Learn more about James Graham’s career ahead of 'Boys from the Blackstuff'

From plays Dear England and This House to TV hits like Sherwood, Graham is unstoppable – and now his Boys from the Blackstuff is coming to the West End.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

The British writer James Graham is on an incredible run at the moment. He just won the Olivier Award for Best New Play for Dear England, a fantastic drama about football manager Gareth Southgate, which enticed new audiences into theatre, and the musical Tammy Faye, for which he supplied the book, is opening on Broadway this autumn.

He’s also a prolific screenwriter, with recent hits including the crime series Sherwood and the dystopian drama The Way. Graham has that rare combination of rigorous intellect and the ability to write with heart, humour, and an inviting accessibility to all.

His latest venture, a stage version of the landmark TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff, is transferring from Liverpool to the National Theatre and then arrives at the Garrick Theatre in the West End. Ahead of your trip, get to know all about James Graham and his astonishing output.

Book Boys from the Blackstuff tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

James Graham’s beginnings

Graham was born in 1982 in the village of Annesley, in Nottinghamshire, an area he has returned to in his work – most notably in Sherwood. His parents worked as a barmaid and for the council, and he has a twin sister.

He attended a state school, which is also something he has spoken about often when discussing the lack of opportunities now for working-class kids to access the arts. He then went on to study drama at the University of Hull in 2000.

Once he graduated, he worked on the stage door at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, and it was there that he wrote his first play.

Dear England (Young Southgate) - 1200x600 - LT

James Graham's theatre work

Graham made his professional debut with Albert’s Boy in 2005, which was staged by the Finborough Theatre in London. The venue was good to him: he became the Finborough’s playwright-in-residence, and they commissioned three more plays over the next three years – Eden’s Empire, Little Madam, and Sons of York.

In 2008, Graham premiered Tory Boyz at Soho Theatre, about a young gay man working as a Conservative researcher, and trying to reconcile his sexuality with his political ambitions.

He returned to the Finborough for The Man in 2010, an innovative piece that changed each night depending on which audience members were handed receipts as part of a character’s tax return, and that same year he also premiered The Whisky Taster at the Bush Theatre, starring Samuel Barnett as a shy ad exec with synaesthesia.

In 2012, Graham was commissioned by the National Theatre to write his most ambitious work to date. This House revisited the incredibly chaotic 1970s period of British political history, told mostly from the point of view of the Conservative and Labour Whips.

The play was a huge success, moving into the bigger Olivier space. It was later revived in Chichester and finally transferred to the West End, where it ran at the Garrick Theatre from 2016-17 and was Olivier nominated. This House cemented Graham’s extraordinary ability to make complex modern history (and especially politics) entertaining and gripping for a wide audience.

In 2012 Graham wrote the book for his first musical, Finding Neverland, with Gary Barlow supplying the music. This show about Peter Pan author JM Barrie ran variously in Leicester and in Massachusetts in America before its Broadway premiere in 2015.

Graham opened his play Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse in 2014, examining the Edward Snowden revelations and how electronic surveillance impacts our lives. It also played at New York’s Public Theatre in 2016.

He returned to politics for the special event The Vote at the Donmar in 2015. The play, set in a polling station, was broadcast live on TV on General Election night. The big ensemble cast featured Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, Bill Paterson, and Judi Dench and her daughter Finty Williams – the first time the latter pair had performed together.

Graham told the riveting story of how Rupert Murdoch rewrote the rules of the newspaper industry with The Sun newspaper in his 2017 drama Ink, which premiered at the Almeida Theatre. Bertie Carvel starred as Murdoch. The show then played in the West End, and on Broadway in 2017, with Jonny Lee Miller joining the cast. Carvel won both Olivier and Tony Awards for his performance.

Graham also managed the rare feat of having two of his plays in the West End simultaneously. Joining Ink in 2017 was Labour of Love, starring Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig as a Labour MP and his constituency agent, and once again cleverly mixing the political and the personal. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

Graham turned to another piece of modern history, this time of the showbiz variety, for his 2017 play Quiz, about the “coughing major” who supposedly cheated on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?. The highly entertaining play (which asked the audience to vote on the major’s guilt or innocence) began in Chichester and came to the West End in 2018.

Another memorable TV event got the Graham treatment in 2021. Best of Enemies revisited the 1968 debates between conservative William F Buckley Jr and liberal author Gore Vidal, in the run-up to a febrile Presidential election. Starring David Harewood and Charles Edwards, the play was another hit and again headed straight into the West End. It also won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best New Play.

In 2022, Graham premiered his new musical Tammy Faye, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. It told the extraordinary life story of televangelist and unlikely gay ally Tammy Faye Messner. Katie Brayben, Andrew Rannells, and Zubin Varla starred, and Brayben and Varla both deservedly won Oliviers.

The next chapter for Tammy Faye is on Broadway. The show begins previews this October, with Brayben and Rannells reprising their roles.

In 2023, Graham scored a massive hit with the football drama – and stealth state-of-the-nation drama – Dear England at the National Theatre, examining Gareth Southgate’s transformation of our national team. Joseph Fiennes was a pitch-perfect Southgate, and Gina McKee played psychologist Pippa Grange.

Rupert Goold’s dynamite production, featuring an amazing design by Es Devlin, won over both critics and audiences. It headed into the West End and hit the back of the net in the Prince Edward Theatre too.

Graham’s most recent play is the stage version of Alan Bleasdale’s 1980s-set TV series Boys from the Blackstuff, about Liverpool tarmac layers who are desperate to find work. Following a strong premiere run at Liverpool’s Royal Court, it’s coming to the National Theatre and the West End this summer.

boys from the blackstuff 1200 LT credit jason roberts

James Graham's screen work

As if that wasn’t enough, Graham is also becoming a prolific screenwriter. He made his debut in 2015 with the British drama X+Y, about an autistic maths prodigy. Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, and Rafe Spall starred.

In 2015, Graham returned to modern political history with the Channel 4 drama Coalition. It starred Bertie Carvel as Nick Clegg, and revisited the chaotic events of the 2010 election and subsequent forming of a Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government.

Graham teamed up with Channel 4 for another political drama in 2019 – Brexit: The Uncivil War. This time his subject was the 2016 EU Referendum, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing strategist Dominic Cummings. The show was then broadcast in America and was nominated for an Emmy Award.

That year Graham also co-wrote an episode for the third season of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown. His instalment, Tywysog Cymru, was about Prince Charles learning to speak Welsh in the lead-up to an important speech.

In 2020, Graham adapted his play Quiz into a three-part ITV series. Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford starred as Major Charles Ingram and his wife Diana.

But it was his 2022 BBC drama Sherwood that made Graham a household name. The gripping crime series drew on a real-life murder case, and wove in events like the miners’ strike that caused deep divisions in this Nottinghamshire village – and which were still felt years later.

The outstanding ensemble cast featured David Morrissey, Alun Armstrong, Leslie Manville, Robert Glenister, Kevin Doyle, Clare Holman, Claire Rushbrook, Philip Jackson, Adeel Akhtar, Joanne Froggatt, and more. Graham is currently working on a second season, which looks at the rise of gun crime in the Noughties.

In 2024 Graham collaborated with Michael Sheen and Adam Curtis on the Welsh dystopian series The Way for the BBC. Sheen was also among the cast of this fraught drama about a family fleeing civil conflict.

Next up will be the TV version of Dear England, which Graham is adapting from his play. He’s waiting to see how the team does at this summer’s Euros, though – if they perform well, it might need a new ending.

Book Boys from the Blackstuff tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Photo credit: Dear England. (Photo by Marc Brenner), Boys from the Blackstuff. (Photo by Jason Roberts)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive London theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy