In fact, Wright came to playwriting relatively late, in his mid-thirties. He recalls, “When I was still in Cape Town I was a child actor, starting in radio dramas at the age of six. I then came to London in the late fifties to study at LAMDA and it never occurred to me at that time that I could do anything else in theatre apart from acting. But because I struggled as an actor I turned to directing, which was better but still not that great. Eventually I tried writing plays but it was a long time before I could earn my living from it so I combined writing with other jobs in the theatre until well into my fifties.’ This natural evolution has given Wright a genuinely all-round experience of theatre which has informed his writing.
He first went to the Royal Court as casting director, then in 1969 Artistic Director William Gaskill asked him to open a studio space in what had previously been a nightclub run by Clement Freud – and the hugely influential Theatre Upstairs was born. He remembers, “It was a very exciting time with so many talented young playwrights emerging, such as Caryl Churchill, David Hare and Howard Brenton. We were very lucky because the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain had just ended so we could take risks and not be afraid to cause controversy. Many times our set was condemned by the fire brigade as a safety risk, or people threatened to sue us, or there were demonstrations. It was stirring stuff!”
From 1975 to 1977, Wright was Co-Artistic Director of the Royal Court with Robert Kidd. Surprisingly, he describes it as “the unhappiest time of my life, but we did put on some great plays, including Edward Bond’s The Fool, Howard Barker’s Stripwell and a Beckett season.” He personally directed plays such as Owners by Caryl Churchill and AC/DC by Heathcote Williams, but according to him “to be a director you have to get genuine satisfaction out of telling people what to do and then doing it which I don’t – it causes me acute embarrassment!”
After that Wright moved to the National Theatre as Literary Manager from 1984 to 1989 and then Associate Director until 1998, commissioning plays with Artistic Directors Peter Hall and Richard Eyre, until Trevor Nunn took over. He remembers with particular fondness helping to develop Patrick Marber’s first two plays, Dealer’s Choice and Closer, at the National Theatre Studio.
Since then Wright has worked as a writer full-time. He says, “There is nothing I love more than sitting in a room creating imaginary worlds.” Travelling Light may only just have started its run at the National, but he already has another new play taken up by a producer. Watch this space.
Travelling Light will be playing at the National Theatre from January 12th- March 6th 2012, after which it will be embarking on a tour. The National Theatre Live broadcast will take place on 9th February. For more information and tickets, please visit the website.