Work includes: Ripen Our Darkness, The Devil’s Gateway, Masterpieces, Beside Herself, The Madness of Esme and Shaz (Royal Court Theatre), Neaptide, Best Mates (National Theatre), Cross My Heart And Hope To Fly, Partial Eclipse of the Heart, The Sound Barrier, Humanly Possible (BBC Radio)
In 1978 I wrote my first play and having read an article in Time Out magazine that said the Royal Court Theatre read all unsolicited scripts I sent it there. It came back with a rejection letter but attached to it was a copy of the reader’s report; a piece of constructive criticism which not only signalled to me that my work had been taken seriously but also gave me confidence to go on and write another play.
It wasn’t till 1986 when John directed Neaptide at the Cottesloe Theatre that I found out he’d been the reader.
From then on he has read and advised on almost everything I’ve written. From ideas, to text, to casting, his help has been invaluable. In short he has the most extensive knowledge of theatre past and present of anyone I know.
And to my knowledge there is no one working in this country who is better qualified to run a course like this.
Work includes: Releevo, Space (Soho Theatre), Killing the Cat, Land of the Living (Royal Court), Blue Hearts, Hurricane Roses, (National Theatre). Twice winner of the Verity Bargate Award.
I met John in 1987, he was running the NT Studio, soon to be the Royal National Theatre Studio, alongside Peter ‘the Guru’ Gill; I, the cocky kid, was to be their Thames TV Bursary Resident Writer for 1988. What I remember of John back then is: a man of presence, of playfulness and weight, a man of intellect and sensitivity; a man of opinion, taste, and great depth of feeling; a walking fucking library; everything I remembered from back then is still there in John now – he is my first, my last, my captain!
To borrow from the pop idiom, Mr John Burgess must be a top three candidate for the Godfather of British Theatre Writing; certainly the last three and a half decades. I saw so many faces come through the NT Studio doors; the list of names that have sought his advice, benefited from his guidance, or those who still seek his advice and those who still benefit from his guidance, it reads like a who’s who of contemporary British Theatre Writing.
John won’t tell you what to write but when you do show him something and he says, ‘no’ your left ventricle collapses, when he says ‘yes!’ then you run your first marathon in 2hours 15 minutes. His precision, his accuracy, his commitment to your vision, your voice, your belief, your stories, your characters, and to getting you to show them in the best possible way, this is the sponsor of the trust he inspires, and in this he remains indefatigable.
His sense of what will function, his willingness to experiment and his commitment to first class results, his knowledge of theatre, all of this is rooted in his reading; the classics, contemporary world theatre in many languages, as well as British theatre now, but it also true that it stems from the fact that he has consistently directed on national and international stages: John Burgess, as well as being a classy theoretician, is a first class practitioner.
Over three decades he has guided me to my greatest writing, has tempered my excesses, encouraged me to continue, to continue, to strive and be better; I fear I may have disappointed him, he has never disappointed me.
Work includes: Coppers, Angel Voices, Circles of Deceit, The Finding (BBC Television,) Deadlines (Royal Court), The Good Samaritan, Selling Immortality, Two Men from Delft, Answered prayers, Adulteries of a Provincial Wife, What I Think of My Husband (BBC Radio)
It is hard to exaggerate John Burgess’s importance to me as writer over the years. He has given me wise advice and significant practical help. I doubt if I would have survived as a playwright without him. His great virtue is his interest and concern for the writer and what he/she wants to achieve. This does not preclude hard advice. His experience and knowledge of playwriting is enormous – as a theatre director and, not least, from his decade or so helping develop new writing talent at the National Theatre Studio. It was at the Studio I first met him twenty years ago. There and subsequently I have observed his keen, sympathetic interest in young or relatively inexperienced writers. He spots what you might have to offer and – unselfishly – helps you develop your talent. He is canny, also, about possible outlets for your work. It’s a long time since I was a ‘young writer.’ But I still, occasionally, stagger back to John for advice and help.
Work includes: Somewhere (National Theatre) Uganda (Royal Court Theatre) Shellfish (English Touring Theatre) , The Singing Group, Exclude Me (Chelsea Theatre), Connected, Letter To My Mum (BBC Radio 4), regular writer for West Way (BBC World Service)
John Burgess has been a wonderful support to me throughout my now rather long career as a playwright. His expertise, encouragement and advice have proved invaluable on many occasions. At those low moments, experienced by many writers, when one feels like throwing it all in, John’s faith in me as a writer has helped put me back on track. John has directed a number of my plays, on both stage and radio. His utmost respect for the work of the playwright has been a great inspiration in the rehearsal room. He promotes an environment where actors come to love and value the written words and respect the writer’s process, at the same time helping the writer understand the actor’s ‘journey’ through the text. His work with both beginner and established playwrights, through his writing course at Nuffield Theatre Southampton and myriad workshops/courses both in the UK and overseas, is exemplary. He facilitates writers to find their own voices through the use of ingenious exercises, gentle encouragement and scrupulous attention to detail, without ever imposing unsuitable rules or regulations, but by encouraging the playwright’s own personal development.
Work includes: The Neighbour (National Theatre) The Editing Process, Faith, Scenes From The Back Of Beyond (Royal Court Theatre), libretto for The Tempest by Thomas Ades (Royal Opera House Covent Garden)
The National Theatre Studio, when John was running it in the late 80s, was the most interesting place a playwright could wish to be. Not least because of the gossip. He was ready to talk and be a good and witty friend, and this talking didn’t just make you laugh, it brought you plentiful insight into what theatre people got up to, and where you were likely to fit into it all. He was constantly on the lookout for things I might like to read, and I did like to read them, because he had an excellent understanding of what I was trying to do and what might help me. He was equally thoughtful and perceptive towards each writer in a very varied collection; he played to all our particular strengths and was not doctrinaire. As a director, he did exemplary, skilful, sensitive work on my play The Neighbour, which owed its success to him.
Scrupulous and considerate, he always made you feel you mattered – a rare experience for playwrights. He didn’t say, “this line is bad”; he identified something good you had done, and made you immediately want to make the rest as good. He encouraged us all to read each other’s work – the Studio in those days was an open and supportive place. In John’s world, writing and integrity and humane values have always been inseparable.
Work includes: The Associate, A Prayer for Owen Meany (National Theatre), Bad Company, Goldhawk Road, Sugar Sugar (Bush Theatre), Accomplices (Sheffield Crucible), Under the Black Flag (Shakespeare’s Globe), Prick Up Your Ears (Comedy Theatre), Elling (Bush/Trafalgar Studios/Broadway), Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (film)
If you’re serious about writing a play, if you’re looking for expert guidance and tuition then I have no hesitation in recommending John Burgess. He has an in depth knowledge of the theatre and a profound understanding of what works and what doesn’t work on stage. John is a man of the theatre with practical experience in all areas, especially in the development of writing plays and directing. For many years John was responsible for nurturing playwrights and their work at the National Theatre Studio and has helped in the development of lots of writers, including myself, now writing professionally for film, theatre and television. John is a gifted director and has a wide variety of directing credits which includes The National Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Royal Court Theatre, Riverside Studios, English Touring Theatre to name but a few, as well as many international projects. It is this rare combination of the director and dramaturg that makes John uniquely qualified to run playwriting workshops. One of the best things I have ever seen in the theatre was Black Poppies, a play about the experience of black servicemen during the second world war, based on actual interviews done by the cast, with the material then sculpted and edited into play form and directed by John; he understands the nuts and bolts of putting a play together as well as how to put it on. Intelligence, intuition, inspiration and a love of the theatre, that’s what you will get from John, I whole heartedly recommend any one thinking of writing a play to spend some time in his company.