Preview: Motortown, Royal Court, London

Essex man's long road from Basra
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The Independent Culture

What is it like for the National Theatre's first dramatist in residence? For Simon Stephens, who earlier this year took the job to write, advise and support other playwrights, it is a joy. "It is an absolute privilege to work in the engine room of the NT - a hive of creativity," says Stephens. "It is thrilling to be part of the heart of British theatre."

Before that, Stephens was the resident dramatist at the Royal Court in 2000, before becoming the writer's tutor at the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme between 2001 and 2005, where he taught playwrights including Laura Wade and Chloe Moss. He is writing his eighth professional play, a musical set in a motel in Brighton, for the National.

By contrast, Motortown tells the story of 24 hours in the life of a young soldier, Danny, who comes back to his hometown in Essex after serving in Basra. Inspired "partly by Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck and Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver", it is, says Stephens, "his most violent play".

It took Stephens four days to write Motortown. "I spend an awful lot of time mulling on a play and then writing it as quickly as I can. I think that gives the play a real energy," he says. "The worst plays I have written have been over a course of a year."

Stephens wrote nine plays between 1989 and 1997, but characterises them as "mostly awful". The experience gave him plenty of practice for the next batch of nine professional plays, including On the Shore of the Wide World, which won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2006.

"The best writers I know slave away at it for quite a time before the first play is produced. I get very anxious for writers that actually get their first play produced. It is very difficult writing plays. It is even more difficult when there is a burden of expectation on your shoulders. When the heat is on for a young writer, they can get paralysed by the pressure."

21 April to 20 May (020-7565 5000; www.royalcourttheatre.com)

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