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The Green Room: If you could perform in only one writer’s work, whose would it be?

Desert island playwrights? Clockwise from top left: William Shakespeare, Simon Stephens, Arinzé Kene, Alice Birch, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Alan Ayckbourn and Helen Edmundson. Photos: Bronwen Sharp/Georgina Ower/raymckie/Marc Brenner/John Thaxter/BrinkhoffMoegenburg

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​​​​

Dicky Benfield is in his 40s and has worked in the West End, at the National, the Globe and in theatres around the country, as well as appearing on TV

Abi Egerman is in her 20s and has appeared at the Old Vic, the National Theatre, and in regional rep

Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances


Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer


Annie I can’t deal with this question. What is wrong with you?

Vivian What a horrible prospect. Why would this happen? What awful world are you imagining?

Jon Vivian, you have been allocated Ben Travers. For the remainder of your career you will be alternating between Thark and Rookery Nook.

Annie I want to pick a living playwright so they can keep writing… things inspired by me, of course.

Velma Me too. I love working on new writing and having the writer in the room, even if the work isn’t necessarily going to be a work for the ages.

DickyRichard Bean, for me.

Vivian I’d say Caryl Churchill, I suppose.

Caryl Churchill at 80 – celebrating UK theatre’s ‘ultimate playwright’

Annie I’ve got it: Helen Edmundson.

Beryl I can’t pick just one. Two good calls by Vivian and Annie though.

Jon So why Churchill? Why Edmundson? Why Bean?

Vivian If I had to choose – there is enough variety and complexity in Churchill to keep me from flinging myself into the Thames for, well, a season anyway.

Dicky Bean makes me laugh more than any other living writer. He’s prolific and has a range of styles.

Annie Helen Edmundson writes so poetically it is effortless to recite. And it’s so from the heart about female stories and matters that actually interest me.

Velma I’d want to go for someone exciting and risk-taking, who is open to grappling with the issues that affect our lives right now, like Alice Birch or Arinzé Kene.

Arinze Kene: ‘I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t on stage’

John I recently auditioned for a couple of David Greig plays. His writing is so wonderful and full of love, life, wonder and joy. It’s the kind of thing that would satisfy my thirst for plays.

Albert I’d love to work through the Alan Ayckbourn canon. Early plays like Relatively Speaking are brilliant and almost actor-proof. The subjects darken as he gets older, so there is real meat to play in the sadness, loneliness and despair… and yet there is still laughter.

Jon He’s been so prolific, you’d never run out.

Albert Plus all theatres throw on an Ayckbourn when then want nice full houses, so they’d be great to play to. I might have to venture into the studio theatre just to do a bit of Ravenhill though, if it’s allowed.

Abi My real love for acting was ignited by Simon Stephens. His work – specifically Punk Rock – was the first straight theatre I ever watched on a very giddy year 10 trip to the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I remember feeling something completely new, absolutely visceral and totally unforgettable. It felt real – it was dialogue I related to and understood.

Jon It’s always so exciting when you feel that connection – especially at that age.

Abi At drama school I did a duologue from Port and I remember that while I was working on it, my imposter syndrome started melting away. This was a play written for me – for my dialect and about people that I could relate to. It showed that maybe I could be an actor and not speak in plummy RP for my whole career.

Peter I’ll be very boring. It couldn’t be anyone other than Shakespeare. Not just because they are great plays, but because there is a sufficient body of work. Other great writers – Chekhov or Beckett – just haven’t written enough.

AlbertI think everyone expects that one should say Shakespeare and yet, sometimes it’s so hard to make them funny. Genuinely rib-tickling.

John Shakespeare is obvious for a reason. There are lots of plays and they are so rich. He’s a genius. Or they are geniuses… controversial.

JonI think I’d go for Shakespeare too. Although I could probably live with only doing Sondheim.

Annie Oh, give me Sondheim and I’d be a very happy lady.

Peter Doing only Sondheim would really be a nightmare. I can’t sing. But this is a nightmare world in general, with only one writer. How dare you, Jon?

Beryl  think I would take up writing if this were the case.

Annie Oh yes. Let’s all pick ourselves and be done with it.

Dicky Pinter would be a close second for me.

Jon You want something with progression, I think. So, since I gave the Sondheim example, in Little Night Music alone, you can start out as Anne or Petra, move on to Charlotte, then Desiree, and finish up as Madame Armfeldt. That’s a career right there.

Annie Is that your ideal? Desiree?

Jon Well I’ve played Goneril. Not that I’m implying they’re similar women…

Annie I’ve just had another thought, I do like Neil LaBute too.

Jon Imagine only doing LaBute though. He’s brilliant, but spending time with all those horrible people…

Dicky It’s weird that no one said Godber. Joke.

Jon Since I’m so unpopular for this asking question, let’s make it worse. What would be purgatory if you could only do one writer?

Annie I think Ibsen would drive me mad… I love it, but it would be so intense.

JonSarah Kane was an incredible genius, but if I could only perform her work I think I’d be begging for one of the lighter Rattigans before too long.

Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email greenroom@thestage.co.uk

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