|Born||Barnet, London, England|
|Occupation||Playwright, film and television scriptwriter|
|Education||Finchley Catholic High School|
|Alma mater||Goldsmiths College, University of London|
|Notable works||Debris (2003)|
Osama the Hero (2005)
Love and Money (2006)
Matilda the Musical (2010)
Dennis Kelly is a British scriptwriter for theatre, television and film.
His play DNA, first performed in 2007, became a core set-text for GCSE in 2010 and has been studied by approximately 400,000 students each year. He wrote the book for Matilda the Musical, which featured music and lyrics from musician and comedian Tim Minchin. The musical went on to win multiple ‘Best Musical’ awards, with Kelly receiving a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. A film adaptation of the musical with screenplay by Kelly will be released in December 2022.
For television he is known for co-creating and co-writing the BBC Three sitcom Pulling, the Channel 4 conspiracy thriller Utopia and the HBO / Sky Atlantic thriller The Third Day.
Kelly wrote the screenplay for the 2014 film Black Sea, directed by Kevin Macdonald and starring Jude Law.
Kelly grew up on a council estate in Barnet, North London. A child of an Irish family, he was one of five children and was raised as a Catholic. He attended Finchley Catholic High School. Leaving school at 16 years of age, Kelly went to work in a market and then at Sainsbury's.
While working in supermarkets, he discovered theatre when he joined a local youth group, the Barnet Drama Centre.
Kelly says that he struggled with alcoholism during much of his 20s. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous and has been sober since 2001.
At the age of 30, he graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London with First Class Honours in Drama and Theatre Arts.
In September 2011 Kelly married Neapolitan actress Monica Nappo. They had met five years earlier when Nappo was appearing in an Italian premiere of one of Kelly's plays. They separated in 2016 and divorced in 2017. In May 2022 he married Producer Katie Swinden, the couple have one daughter together.
At one point Kelly shared his home in Deptford with Vladimir Shcherban from the Belarus Free Theatre company. Kelly offered his home to Shcherban as a place to stay when Shcherban was facing homelessness. Shcherban's situation came as a result of him having to flee (with other members of the theatre company) from Belarus to London as a means to escape political censorship and persecution in the aftermath of the 2010 Belarusian presidential election, where oppositional candidates had been arrested.
Kelly has credited Sharon Horgan for making him become a writer. They had both initially met in the early 1990s at LOST youth theatre where they performed in a production of Anton Chekov's The Seagull. They again met each other some years later while both drunk in a Camden pub. In the pub Kelly explained to Horgan that he had written a play. The next day Horgan phoned Kelly up and told him that they should both put the play on. Kelly has said that "I honestly think, had I not bumped into her, I wouldn’t have become a writer, because I don’t think I’d have had the drive. Sharon always had a lot of drive and was quite fearless." The play that Kelly wrote was called Brendan's Visit, which was performed at the Etcetera Theatre and Canal Cafe Theatre, with Horgan playing one of the characters. Kelly has disowned the play saying that "I’ve killed everyone who ever saw it, let’s never talk about that ever again. […] I don’t think I can remember what it was about but I’m definitely not going to say what it was about! It was just a sitcom with swearing which is like a lot people’s first plays."
Kelly's first professionally produced play Debris was written when he was 30 years old. He says he wrote it imagining he'd give himself a part. Staged at Theatre503 in 2003, it transferred the next year to Battersea Arts Centre. It was well received and he went on to write the controversially titled Osama the Hero which was produced by Hampstead Theatre, beginning a long-running relationship with the theatre.
He wrote After the End in 2005. It was produced by Paines Plough in his first out of London production at the Traverse, though it later came to the Bush Theatre before going on a tour of the UK and internationally in 2006.
Love and Money was staged at the Royal Exchange, Manchester and then at the Young Vic in 2006. That same year his sitcom Pulling, co-written and starring Sharon Horgan, aired on BBC Three. It received good ratings for the channel and was well reviewed, being nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for Best Situation Comedy in 2007.
Returning to theatre and the Hampstead Theatre in 2007, his fake verbatim play Taking Care of Baby was another success for both writer and theatre.
For the 2007 National Theatre Connections Festival, he wrote DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (better known by the title DNA) which after the connections received a professional production alongside The Miracle by Lin Coghlan and Baby Girl by Roy Williams at the National Theatre in the Cottesloe. The play is now used widely in schools and is on several curriculums for GCSE drama.
The second series of Pulling ran in 2008 and won a British Comedy Award. However, the show was not renewed for a third series, although in 2009 an hour-long special closed the series. That same year he also wrote an episode for Series 8 of Spooks.
In 2009, his play Orphans was staged at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre before transferring to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Kelly was one of the ten writers who took part in writing monologues based on a children's account for a one-off event at the Old Vic Theatre directed by Danny Boyle in London in support of Dramatic Need in 2010. His three monologues were performed by Ben Kingsley, Jenny Jules and Charlie Cox.
In 2010, Kelly returned to the Hampstead Theatre once more for his response to Shakespeare's King Lear, The Gods Weep starring Jeremy Irons, with mixed reviews. His script adapted from Roald Dahl's book for Tim Minchin's production of the musical Matilda proved highly successful, with the musical winning 99 awards between its opening in December 2010 and 2021, and scheduled to continue to run in the West End of London until at least December 2022.
He wrote an adaptation of Pinocchio featuring the songs and score from the Walt Disney film for the National Theatre, opening in December 2017.
Kelly's one-woman play Girls & Boys had its world premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in February 2018, directed by Lyndsey Turner and starring Carey Mulligan. This production also had a run at the off-Broadway New York theatre, Minetta Lane Theatre in June 2018, to good reviews. In March 2022, State Theatre Company South Australia put on a performance of the play at the Odeon Theatre, Norwood in Adelaide as part of the Adelaide Festival. The performance was directed by the artistic director of STCSA, Mitchell Butel, and starred Justine Clarke. This production received overwhelmingly positive reviews, receiving five stars from reviewers and earning a standing ovation at least one performance.
His work has been produced in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Australia, Japan, the United States, France, Belgium, Denmark, Romania and Canada.
Other work includes translations of Péter Kárpáti's Fourth Gate (National Theatre Studio) and The Colony, a radio play which won Best European Radio Drama at the Prix Europa, 2004.
Adaptations and translations
|2015||BAFTA TV Craft Awards||Writer – Drama||Utopia||Nominated|||
|2014||RTS Programme Awards||Drama Series||Nominated|||
|Writer – Drama||Nominated|
|BAFTA TV Craft Awards||Writer – Drama||Nominated|||
|International Emmy Awards||Best Drama Series||Won|||
|2013||Tony Awards||Best Book of A Musical||Matilda the Musical||Won|||
|Outer Critics Circle Awards||Outstanding Book of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)||Won|||
|Outstanding New Broadway Musical||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Musical||Won|||
|Outstanding Book of a Musical||Won|
|2012||South Bank Sky Arts Awards||Theatre prize||Won|||
|Olivier Awards||Best Musical||Won|||
|2011||Evening Standard Awards||The Ned Sherrin Award for Best Musical||Won|||
|Critics' Circle Theatre Award||Best Musical||Won|||
|TMA UK Theatre Awards||Best Musical||Won|||
|WhatsOnStage Awards||The SEE TICKETS Best New Musical Award||Won|||
|2009||The Scotsman||Fringe First Award||Orphans||Won|||
|The Herald (Glasgow)||Herald Angel Award||Won|||
|British Comedy Award||Best Television Comedy Drama||Pulling||Won|||
|Theater heute||Best Foreign Playwright||Taking Care of Baby||Won|
|The South Bank Show Awards||Comedy Award||Pulling||Won|||
|2007||TMA Awards||Best New Play||Taking Care of Baby||Nominated|
|John Whiting Award||Won|
|Laurence Olivier Awards||Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre||Love and Money||Nominated|
|BAFTA TV Award||Best Situation Comedy||Pulling||Nominated|||
|2006||Meyer-Whitworth Award||Osama the Hero||Won|||
|2004||Radio & Music Award||Scripting for Broadcast||The Colony||Won|
|Prix Europa||Best European Radio Drama Of The Year||Won|||
On 9 November 2015, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts awarded both Kelly and Matilda co-collaborator Tim Minchin an Honorary Doctorate in letters, validated by the University of East Anglia, for their work on Matilda the Musical.
In July 2017 Kelly received an 'Honorary Fellowship' from Goldsmiths, University of London.
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