"If I were an aspiring playwright with an appetite to learn about the playwright’s craft, I couldn’t imagine a more skilled and supportive tutor."

Tom Morris, artistic director, Bristol Old Vic

Applications are now closed for the 2019-20 course

30 September 2019 – 8 June 2020


Location: Vincent’s Club Dining Room, 1A King Edward Street, Oxford OX1 4HS

(This is just off Oxford High Street where there is nearby parking, convenient public transport and disabled access)


Course Fees: £2,750

(Two subsidised bursaries offer 50% discount for unwaged and under 25s)

About the Course


John Retallack’s Playwriting course is based in Oxford’s historic city centre with inspiring views over the famous college buildings. 


The professional course covers every aspect of writing a play and, over 30 weekly sessions and 3 half day workshops, selected writers will produce short, medium and full length scripts.


The course is suitable for new writers or someone who has written a great deal but yet to break through professionally – or you might have already published but want to extend your skills as a playwright.


John teaches a different aspect or theme each week to two groups of 8 writers who will receive close personal attention. The course will provide a wide framework of reference for each writer to find, and place, their own voice and make it as distinct as possible.


Each term also 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 will consist of weekly written work, shared with the group, and a report on a play seen or read that week. 


Classes run in the afternoon or early evening on Mondays. Having selected an afternoon or evening session the writer will stay in that group for the duration of the course.


There is no formal qualification at the end of the course. You will receive up-to-date professional advice as to where to send your best work. Theatre directors, literary managers and script executives are only interested in what you write and its quality.

Course Dates 2019-2020


COURSE A Mondays 2 - 4.30pm  30 September, 2019 - 8 June, 2020
COURSE B Mondays 6 - 8.30pm  30 September, 2019 - 8 June, 2020

Both courses have three additional performance workshops.  Individual tuition time is factored in to the course in each of the three terms. Course fee is £2750.


Autumn Term 

Mondays 30 September - 16 December 

Course A: Performance Workshop Saturday 2 December, 2pm - 6pm

Course B: Performance Workshop Saturday 9 December, 2pm - 6pm

Spring Term (30 hours)

Mondays 6 January - 6 April 

Summer Term (22 hours)

Mondays 27 April - 8 June

Course A: Performance Workshop Saturday 23 May, 2pm - 6pm

Course B: Performance Workshop Saturday 30 May, 2pm - 6pm



Applications for next year's course are open now. Places fill up quickly, so early application is encouraged.


Admission is by interview, plus an extended sample of the applicant’s written work. 


No academic qualification is required, and the course is open to anyone over 18. 

To apply, please send the following to

Your name, telephone number and address

A covering letter and a brief CV

Two samples of your written work, in any genre, neither exceeding 20 pages in length

An indication of whether you wish to apply for the afternoon course (A) or evening course (B)

You will be contacted within two weeks of your application having been received.

Interviews take place in Oxford.


If you have any questions, please e-mail John at the above address.

How it Works




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 is 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 Hasberry, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams.


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




There will be a maximum of eight writers in each group to ensure that individuals receive sufficient personal attention.


Weekly reading and theatre going is an important part of the course for individuals and for the group to share.


All participants must be willing to share their work with the group.


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

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