'The world's a stage' - politics and storytelling with James Graham

Episode 30: 'The world's a stage' - politics and storytelling with James Graham

Host Rafael Behr talks to dramatist James Graham

Show notes

In this edition, Rafael Behr talks to England's most prodigious political screenwriter and playwright - James Graham.

He's probably most well known for writing the recent BBC1 hit drama 'Sherwood', which aired on BBC One in 2022 to rave reviews, and will return for a second series.

James also wrote Quiz (ITV) in 2020, which was one of the most watched UK television dramas of the year; and Brexit: An Uncivil War, which garnered huge public attention and critical acclaim in 2019. It was broadcast on Channel 4 and HBO, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, and a BAFTA for Single Drama.

In this episode James talks to Rafael about how narratives are fundamental to political storytelling, what they are, why recently parties on the right seem to be better at them, where James draws his inspiration from for writing, and what his next play is about.

News update

For Apple podcast listeners we're now trialling a subscription service - where once a week you'll get an exclusive bonus episode which will either be:

  • Raf ruminating on the week's politics or looking forward to what's coming up; or
  • Some bonus chat with Raf's guest of that week; or
  • Raf answering any questions you have about politics, writing, art, life etc

The first bonus episode is Rafael and James chatting about their shared love of Star Wars, and its many political and democratic themes and metaphors.

And you should be able to find here with a two week free trial.


Why are we doing this?

We're doing this because it takes a huge amount of work to put these epsiodes together, and Phil the Producer's wife is starting to complain that he's never about, plus he's also missing out on paid work.

So, if you enjoy these free episodes do help us to make this a sustainable endeavour i.e. keep it going on a regular basis!

**Why are we doing this just on Apple?

We'd like to make these episodes available on all platforms and we're doing just on Apple for now because (in theory) the infrastructure is all in place, it should be a frictionless process and about 60% of our audience listen on this platform. **

How else can you help?

Longer term, we'll probably look for a show sponsor - if any listeners are interested or know any colleagues or friends might be interested do get in touch.

Also, let us know whether you can access Apple or have any questions about the show, or have a guest suggestion.


More about James

For theatre, James’s play Best of Enemies, about the political debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., opened at the Young Vic in 2021, and is currently playing on the West End. It has been nominated for an Olivier for Best New Play, and won a Critics’ Circle Theatre Award.

His new musical, Tammy Faye, with music from Elton John and lyrics from Jake Shears, opened at the Almeida in 2022.

Ink - about the early days of Rupert Murdoch - opened to huge praise at the Almeida before transferring to the West End in September 2017, where it played in the theatre next door to James’ other new play – political romantic comedy Labour of Love - creating theatre history.

James's breakout play This House premiered at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in September 2012 and transferred to the Olivier in 2013 where it enjoyed a sell-out run. It garnered critical acclaim and a huge amount of interest and admiration from current and former MPs for his rendition of life in the House of Commons. The play went on to have an Olivier-nominated sell-out revival in the West End in 2017 and it was chosen by popular vote as the best play of the 2010’s for the major theatre publisher Methuen.

James received an OBE in 2020 for 'services to drama and young people'.

This podcast is hosted by ZenCast.fm


Rafael Behr

Rafael Behr

Rafael Behr is a political columnist for the Guardian. He is a former Political Editor for the New Statesman, Chief Leader Writer and Online Editor for The Observer, a business news reporter for BBC online and a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, based in the Baltic region and Russia. Rafael is a regular contributor to Prospect Magazine, a guest on BBC and Sky News and a speaker at UK think tanks. His book, Politics, A Survivor’s Guide, is published by Atlantic. He hosts the Politics on the Couch podcast. Before becoming a journalist, Rafael was a political risk analyst covering countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He studied modern languages Merton College, Oxford and took a Master’s degree in Russian Studies at the School for Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. He lives in Brighton with his family. He plays the guitar and harmonica, sometimes simultaneously, not always melodiously.

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James Graham

James Graham

Screenwriter and playwright.

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