of a mother and daughter during an extremely eventful week in their lives. Set on the edge of London, this play is about a family clinging to each other for survival whilst the shadow of unemployment and recession hangs very strongly in the air.

The play premiered at the Donmar Warehouse (then just called The Warehouse) and starred an eighteen year-old Gwyneth Strong in the leading role who gave a sensational performance which received critical acclaim. The fine cast also included Lynn Farleigh, David Threlfall, Nigel Terry and Andrew Paul.
The play was directed by Bill Alexander. 
The play was produced in New York in 1980 with Ellen Barkin in the lead role with Barbara Eda-Young playing opposite.

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Strawberry Fields

Royal National Theatre (1977)

Poliakoff’s drama brings together a group of distinctive characters who have little in common other than the cause they support.
Strawberry fields is set against the question of how seemingly harmless individual characters might, in given socio-historical circumstances, get drawn into extreme beliefs and, indeed, violent action.

Strawberry Fields was the first ever National Theatre production at the Cottesloe Theatre. It starred Jane Asher, Stephen Rea and Kenneth Cranham and was directed by the film director Michael Apted, making a rare foray into live theatre. Apted later directed Poliakoff's Stronger Than The Sun. Jane Asher appeared in two other works by Poliakoff, the Film4 Runners and Dancing on the Edge.

The play was presented at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York in 1979.

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Jeff Goldblum plays DJ Leonard Brazil in City Sugar production at New York's Phoenix Theatre

Jeff Goldblum plays DJ Leonard Brazil in City Sugar production at New York's Phoenix Theatre

City Sugar

Bush Theatre (1975), Comedy Theatre (1976)

Like Hitting Town, City Sugar premiered at the Bush Theatre in 1975, it is a companion piece to the earlier play in that it features the young waitress Nicola and follows how she is manipulated by the local disc jockey during a promotional campaign designed to whip up excitement amongst the station's audience.

City Sugar premiered at the Bush Theatre in 1975 when the tormented Leonard Brazil was played by John Shrapnel and Rex, his young assistant in the studio, was played by Leon Vitali just after he had made Barry Lyndon with Stanley Kubrick.

In 1976 the play then transferred to the Comedy Theatre with Adam Faith taking over as Leonard Brazil and James Aubrey who had starred in Hitting Town as Rex.

City Sugar, along with Hitting Town, won Poliakoff the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright Award in 1976.

The play was widely performed in regional cities all over Britain, was presented in New York with Jeff Goldblum in the lead role and was made into a television version with Tim Curry.

Lynne Miller as Nicola

Lynne Miller as Nicola

Hitting Town

Bush Theatre (1975)

Hitting town premiered at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd's Bush in 1975. It was Poliakoff's first major success in the theatre.
The story of a brother and sister and one night in their lives as they go out on the town and travel through a landscape of Wimpy bars, shopping malls, subterranean discos, ending up in bed together. 

This eighty minute play made a very big impression at the time and has been performed many times since. It was made into a television version which caused a major stir in 1976.

The original play starred James Aubrey, Judy Monahan and Lynne Miller as the waitress Nicola, a role she repeated in the TV version.

The play was directed by Tim Fywell.

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Clever Soldiers

Hampstead Theatre (1974)

Clever Soldiers "is a thoughtful play about violence" (Times) which attacks the mythology of Oxbridge against the background of war.

Clever Soldiers marked Poliakoff's first major London production at the age of twenty one. It starred Simon Ward fresh from his success playing Churchill in the movie Young Winston and the cast also included Michael Feast and Michael Byrne.

Michael Feast had previously played the leading role in Poliakoff's The Carnation Gang which had opened just two months before at the Bush Theatre.