An Oxford Playmaker performance




  • The John Retallack Playwriting Course is based in Oxford’s historic city centre with striking views over the colleges.

  • The professional course covers every aspect of writing a play and, over 30 weekly sessions and 2 half-day workshops, the writers will produce short, medium and full length scripts.

  • Classes run from 6 to 8.30pm on Monday evenings.

  • John teaches a different aspect or theme each week to a group of 8 writers who each receive close personal attention. The course provides a wide framework of reference for each writer to find, and place, his or her own voice and make it as distinct as possible.

  • Each term includes a half-day workshop in which the group will see their work performed and look at the practical staging opportunities that each play creates.

  • Personal study consists of weekly written work, shared with the group, and a report on the play studied for that week.

  • You will receive up-to-date professional advice as to where to send your best work.



John’s course addresses the whole collaborative nature of theatre. 

As well as paying rigorous attention to language and text, he looks at the physical nature of performance, the place of movement and gesture, the question of music and its impact on story-telling and the site-specific opportunities that contemporary theatre affords. 

He also considers the wider application of drama in the field of education and other areas of social change.


The course covers all the structural essentials of writing a good play:


  • writing a dramatic page

  • writing a dramatic scene

  • juxtaposing scenes to build a narrative act

  • story-events and sequencing

  • the creation of character

  • the finding of a distinct voice for each character

  • dialogue and subtext

  • the creation of place

  • the challenge and manipulation of time

  • working with a theme

  • genre and the world of your play

  • plotting and story-telling

  • the uses of different dramatic forms

  • the presentation and lay out of your script


The course asks you to look at your play from a practical theatre perspective:

to consider the nature of different stagings and settings

to investigate how your text can use silence, physical movement, music and décor

to reflect on the casting of characters

to choose which director you would most like to direct your play and why




Term 1

Creating character plus writing a series of monologues and dialogues.

Writing of a short play (30 minutes) that will be explored by professional actors in a Performance Workshop.


Term 2

Starting work on a full-length play and having scenes from that play discussed by professional actors as it would be in a rehearsal – that is, interpreted, played with, argued over, questioned.

Term 3

Completion of the first draft of a full-length play. Scenes will be presented to an invited audience.




During the course there will be in-depth study of contemporary playwrights (e.g. Mike Bartlett, Jim Cartwright, Caryl Churchill, David Greig, David Hare, Ella Hickson, Lucy Kirkwood, Bryony Lavery, Suzan Lori-Parks, Anders Lustgarten, Nina Raine, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Roy Williams) and European writers who bring an entirely different perspective to contemporary drama. Reference will also be made to classic 20th Century playwrights such as Friedrich Durrenmatt, Lorraine Hansberry, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams.


At the end of the course, writers will be advised on the potential of their plays to be produced professionally; to consider who the play is written for and why; and who the play might be sent to and what kind of collaborators to seek.

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Photography by Stuart Allsopp and Geraint Lewis. Website by Alexandra Coke.