Interview - Lucy Prebble: Seeds for successful West End play sown in Sheffield

Former Sheffield University student Lucy Prebble's hit play, Enron, is about to open in the Steel City. Nick Ahad spoke to her.

It is ironic that the pub in which Lucy Prebble dreamt up the idea for her hit play, Enron, was The West End in Sheffield.

The student hang -out takes its name from London's theatreland, where Prebble's play was last year's major British theatrical sensation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Prebble was a student at Sheffield University from 1999 until 2002 and it was in the Steel City that she began her journey to international playwright sensation.

"I had always written, but only ever for myself. I started when I was about 11, short stories, embarrassingly bad poetry, but I never thought that being a writer was something you could do as a job," says Prebble.

"The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to do something where I could be self-employed, because I hate having a boss."

At Sheffield, Prebble met like-minded people who provided inspiration and the option of theatre as a career.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Having my horizons broadened by the people I met in Sheffield was a real confidence boost," she says.

Hanging out in the West End pub one night, Prebble was with her friends, most of whom wanted to be actors or directors – they were looking for a play to perform and it was natural that Prebble ought to write it. That was her first play and on graduation she found herself in London, working as a secretary, knowing that she wanted to write, but not knowing exactly how to go about it. An admin job at the Bush Theatre in London led to a similar job at the National Theatre, where scripts from writers crossed her desk on a regular basis.

Some were from novice playwrights, some were from well established writers. Prebble read them all and gained the confidence to give writing a go.

Her first full play was The Sugar Syndrome, which debuted at The Royal Court a year after graduating. It won her the prestigious Critics Circle Drama award for most promising playwright, which in turn landed her the role of writer of the television adaptation of Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Then came her second full length play, Enron. The play tells the story of the collapse of the American company.

The idea for the play came while Prebble was at university. She says: "I remember being with a group of students in The West End and the story of Enron was all over the papers. There was a debate one night and in a typical student way there were people with ill thought out Left-wing views and people with ill thought out Right-wing views. I remember saying to everyone that they didn't know what they were talking about. As a bit of a geek I decided that I was going to find out about it."

She immersed herself in the story of Enron's collapse. At first it was to educate herself, but she soon found herself sucked into the world.

"It was like Richard III," she says. "These amazing characters, the amount of power that a CEO has, it's like royalty in medieval times. The more I looked at it and understood the markets and what had happened, the more I realised that it was a story that really was Shakespearean in scope."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A meeting in 2006, when she was established as a TV writer but looking for her second theatre commission, was held with Prebble and Headlong Theatre company, run by one of British theatre's hottest directors, Rupert Goold. The play opened in Chichester last summer and it was a theatrical firework. It hit London and was soon booked in to Broadway – where it was as big a flop as it had been a success in the West End.

"It was psychologically difficult, to have such a huge success and then such a huge failure and with the same play," says Prebble. "The truth is, the play is neither the greatest play, nor the worst, but is somewhere in between."

And next week, when the play comes home, Sheffield audiences can judge for themselves.

Sheffield Lyceum, October 26-30.