Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Timberlake Wertenbaker
Born New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Playwright, Librettist
NationalityBritish, American
GenreModern theatre, original works and translations

Timberlake Wertenbaker [1] is a British-based playwright, screenplay writer, and translator who has written plays for the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company and others. She has been described in The Washington Post as "the doyenne of political theatre of the 1980s and 1990s". [2] [3]


Wertenbaker's best-known work is Our Country's Good , which received six Tony nominations for its 1991 production. She has a propensity to write about political thinking and conflict, especially where there is a settled orthodoxy: "Then the rebel in me goes berserk, and I start pawing at it. I like the area where the questions are, and the ambiguities of political life, rather than the certainties." [2]


Wertenbaker was born in New York City to Charles Wertenbaker, a journalist, and Lael Wertenbaker, a writer. [4] [5] Much of her childhood was spent in the Basque Country in the small French fishing village of Ciboure. [4] She has been described as possessing a "characteristic reticence"; she has indicated that this may spring partly from her upbringing in Ciboure: "One thing they would tell you as a child was never to say anything because you might be betraying someone who had done something politically or whatever. So I was inculcated with this idea of emotional privacy." [6]

Wertenbaker was the resident writer for Shared Experience in 1983 and the Royal Court Theatre from 1984 to 1985. [7] She was on the Executive Council of the English Stage Company from 1992 to 1997 and on the Executive Committee of PEN from 1998 to 2001.[ citation needed ] She served as the Royden B. Davis professor of Theatre at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., for 2005–06. She was the Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Freud Museum in 2011. She was also the artistic director of New Perspective Theatre Company. Currently, Wertenbaker is the Chair in Playwriting at the University of East Anglia. In addition, she is artistic adviser to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and on the council of the Royal Society of Literature.

Central topics in her work are the efforts of individuals, particularly women: pursuing quests, seeking change, breaking boundaries, and constructing or challenging gender roles. A central technique is the revisioning of actual or imaginary lives from the past, sometimes remote in place as well as in time. There is a further recurring theme in her work: displacement. In her plays, characters are often removed from the familiarity of home and are forced to live in new cultures, sometimes defined by national boundaries, other times by cultural and class divisions. From this central theme emerge related themes, including isolation, dispossession, and the problem of forging an identity within a new cultural milieu. In her work, individuals often seem to assume roles, as if identity were a matter of persons performing themselves. Wertenbaker's work also demonstrates a keen awareness that communication occurs through language that often inadequately expresses experience.

In 1997, the British Library acquired Wertenbaker's archive consisting of manuscripts, correspondence and papers relating to her writings. [8] Wertenbaker has a home in north London, where she lives with her husband, the writer John Man. The couple have one non-binary child, Dushka.

Honours and awards

Wertenbaker was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006. [9]



Wertenbaker has written plays for the Royal Court, the RSC and other theatre companies:

Translations and adaptations

Her translations and adaptations include several plays by Marivaux (Shared Experience, Radio 3), Sophocles’ Theban Plays (RSC), Euripides’ Hecuba (ACT, San Francisco), Eduardo de Filippo, Gabriela Preissová’s Jenůfa (Arcola), and Racine (Phèdre, Britannicus).

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  1. Timberlake Wertenbaker at the Orlando Project, Cambridge University Press
  2. 1 2 Washington Post, "Grappling with Jefferson’s legacy: ‘A playwright doesn’t like nice people’", January 24, 2018
  3. "Timberlake Wertenbaker". Faber & Faber. Archived from the original on 26 April 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  4. 1 2 Thorpe, Vanessa (29 April 2017). "Timberlake Wertenbaker: 'I got to feel that nobody wanted me'" . Retrieved 14 December 2021. Grew up in the village of Ciboure in the French Basque country.
  5. New York Times, "Lael Wertenbaker, 87, Author Who Wrote of Husband's Death", 1997
  6. The Guardian, "It's All So Public", 30 June 2004
  7. "Timberlake Wertenbaker". Literature Matters. British Council. Archived from the original on 13 March 2016.
  8. Timberlake Wertenbaker Papers, archives and manuscripts catalogue, the British Library. Retrieved 27 May 2020
  9. British Council: Literature, "Timberlake Wertenbaker"
  10. Alex, Michael. "Call the Midwife's Georgie Glen: 'I feel helpless in the fight against climate change - and I'm not alone!'". The Courier. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  11. The Hecuba, 2001 radio play
  12. Mesure, Susie (18 November 2023). "The West End's controversial new musical – that's already been shut down in China". The Telegraph . Retrieved 19 November 2023.