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Christopher Hampton: New writing is being ‘workshopped to death’

Christopher Hampton. Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock Christopher Hampton. Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock
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Playwright Christopher Hampton has criticised the workshopping process in theatre, claiming it dumbs down new plays.

The dramatist, who is known for such plays as Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Philanthropist, also said contemporary writers had to satisfy an “army of bureaucrats” before their work can get produced.

“Nowadays I think the problem for writers is your play tends to get workshopped to death”, he said. “The world is full of people telling you how to rewrite your play. Generally that has a homogenising effect because the advice people give you is based on their experience of other plays.”

Hampton went on to say that groundbreaking writers such as Sarah Kane and John Osborne were pioneering because their plays disturbed and upset people.

“These are the things that people haven’t done before or said before or expressed in this particular way, and people are alarmed. And they should be. My fear about all the workshops and creative writing schools and all that stuff is that it all takes away those jagged edges that really cut into the audience,” he told an audience at London’s Hospital Club, where he was speaking at an ‘in conversation’ event.

Hampton, whose theatre work also includes recent translations of Florian Zeller’s The Mother, The Father and The Truth, was being interviewed by screenwriter Alistair Owen as part of the event, hosted by Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

Hampton continued that the process of producing work for stage and screen had become more drawn out in recent times.

“Often it’s idiotic, all that work you have to put in to change things and flatter the dramaturgs and the script editors and the army of bureaucrats that now stand between the writer and the medium,” he said.

Referring to his own career, Hampton said he now finds it harder to get his plays staged in London.

“At the National Theatre, for example, I had 10 shows through three artistic directors, and then it seemed all of a sudden that my plays are not particularly liked by the people that run the National. And so my last three stage plays have not been done in England,” he said, adding: “Arnold Wesker was driven crazy by the fact that people wouldn’t do his plays. But that’s what happens, you have your moment and then it gets harder and you just have to accept that and soldier on.”

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