Polly Stenham

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Polly Stenham
A portrait of the Polly Stenham by Tobias Ross-Southall.jpg
Born (1986-07-16) 16 July 1986 (age 35)
London, England
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter

Polly Stenham MBE FRSL (born 16 July 1986) is an English playwright known for her play That Face, which she wrote when she was 19 years old.


Stenham was born and raised in London, the eldest of two daughters of business tycoon and Royal College of Art chairman Anthony 'Cob' Stenham, who raised Stenham and her younger sister after his divorce from their mother. She attributes her love of theatre to her father as he took her to various shows from a young age, including many at the Royal Court Theatre which would later stage her first play.

Stenham was privately educated at Wycombe Abbey boarding school for girls, and later at Rugby School. Before university she spent a gap year travelling and working for the Ambassador Theatre Group and the Arcola Theatre, and during this time that she enrolled in the Royal Court Young Writers Programme and wrote her first play. She then enrolled at University College London where she began studying for a degree in English. At the age of 20 her father died, leaving her and her sister independently wealthy. They inherited her father's Highgate townhouse in The Grove, which quickly became known as London's celebrity "party palace."[1] At this point she dropped out of university to focus on becoming a playwright.[2]


Stenham's debut play That Face premiered at the Royal Court Theatre[3] in London in April 2007. It was directed by Jeremy Herrin and starred Lindsay Duncan as the alcoholic mother Martha and Matt Smith as her son Henry. Stenham won the Evening Standard's 2007 Charles Wintour Award,[4] the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright[5] and the 2007 Theatrical Management Association Award for Best New Play.[6]

The play received praise from some reviewers, with Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph commenting:

This is one of the most astonishing debuts I have seen in more than 30 years of theatre reviewing. Its author, Polly Stenham, a graduate of the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme, is 20 now, just 19 when she wrote a play that sent me reeling into the night... In every respect this is a remarkable and unforgettable piece of theatre.[7]

Stenham represented the Royal Court at the 2007 Latitude Festival before That Face transferred to the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End[8] in 2008 with largely the same cast and again under Jeremy Herrin's direction.

Her second play, Tusk Tusk premiered in the downstairs theatre at the Royal Court in March 2009 directed by Jeremy Herrin.[9]

In 2011 Stenham, along with friend Victoria Williams, opened an art gallery,[10] the Cob Studios and Gallery (named after her art collector father) in Camden, London.[11]

In 2013 her third play No Quarter was staged at the Royal Court, directed by Jeremy Herrin and starring Tom Sturridge.[12]

In 2013 film director Nicolas Winding Refn confirmed I Walk With the Dead as his next project[13] and that Polly Stenham was confirmed to write the screenplay with Refn. They stated that the film will have an all female cast. Refn admitted that he asked Stenham to write the screenplay to tackle his own perceived inability to write female characters.[14] The project was later renamed The Neon Demon and was released in June 2016 to mixed reviews.

In 2014 her fourth play Hotel was staged at the Temporary Theatre, The National Theatre, directed by Maria Aberg.

In 2018, Julie, her adaptation of August Strindberg's Miss Julie, was staged at Lyttleton Theatre, directed by Carrie Cracknell and starring Vanessa Kirby and Eric Kofi AbrefaIn.

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 its "40 Under 40" initiative.[15]

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. Stenham's work is studied at GCSE, A-level and University level.

She is currently developing a TV series with Bad Wolf Productions.

Stenham was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to theatre and literature.[16]

Private life[edit]

Stenham lives in London.

She is a fan of Radiohead's album In Rainbows, which she says she listened to constantly while writing Tusk Tusk.[17]



  1. ^ Pithers, Ellie, "Step Inside Polly Stenham's Hyper-Romantic Art Deco Townhouse", Vogue, London
  2. ^ Bremner, Charles; Robertson, David, "Polly Stenham Interview, That Face West End", The Times, London
  3. ^ "That Face", Royal Court Theatre
  4. ^ "Evening Standard Award Winners 2007", Evening Standard, archived from the original on 6 June 2011
  5. ^ "Critics Circle Award 2007", West End Broadway
  6. ^ "TMA Awards 2007", TMA website, archived from the original on 12 November 2010
  7. ^ Spencer, Charles (26 April 2007), "That Face Review", The Daily Telegraph, London
  8. ^ "That Face, Duke of York", Royal Court Theatre
  9. ^ "Tusk Tusk", Royal Court Theatre
  10. ^ Day, Elizabeth (6 February 2011), "Cob Studio", The Guardian, London
  11. ^ "Cob Gallery", Cob Gallery Website
  12. ^ "Report in The Stage, 23 November 2012".
  13. ^ "Nicolas Winding Refn Talks ONLY GOD FORGIVES and I WALK WITH THE DEAD". Collider. 30 March 2012.
  14. ^ "Now Polly Stenham gets ready to walk with the dead". Evening Standard. 21 October 2013.
  15. ^ Flood, Alison (28 June 2018). "Royal Society of Literature admits 40 new fellows to address historical biases". the Guardian. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  16. ^ "No. 63135". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 October 2020. p. B22.
  17. ^ Bremner, Charles; Robertson, David, "Polly Stenham Interview, Tusk Tusk", The Times, London

External links[edit]