This is a series of interviews, released monthly, to broadcast the emerging and established voices of female-identifying and non-binary creatives within theatre.
Polly Stenham (MBE, FRSL) is a playwright, screenwriter and director. Her plays are That
Face, Tusk Tusk, No Quarter, Hotel and Julie. She is published by Faber & Faber. That Face premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, and she was awarded the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright 2007 and the 2008 Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright. The play transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End in 2008. Tusk Tusk and No Quarter both directed by Jeremy Herrin opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 2009 and 2013. Hotel opened at the National Theatre in June 2014 and Julie, her modern take on Strindberg’s classic, opened there in May 2018.
Polly directed the short film, Everyday Lives of Performance Artists for Channel Four’s
Random Acts programme in 2016. She co-wrote the feature Neon Demon directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. In 2017 Walter & Zoniel’s portrait of Polly was hung at the National Portrait Gallery and in 2018 Polly was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
In October 2019 her first collection, Plays I, comprising her first four plays, That Face, Tusk Tusk, No Quarter and Hotel was published by Faber & Faber.
In October 2020 Polly was awarded an MBE. She currently has a new play with Sonia Freidman Productions, an original TV series in development with Bad Wolf Ltd and a feature in development with Working Title Films.
What was your first experience watching theatre?
It was watching a production of Oh What a Lovely War with my father when I was nine or so. I remember him crying watching it, but I thought it was funny. It was the first time I realised humour can be very very sad.
What was the first play to make you want to write plays?
Streetcar Named Desire
Why theatre for you? Why is it the right form for you?
I think because it's the most human form in my opinion, people doing things to people, watched by people.
What influences your writing?
Music, images snatched on the street, my own relationships.
Which playwrights have influenced you the most?
Albee, Williams, Pinter.
How has the theatre industry changed over your career?
More diverse now thank god.
How do you spend the opening night? Do you read critics?
Chain smoking and drinking heavily. It's a scary but exciting night. I try not to read reviews but it's hard not to get a sense of them from hearsay.
What's the hardest play you've ever written and why?
Probably the one I worked on for four years then chucked in the bin. The idea never worked. Great setting and characters but no conflict.
What advice would you give to a woman wanting to work and write in theatre, but without obvious access streams?
To read plays. As many as you can. Out loud with a mate.
Do critics and other creatives presume that you are writing autobiographically, because you are a woman?
Hmmm... I think everyone regardless of gender gets that a bit.
I love your child characters ('Tusk Tusk' 'That Face' and 'Hotel' particularly)- is this something that you often come back to?
I think I started writing those plays in my late teens so childhood was what I had the most to draw from, I seem to be moving away from that now, a good thing I think.
What are you writing next?
Ha ha.. a new one that'll be produced later in the year covid permitting and a new new one that's in early stages.