Sinclair, Stephen

Sinclair, Stephen


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In Brief

Stephen Sinclair is a playwright, screenwriter and poet. He has a background in Māori Studies and his plays are often concerned with the tensions of race and culture. Sinclair was active in the establishment of Tao Tahi, the first Pacific and Maori Theatre Company. In addition to theatre and film work, which has seen Sinclair collaborate with the likes of Fran Walsh and director Peter Jackson, he has published several collections of poetry and books for children.


Sinclair, Stephen (1956– ), is a popularly successful playwright, and a screenwriter and poet. He was born in Auckland and educated at Westlake BHS and Auckland and Victoria universities (BA in Maori studies, 1979).

He worked as a researcher for the Māori studies department for two years, and subsequently as a translator of Maori manuscripts for National Archives. His plays are often concerned with the tensions of race and culture, as in Le Matou (‘The Fishhook’; jointly written with Samson Samasoni, first performed 1984), the first play to dramatise the experience of Samoan immigrants to New Zealand. Sinclair was also active in the establishment of Tao Tahi, the first Pacific/Maori theatre company, which performed Le Matou and other plays about Polynesian concerns. In Caramel Cream (first performed in 1991) he explores the tensions between Maori and Pakehā racism and sexism, especially for the ‘caramel cream’ who is ‘brown on the outside, white in the middle’. Other plays, such as The Houzie Show, a community-based political show written with Simon Wilson (first performed 1981), and the musical Big Bickies (first performed 1988), are satirical attacks on aggressive capitalism.

Many of his plays have been written in collaboration, most notably the huge box office success Ladies’ Night and its sequel Ladies’ Night 2: Raging On, both written with Anthony McCarten. Although LadiesNight starts with the gritty realism of unemployment for a group of hopeless young men, its enormous popularity (which led to several national tours after its first performance in 1987) was largely due to the inspired showmanship of the male strip show which the young men develop, and which constitutes a big production extravaganza for most of the second half of the play. A similar determination to flout political correctness lay behind The Sex Fiend (written with Danny Mulheron, first performed 1989), and the violently bad taste comedy splatter movies Meet the Feebles (1990) and Braindead (1992), both co-written with Fran Walsh and director Peter Jackson. In addition to other plays and film work, Sinclair has published Twenty Poems (Cabbage Press, Auckland, 1976), and his poetry has also appeared in Landfall, Climate and Zero [US], and in the Cabbage Press Anthology (1978). This also includes poems by his father, Keith Sinclair. He has written two books for children, Thief of Colours (1995) and Dread (1998)*. He lives in Auckland.


*Authors' Correction: Dread is a novel for adults.


The Dwarf and the Stripper is a book of poems published in 2003.

Over the past ten years, Stephen has pursued his career in the theatre. His one-man show Blowing It, co-written with performer Stephen Papps, has been performed widely here and in Australia, and upon receiving 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, went on to tour Europe. In 2002 the Auckland Theatre Company produced his historical drama The Bellbird (Reed, 2004). Reviewing it in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Calder called it 'a play of heart and soul and a valuable addition to our literature.' The Bach, also produced by the Auckland Theatre Company in 2002, was a commercial and critical success, with two return seasons in Auckland, and a national tour. His surrealist drama/thriller Drawer of Knives was produced at Circa, Wellington, in 2006.

In this time he has also written and directed several short films, notably Ride, which screened at several international festivals. He is currently in post production on the feature film Russian Snark, which he wrote and directed. He is also continuing his collaborative partnership with Peter Jackson and Frances Walsh, working on the script for the animated feature Bartholomew’s Birthday, based on Stephen’s short story for children.

Last updated: December 2009


Stephen Sinclair's Playmarket profile

Updated January 2017.