Stephen Plaice

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Stephen Plaice
Born (1951-09-09) 9 September 1951 (age 65)
Nationality British
Occupation Dramatist and Scriptwriter

Stephen Plaice (born 9 September 1951) is a UK-based dramatist and scriptwriter who has written extensively for theatre, opera and television.

In September 2014 he was appointed Writer in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he will be mentoring writers on the new Opera Making course, and also working with the Drama department.

Early career[edit]

Stephen Plaice was born in Watford UK in 1951 and attended Watford Grammar School for Boys. He went on to study German and Comparative Literature at the Universities of Sussex, Marburg and Zurich. An extensive account of his student days in Germany was given in The Romantic Road, a series of five programmes broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2009. He was co-translator of Ernst Bloch's The Principle of Hope (Blackwell 1986) and of Bloch's Heritage of our Time (Blackwell 1991). In the 1980s, with the poet Sean O'Brien, he was co-founder of the literary magazine The Printer's Devil.


Plaice began his playwriting career as a translator of German plays at the Royal National Theatre in the 1970s. In the 1980s he formed his own theatre companies, the short-lived Thumbscrew Theatre, and then Alarmist Theatre with the theatre director Helena Uren, now known as Helena Bell. Alarmist produced many of Plaice's plays and adaptations including his version of Vladimir Mayakovsky's The Bedbug which, with the help of the British Council, was taken to Moscow by the company in 1990, one of the first British productions to be performed under perestroika. Later in the Nineties, Plaice worked frequently with Shaker Productions, a theatre company based at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley, run by Alison Edgar. Edgar's 1993 production of Trunks, Plaice's play about the Brighton Trunk Murders of 1934, was a critical success. [1] and transferred to Battersea Arts Centre and to the Lyric Theatre Studio Hammersmith before going on to tour nationally. It was successfully revived in expanded form in the Paganini Ballroom, Barcelo Brighton Old Ship Hotel, in 2008. His short play The Last Post originally produced by Shaker was made into a film by Sarah Radclyffe Productions in 1995 and nominated for a BAFTA. The film was directed by Ed Blum.

From 1987 Plaice was Writer-in-Residence at Lewes Prison, where he did the research for Trunks, and also for Prometheus Unlocked, a play about a prison arsonist. It was also here that his association with Glyndebourne Festival Opera began, after he invited a team from the Education Department to run annual workshops in the prison. In 1994, after seven years, Plaice left the prison residency and began writing scripts for ITV's The Bill, scripting more than twenty episodes. Plaice has also worked extensively with the Education Department of the Berlin Philharmonic, most notably in 2004 with inmates in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin on a project entitled Seven Doors, based on Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle.

After working in opera for most of the decade, in 2008 Plaice returned to straight drama and wrote Nemesis, a play which documented the extraordinary marriage between John and Ada Galsworthy. John had been a visitor to Lewes Prison in the early 1900s. The play was given a rehearsed reading at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Mick and Me, about the author's imaginary friendship with a famous rock star in the 1960s, was given a rehearsed reading at Watford Palace Theatre in 2009. In 2012 he wrote Wyatt, a three-hander about Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the Tudor poet Thomas Wyatt. This was followed by The Branch, about the British Education Branch's role in the denazification of post-war Germany. To date, none of these plays has been produced.

The White Cat, an hour-long play for GCSE drama students, was first performed by Peacehaven Community School in 2014. Its subject is the Dallington witch scare in early 17th century Sussex.

In 2014 Plaice wrote and directed The Gospel According to Lilian, about the visitation of Anglican nuns by the spirit of Mary Magdalene in the 1950s. This was produced as part of the Church of the Annunciation Festival in Brighton. He also published a history of the church and its relationship to the Oxford Movement, entitled The Real Presence. The publication coincided with the 150th anniversary exhibition of the church, which he curated.


In 1996 the Glyndebourne opera company produced the first of Plaice's librettos, the children's opera Misper, written with the composer John Lunn. There were further collaborations with Lunn for the youth opera, Zoë in 2000 (made into a film for Channel 4 later that same year, directed by Theresa Griffith) and Tangier Tattoo in 2005, both produced at Glyndebourne. These operas were all directed by Stephen Langridge with whom Plaice has enjoyed a long working relationship. Richard Morrison of The Times (London) wrote that the creative team 'virtually redefined the genre with their splendidly feisty Misper at Glyndebourne.... Zoe by the same team is a giant leap forward again'.[2] However, Tangier Tattoo, an opera set against a background of jihadist kif-smuggling in Morocco, and ostensibly created for a target audience of 20- to 30-year-olds, was less favourably received by the critics.

In 2012 Glyndebourne Education produced Lovers Walk, a chamber opera composed by Luke Styles to a libretto by Plaice. This was followed by the main stage community opera Imago, composed by Orlando Gough to another Plaice libretto. The latter was widely acclaimed, with Antony Craig of Gramophone describing it as 'an operatic love story for our digital age'.[3] It went on to win the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards for Learning and Participation for 2013, the second time one of Plaice's operas has won the RPS education award, the first being for Confucius Says with Hackney Music Development Trust in 2008 (see below).

Plaice's first collaboration with Sir Harrison Birtwistle came in 2003. It was the chamber opera The Io Passion, which was also directed by Langridge and which opened the Aldeburgh Festival and toured to Bregenz later in the year. The Independent on Sunday praised "Stephen Plaice's beautifully organised libretto". [4] Plaice also wrote the text for Birtwistle's carol The Gleam for the choir of Kings College Cambridge for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 2003.

The libretto for Birtwistle's dramatic oratorio Angel Fighter was written by Plaice in 2010. It premiered in the Thomaskirche at the Bachfest Leipzig (de) to positive reviews: "a major work, one which points to a new direction for sacred music.....Birtwistle transforms the text, which Stephen Plaice has created for him in simple, magnificent, vivid sentences of Lutheran vehemence, into a seven-part arch form, a dramatic cantata, a compact oratorio".[5] The UK premiere of this work took place on 20 August 2011 as a part of the BBC Proms. Paint Me a chamber opera with the Portuguese composer Luis Tinoco was premiered in Lisbon in 2010, a Teatro Nacional de São Carlos / Culturgest co-production.

In 2006, Plaice scripted a hip-hop adaptation of Mozart's Così fan tutte for Glyndebourne under the title of School4Lovers.[6] This production toured to the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki and to the Estonia Theatre in Tallinn. Orlando Gough's The Finnish Prisoner was set to Plaice's libretto in 2007. A co-production between Finnish National Opera and the Lewes-based company, The Paddock, the subject matter was the incarceration of Finnish prisoners in the now demolished Naval Prison at Lewes during the Crimean War.[7] The opera was directed by Susannah Waters. Along with the composer Richard Taylor, Plaice wrote the children's opera Confucius Says in 2008 for Hackney Music Development Trust. This won the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards for Education in that year. He collaborated again with Taylor on Ludd and Isis, a community opera commissioned for the opening of the new Royal Opera House Production Park in Thurrock in late 2010.

Hot House, an opera about the Covent Garden Theatre's Old Price Riots of 1809 with music by Julian Grant, was commissioned by the Education Department of the Royal Opera House as part of the Cultural Olympics and premiered on the main stage in July 2012. [8] Plaice's opera-theatre piece In & Out of Love, a sequence of opera duets embedded into a narrative about two singers and starring Marcia Bellamy and Red Gray, toured the South East of England in the spring of 2013 and also in 2014 in an expanded version.

Additionally, the Royal Swedish Opera has commissioned Plaice and the composer Rolf Martinsson to write Amy, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short story Amy Foster, for production in Stockholm in 2018.

Music Theatre[edit]

Plaice has also written extensively for music theatre. He collaborated with Yusuf Islam on the early drafts of Moonshadow, the Cat Stevens musical, and took over the book of Daddy Cool, the Frank Farian musical, starring Michelle Collins, Harvey and Javine, which was staged at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2006 before transferring to a purpose-built Theaterpalast in Berlin the following year. In 2009, with the composer Richard Taylor, he adapted Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book for the Castle Theatre, Wellingborough, and this was followed at the Castle in 2010 with a musical adaptation of Robin Hood, with the composer Grant Olding.

List of Works[edit]


  • 1986: Young Faust
  • 1987: Leonce and Lena (adaptation)
  • 1987: Prometheus Unlocked
  • 1990: The Bedbug (adaptation)
  • 1993: Trunks
  • 1995: Home Truths
  • 1995: The Last Post
  • 1996: The Shortlist
  • 1997: The Milk Train
  • 2008: Nemesis
  • 2009: Mick and Me
  • 2012: Wyatt
  • 2012: The Branch
  • 2014: The White Cat
  • 2014: The Gospel According to Lilian


  • 1996: Misper
  • 2000: Zöe
  • 2004: The Io Passion
  • 2005: Tangier Tattoo
  • 2006: School4Lovers
  • 2007: The Finnish Prisoner
  • 2008: Confucius Says
  • 2010: Angel Fighter
  • 2010: The Moon on A Stick
  • 2010: Ludd and Isis
  • 2010: Paint Me
  • 2012: Hot House
  • 2012: Lovers Walk
  • 2013: Imago


  • 1995: Race the Devil (Glyndebourne Education)
  • 2006: Daddy Cool (with Amani Napthali)
  • 2009: The Jungle Book (adaptation)
  • 2010: Robin Hood (adaptation)

Opera Theatre[edit]

  • 2013: In and Out of Love[9]


  • 1983: Rumours of Cousins (Yorick Books)
  • 1992: Over the Rollers (Yorick Books)


  • 2014: The Real Presence (The Church of the Annunciation)


  1. ^ Paul Taylor,"Pack your bags for a trip to Greeneland", The Independent (London), 20 July 1994
  2. ^ Richard Morrison, "Perfect ten out of teen", The Times (London), Sec. 3, p. 46, 3 March 2000
  3. ^ Antony Craig, "Spectacular Imago lights up Glyndebourne-in-the-gloom", The Gramophone blog, 8 March 2013
  4. ^ Anna Picard, "A simple and seductive passion", Independent on Sunday, 27 June 2004
  5. ^ "Veranstalter mit Bachfest-Auftakt hochzufrieden" Leipziger Volkszeitung, online 14 June 2010
  6. ^ Richard Morrison, "It ain’t over till the phat lady raps", The Times (London), Sec. 2, p. 18, 10 March 2006
  7. ^ Pappenheim, Mark, "The Finnish Prisoner", review in Opera (London), September 2007, pp. 1130–31 on
  8. ^ "One Big Stage", on
  9. ^ In and Out of Love on

External links[edit]