Stephen Jeffreys (1950-2018)

WGGB Theatre Co-Chair David Edgar remembers playwright and Writers' Guild member Stephen Jeffreys who has died at the age of 68

Stephen Jeffreys was a distinguished and important playwright, a remarkable teacher of dramatic writing, and a delightful man. His death from brain cancer at 68 is a huge loss to the theatre, to playwrights, and to us.

His best-known play was The Libertine, written for Max Stafford Clark’s Out of Joint, about the notoriously decadent Earl of Rochester, later filmed with Johnny Depp. He also wrote the film Caught in Flight: Diana, about Princess Diana, with Naomi Watts. But most of his work was for the theatre. His original plays included Valued Friends (about the London property market), A Going Concern (about the Jeffreys family business, making snooker tables) and I Just Stopped By To See The Man (about the blues). He reclaimed Richard Brome’s Jacobean A Jovial Crew and later Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist for the RSC, wrote the early Beatles show Backbeat for the West End, and adapted a hugely effective and much-produced Hard Times.

His contribution to later generations of playwrights, here and abroad, was immeasurable. He was a literary associate at the Royal Court for 10 years, where he mentored Simon Stephens, Tanika Gupta, Winsome Pinnock, Roy Williams and many others. He taught playwrights in Uganda, Cuba and Palestine.

I was lucky enough to be able to persuade him to come to talk to students on the MA in Playwriting Studies at Birmingham University, where his analysis of the park scene in George Etherege’s The Man of Mode taught the students everything you need to know about writing large cast scenes. His analysis of scene structure (open and closed) was proverbially masterly, and it’s wonderful that his many insights on dramaturgy and being a playwright will be accessible in a book to be published by Nick Hern Books (who have just produced an anthology of his best plays). That, and the playwrights he nurtured, will be among his legacies.

Stephen was a (relatively recent) Guild member, and a stalwart of the Dramatists’ Club, of which he was honorary secretary. Tall and with a shock of curly hair, he was tremendously enjoyable to be with; funny, illuminating, and not above a little wholesome gossip. It’s very hard to think of not hearing his voice (and his laugh) again. He was married to Annabel Arden (co-founder of Complicite): the Guild passes on condolences and best wishes to her and their sons Ralph and Jack.