Not helping matters is the fact that his stroke seems, for some, to be a convenient smoke-screen. In 2017, the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman wrote in The Guardian that when she worked with Stafford-Clark in 1992, he talked about wanting a threesome with her and another female cast member, and once offered to accompany her to the loo. “I often left his rehearsal room feeling confused and ill-at-ease,” she wrote.
Many of Britain’s most exciting and important playwrights owe a huge debt to Stafford-Clark. As, indeed, does our theatre landscape itself. Some directors simply directed plays; Stafford-Clark enacted a vision of what theatre could and should be.
After a decade working in Edinburgh, much of it spent at the Traverse Theatre, he co founded Joint Stock in 1974 with David Hare and David Aukin. Fusing egalitarian collaborative techniques with a documentary-style approach to story telling, the company’s work combined hard-hitting social issues – immigrant communities, the sexual revolution – with populist entertainment, in ways that bore comparison with Joan Littlewood’s groundbreaking company Theatre Workshop, and its hits included Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, a carnivalesque satire about sex and colonialism.
In 1979, Stafford-Clark left to run the Royal Court in London, where over a 14-year period he produced a string of landmark new plays, including: Andrea Dunbar’s seminal Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1982), a vividly poignant snapshot of teenage working-class life; Timberlake Wertenbaker’s rousing love-letter to theatre, Our Country’s Good (1988), set in an Australian penal colony; Jim Cartwright’s extraordinary Road (1986), which gave voice to the impoverished residents of a street in Lancashire; and of course Top Girls, alongside work by the Irish playwright Sebastian Barry and plays by regular collaborator Howard Brenton.