Joe Penhall

Dream List: what plays should we be reading, putting on and going to see?

Read – everything by Chekhov, Pinter, Orton, Mamet, Shepard, Albee, Miller, Bond, Beckett, Churchill, McDonagh, Kane, Marber, MacPherson, Simon Stephens, Kwami, Roy Williams, Jez Butterworth… and anything considered a classic. So you know what went before.

Put on – plays that aspire to the high standards of the greats mentioned above. Don’t put on short plays. They’re too easy. You won’t learn anything.

Describe your first theatrical epiphany

Seeing Orton’s Ruffian On The Stair on the fringe ( a short play!) Seeing Death of A Salesman on the fringe. A friend in the Royal Court YPT suggested I read Mamet’s American Buffalo and it was love at first sight. Seeing Peter Hall’s Pinter revivals at the Comedy in the 90s. The film Prick Up Your Ears, about Orton, written by Alan Bennet and directed by Stephen Frears obsessed me.

Who would you invite to your fantasy theatrical dinner party?

Pinter and Stoppard because they were great friends of each other, good company and an inspiration. Sam Shepard and Edward Albee – I’ve met them both and 5 minutes alone with them is all the inspiration you need. Finally Joe Orton, because he was mad bad and dangerous to know.

What are your career highlights so far?

Some Voices, Pale Horse, Love And Understanding, Blue Orange and Dumb Show were the most fun too do. I’m proud of the TV and film work too, especially Long Firm, Moses Jones and The Road.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had in the theatre?

I was in the loo at the Cottesloe during the interval of my play Landscape With Weapon and I overheard two men discussing me. “Didn’t he work in a mental asylum?” asked one. “No, wasn’t he a patient?” the other replied. They were both wrong.

Who is your favourite actor of all time?

Michael Caine cica 1965 – in The Ipcress File.

Who is the greatest influence on your career?

Pinter, Shepard, Mamet and Chekhov.

Where do you want to be in 5 years time?

Where I am now.

What’ s the best thing you’ve ever seen at the theatre?

Jerusalem directed by Ian Rickson. The Homecoming by Peter Hall. The Caretaker directed by Patrick Marber, starring Douglas Hodge and Gambon.Far Side of the Moon directed by Robert le Page at the National Theatre.

What are you up to at the moment?

A reading of my new play directed by Ian Rickson on Wednesday. Off to LA to finish writing a movie for Fox soon, directed by Mike Nichols who directed The Graduate, Angels in America, Closer, Catch 22 etc.

Biography: Joe Penhall

Award-winning writer Joe Penhall has been described by the Financial Times as “one of the finest playwrights of his generation”. He has written extensively for theatre, film and television.


Joe Penhall’s first major play, Some Voices, premiered at the Royal Court in 1994, for which he was awarded the John Whiting Award.

Subsequent Theatre credits include: Pale Horse (Royal Court); Love and Understanding (Bush Theatre) and The Bullet (Donmar Warehouse); Blue/Orange (National Theatre’s Cottesloe Stage) won the Oliver Award, the Evening Standard Award and the Winner Critic Circle Award for Best Play and transferred to the West End and Broadway; Dumb Show, (Royal Court) and Landscape with Weapon (National Theatre).


Film Credits include: Some Voices (adaptation of his play for Film Four), Enduring Love (feature film based on the novel by Ian McEwen) and The Undertaker (which was also Joe’s directorial debut).

Most recently, Joe Penhall wrote the screenplay adaptation of Cormack McCarthy’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Road.


Television Credits include: Moses Jones, (BBC2 detective drama for which he won Best Screenplay at the Roma Fiction Festival); The Long Firm (BAFTA nominated adaptation of Jake Arnott’s novel for BBC2); Blue/Orange (BBC- winner of Mental Illness in the Media Best Drama Award) and Go Back Out (BBC).