Max Stafford-Clark has been one of the most significant forces in British theatre in the last forty years. Like Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn and Richard Eyre, he has shaped the sort of theatre we now have in this country. His artistic direction of the Traverse and Royal Court Theatres (he was the longest-serving artistic director of the Royal Court) and of the Joint Stock and Out of Joint theatre companies has enabled him to make a major contribution to modern British theatre, particularly in the area of new writing. Not only has he encouraged new work, but often enabled new writers to devise new plays through collaborative workshops with actors and directors. He has been called ‘the most distinguished director of new work the British theatre still has.’ He has also directed plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Royal National Theatre.
Stafford-Clark has not only directed but also nurtured the work of many contemporary writers. He has been responsible for directing work by David Hare, Howard Brenton, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Caryl Churchill, Mark Ravenhill, Michael Hastings, Hanreif Kureishi and Sebastian Barry. He has directed or co-directed the premieres of many important new plays, including Fanshen and The Permanent Way (David Hare), Cloud Nine, Tops Girls and Serious Money (Caryl Churchill), Our Country's Good and Break of Day (Timberlake Wertenbaker), Epsom Downs (Howard Brenton), Shopping and Fucking (Mark Ravenhill), and The Steward of Christendom (Sebastian Barry).
As well as new writing a number of classical texts have also been directed by Stafford-Clark. These include:
- The Recruiting Officer (George Farquhar), The Seagull (Chekhov) and King Lear (Shakespeare) at the Royal Court
- A Jovial Crew (Richard Brome), The Country Wife (William Wycherley) and The Wives' Excuse (Thomas Southerne) for the Royal Shakespeare Company
- She Stoops to Conquer (Oliver Goldsmith), Macbeth (Shakespeare) and Three Sisters (Chekhov) for Out of Joint
The Out of Joint Theatre Company not only tours the country, but also plays regularly at such venues as the Royal National Theatre (The Permanent Way, She Stoops to Conquer, A Laughing Matter) and the Royal Court (Talking to Terrorists, Road).
He is also responsible for a monograph, Letters to George: The Account of a Rehearsal, a detailed account of the rehearsal process he undertook for a production of George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. The book has been described as ‘a candid insight into the rehearsal methods of one of the most respected and brilliant directors at work in the British theatre as well as an entertaining and instructive account of the state of the theatre today.’
It is impossible to write a comprehensive history of British theatre over the last forty years that does not make continual reference to Stafford-Clark's work. The dramatists with whom he has worked include a predominant number of important new writers. He has an uncanny knack of discovering new dramatists and new trends in writing in ways that anticipate or create new developments in British theatre. Recently he has helped to evolve the ‘In-Yer-Face’ genre of British theatre and, through The Permanent Way and Talking to Terrorists, a fresh approach to on-stage representation of documentary material or ‘verbatim theatre’.
The Warwick Arts Centre has developed a particularly close relationship with Max Stafford-Clark through its frequent hosting of his productions. Stafford-Clark has been at the helm of many developments that now form the core of what is studied in modules on British Theatre in university courses throughout the world.