Stephen D.

Hugh Leonard and James Joyce: Stephen D

“Stephen D is a most difficult and intricate play, which will stand or fall depending upon its director’s imagination”, Hugh Leonard in his production note to the US edition of the script.

Stephen D, as described by Michael Coveney of The Guardian newspaper, was “a skilful conflation of two James Joyce works, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, [it] made [Hugh Leonard] a name to reckon with at the Dublin theatre festival”.



Leonard’s production note also observes that  “… Joyce’s main objective was not to portray external truths; his intent was to write from within, to show the influences under which the mind of Stephen Dedalus (or Joyce, if you like) rebelled against and finally rejected the four greats “F’s” of Ireland: faith, fatherland, family and friendship.  This was Joyce’s aim, and it is the objective of Stephen D.”

And that “The play’s construction is episodic, within a flashback framework, and there is a minimum of linking devices…. as it progresses the narrator, Stephen, steps into the action, which resolves itself into a number of longer, more sharply defined sequences.”  Emilie Pine writes in The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary Irish Playwrights that in Stephen D “Leonard played with stage conventions and impressionistic techniques in an accessible style a format that would inform much of his own original drama in later years”.

Hugh Leonard subsequently adapted Dubliners for the stage as a full-length play, Dublin 1, and The Dead for the stage as a one act play.


Stephen D was first presented at the Gate Theatre, Dublin on 24 September 1962 and subsequently at the St Martin’s Theatre, London, on 12 February 1963. The Dublin cast is shown in the illustration.

It was presented in New York City at the East 74th Street Theatre on September 24 1967 with Stephen Joyce (sic) as Stephen.  Roy Scheider’s Cranly earned him an Obie for a “distinguished performance”.

Stephen D was the BBC Play of the month in 1972 and starred Donal McCann as Stephen and Tony Doyle as Cranly.

Award curios and questions

There is at least one curiosity and one question in the awards listed in our page on Hugh Leonard’s “Awards and Honorary Degrees” –  an impressive scan of four decades and mix of the Irish and the international.

The question is this: by the evidence of the photograph above, HL won the Jacobs Television Award twice.  The older award, on the left, dates back to 1969 and HL’s adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Nicholas Nickleby (he did indeed set the gold standard for TV adaptations and classic serials at time) but what was the second, later Jacobs TV award for?  This is the post 1981 award designed by Theo McNabb.  It does not feature in the best listing that I can find – here.

The second curiosity is the “Award of Merit” from the Writers Guild of Great Britain in 1966 for Silent Song.  I have been in touch with the Guild and they advise that awards were made throughout the 1960s but no systematic record was kept.  So the actual framed award is the only evidence of its existence.  “Silent Song” is well evidenced:  it was a big deal in its day and deserves its own, future post.  Meanwhile I reproduce the award here for the record.

writers guild of gb award

For the true TV historians among you, the award and its signatories are a glimpse at pioneers of television.  “Willis” refers to the screen dramatist Ted Willis, best known for writing Dixon of Dock Green – that set the style for so many police /crime dramas to come –  and elevated to a life peerage in 1963.  David Whitaker was the founding script editor and an early writer of Doctor Who.

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