Making a new play

  • New work at the RSC

    New work at the RSC
    Mark Ravenhill's Candide is a new play, responding to Voltaire's novel. Commissioning and developing new plays is an important part of our work, and we are always actively developing new projects, including new plays, large scale musicals, new translations and adaptations and work for young people.

    Recent new commissions include, pictured from left to right, top to bottom: The Empress, Matilda The Musical, The Heresy of Love, The Mouse and His Child, Written on the Heart and The Heart of Robin Hood. Each commission has a different development process.

  • Commissioning Candide

    Commissioning Candide
    Mark Ravenhill became our Writer in Residence in January 2012. As part of his residency he was offered a commission. He had a head full of ideas for subjects he could write about, and decided that Candide was a good story in which to explore them.

    Mark explains: 'It had been on my mind for quite a long time to write some sort of contemporary response to Candide – not an adaptation.'

    From the beginning it was the theme of optimism and the form the novel took that he wanted to work with. He wrote the play knowing it would be performed on the Swan stage in Summer 2013, by the same company of actors that would be performing Titus Andronicus and A Mad World My Masters.

  • Commissioning The Empress

    Commissioning The Empress
    The Empress (Swan Theatre, 2013) was commissioned in 2007, when we approached writer Tanika Gupta to find out what she might be interested in working on. The subject of ayahs in Britain and Queen Victoria's relationship with her Indian servant was something Tanika had always wanted to explore.

    Once she had submitted a first draft, a series of workshops took place to develop the play with Tanika, including read-throughs, and working on the text with actors, the Literary Manager, and the Director Emma Rice.

  • The first draft

    The first draft
    Before putting pen to paper for the first draft of his play, Mark Ravenhill re-read Voltaire's Candide, and then read about Voltaire and about the themes of optimism and happiness. He used the structure of the novel as a framework for his play, with a contemporary exploration of similar themes.

    Mark delivered the first draft of his play in January this year, then brought the draft to the acting company for a read-though, during their rehearsals for Titus Andronicus and A Mad World My Masters.

    Hearing the actors read the script made it clear what worked and what didn't. The day after the workshop, Mark went through the draft, deciding what to cut and what to keep, often crossing out whole pages to find out, he says, 'where the heart of the play is.'

  • The final text

    The final text
    After the read-through with the actors for Candide, Mark went away to work on the second draft of his play, and it was this draft that the company started rehearsing from in July.

    For the first three weeks, Mark went to rehearsals with the actors each day, then went home in the evenings and rewrote parts of the script.

    After three weeks he had a final draft – he might change some words and sentences during rehearsals, but the shape of the play would now remain the same.

  • Choosing a director

    Choosing a director
    For new work, choosing a director is a collaborative process between the writer and the RSC. The writer is considered the lead artist, an equal partner in artistic decisions such as who the director, designer, composer and actors are going to be.

    For The Empress, the Director Emma Rice (pictured) had worked with Tanika before, so both understood each other's approaches and knew they could work well together. They developed the script together with the Literary Manager over the course of a year.

    For Candide, Director Lyndsey Turner came on board with the project before Mark had put pen to paper. She was agreeing to direct a play that had not yet been written, but this also meant that she could be involved in detailed conversations about where the play was going during its development.

  • Writers in Residence

    Writers in Residence
    Mark Ravenhill's two year residency with us began in January 2012. As well as writing plays, he has lived in Stratford-upon-Avon and taken part in the whole process of developing plays, including rehearsals, production, publicity and education.

    For Mark, there are other benefits. He explains: 'I quite often do my best writing in quite specific circumstances. The sense of a space and an audience and a company of actors focuses my imagination.'

    He adds: 'Shakespeare was the playwright in residence for his company – he wrote for a specific stage and company of actors, so having a writer in residence is being true to the spirit of Shakespeare and his theatres.'

    Previous Writers in Residence have included Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote American Trade (pictured, 2011) and Adriano Shaplin who wrote The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes (2008). They follow in a long tradition of writers who have been closely associated us, which started with Harold Pinter, who, although never an official Writer in Residence, was resident in Stratford-upon-Avon, and wrote five plays for the company.


Mark Ravenhill

Swan Theatre
29 August - 26 October 2013

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