Mike Leigh


Plays by Mike Leigh


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Leigh’s play is a paean to loneliness and longing that paints a portrait of a group of old friends catching up on a Friday night.

1979. The winter of discontent is over and Margaret Thatcher’s regime is about to transform the country. Stuck in her cramped Kilburn bedsit, Jean is trying to live some sort of life, trapped in a cycle of hopeless dalliances with violent men and continually drowning her sorrows. After an unexpected home invasion by the furious wife of her latest lover, she is persuaded by friend Dawn to throw a little get-together that evening for old times’ sake. Joining them is Dawn’s Irish husband, Mick and their old pal, Len for a drunken celebration of their mutual affection, filled with memories and songs from their youth. It is only after the fun has died down that Jean reveals the full extent of her aching melancholy.

Ecstasy was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 1979 with a cast that included Julie Walters, Stephen Rea and Jim Broadbent – all of them virtual unknowns at the time. In an unprecedented move, Mike Leigh returned to the play twenty-two years later when it was revived at the same venue in 2011. The revival transferred to the West End later that year and garnered excellent reviews.


Faber and Faber
Type: Text

1957. War widow Dorothy lives in a London suburb with her 15-year-old daughter Victoria and her older bachelor brother Edwin. More and more isolated from her married friends with their successful children, Dorothy tries to cope with Victoria's increasingly hostile behaviour. But is she doing her best, as she thinks, or is she in fact responsible for what threatens to become an unendurable situation?

Smelling a Rat

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Smelling a Rat is a black comedy drama from playwright and filmmaker Mike Leigh, which he memorably described as an ‘anti-farce’.

Rex Weasel, owner of the Vermination Pest Control Company, has returned home from holiday unexpectedly and without his wife. Hoping to lay low, his plans are rudely interrupted when one of his employees, Vic Maggot and his wife, Charmaine, drop in to check on the apartment. They’re not even supposed to be there as Vic is filling in for another of Rex’s employees. To complicate matters further, the Weasels’ estranged son, Rocky shows up with his girlfriend, Melanie-Jane. With various members of the cast constantly taking refuge in the Weasels’ large walk-in wardrobes, the play sets up the audience’s expectations for a knockabout farce but confounds them by focusing instead on the banality of everyday conversation. Similarly, Leigh avoids tying up the loose ends preferring to leave open-ended questions about the mystery of Rex’s missing wife and the truth behind the discord between him and his son.

Smelling a Rat was first performed at Hampstead Theatre in London in 1988 and starred one of Leigh’s regular collaborators, actor Timothy Spall in the role of Vic Maggot.

Two Thousand Years

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In a comfortable North London borough a left-leaning, middle class and decidedly secular Jewish couple are unsettled when their son starts wearing a kippah and praying in the conservatory. Two Thousand Years follows the family as they negotiate domestic disharmony and the politics of identity and religion.

Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years was first performed at the National Theatre,

London, in September 2005.

© Mike Leigh, 2006

Picture of Mike Leigh

Born in Salford, Manchester, in 1943, Mike Leigh has developed a unique method of creating films through controlled improvisations. After his debut Bleak Moments (1971) he made a succession of admired TV plays, including Abigail's Party and Nuts in May. He then returned to feature films: High Hopes (1988), Life is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993). Secrets and Lies won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1996. Topsy-Turvy (1999) won two Oscars. All or Nothing followed in 2002. Since then he has made the Oscar-nominated Vera Drake (2004), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Another Year (2010). He also did Two Thousand Years for the National Theatre in 2005.