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Joe Scott Penhall (born 1967) is an Australian-English playwright and screenwriter, best known for his award-winning stage play Blue/Orange, the award-winning West End musical Sunny Afternoon and creating the Netflix original series Mindhunter.

Joe Penhall
Penhall at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for the promotion of The Road
Penhall at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for the promotion of The Road
Born1967 (age 51–52)
London, England
OccupationPlaywright, screenwriter
NationalityBritish, Australian
SpouseEmily McLaughlin

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Early lifeEdit

Born in London, Penhall was raised in Adelaide, Australia. [1]


Penhall's first major play Some Voices premiered at the Royal Court Theatre's upstairs playing space in London in 1994. It was very well-received, winning the John Whiting Award, and has since been played off-Broadway twice. In 2000 Penhall adapted the play for a film with the same name directed by Simon Cellan Jones, starring Daniel Craig and Kelly Macdonald, which premiered at the Cannes Directors' Fortnight. Penhall returned to the Royal Court Theatre with his second full-length play Pale Horse, which also played in the Theatre Upstairs and featured Ray Winstone, who had starred in Some Voices. A dark play, Pale Horse tells the story of a bar keeper coming to terms with the sudden death of his wife.[2]

Penhall adapted Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love in 2004 to film starring Rhys Ifans and Daniel Craig. That same year he also wrote the screenplay for BBC2's BAFTA nominated dramatisation of Jake Arnott's novel The Long Firm[3] starring Mark Strong.

In 2000 his play Blue/Orange began its run at the National Theatre, directed by Roger Michell and starring Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The play centres on two NHS doctors trying to deal with a sectioned young black schizophrenic patient; it was a huge success, winning Best New Play at the Evening Standard Awards, Laurence Olivier Awards, and at the Critics Circle. It transferred to the West End at the Duchess Theatre the following year. Penhall adapted this play in 2005 for TV with a new cast. That same year Penhall wrote and directed The Undertaker, his first short film, starring Rhys Ifans and premiering at the London Film Festival.

His follow-up play Dumb Show was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in 2004, focusing on tabloid journalism. It was directed by Terry Johnson. Penhall has called this a 'small light play' as opposed to the 'huge dark play' Blue/Orange.

Landscape With Weapon, about the invention of a weapon of mass destruction, was first performed at the National Theatre in 2007, directed again by Roger Michell and starring Tom Hollander and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Penhall spent six years working on The Last King of Scotland, even flying to Uganda and meeting Idi Amin's henchmen; however, he requested his name be removed from the film after other writers were brought on board.[4] Penhall adapted Cormac McCarthy's book The Road in 2009 for a film starring Viggo Mortensen; for this he received wide praise, scoring a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, [5] and was named by Variety Magazine as one of their Top Ten Screenwriters to watch. [6]

In 2009 Penhall's detective drama Moses Jones, where he also served as executive producer, was shown on the BBC, winning a BAFTA for make up design and Best Screenplay at the Roma Film Festival in 2009.[7]

In 2011 Penhall returned to the theatre with two plays: Haunted Child, staged at the Royal Court Theatre with Sophie Okonedo, and Birthday, starring Stephen Mangan and directed by long-term collaborator Roger Michell.

His first stage musical, Sunny Afternoon, with music and lyrics by Ray Davies premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in May 2014, before transferring to London's West End. The musical won four Laurence Olivier Awards in 2015 including Best New Musical.

In 2017, Penhall created the Netflix series Mindhunter, directed by David Fincher.

In 2018 his new play Mood Music premiered at The Old Vic, directed by Roger Michell and starring Ben Chaplin.

Personal lifeEdit

Penhall is married and lives in London.[8]







  1. ^ Jones, Alice (28 June 2012), "Guess who's having a baby: Joe Penhall's new play, Birthday, tackles childbirth – with a twist", The Independent, London
  2. ^ Boles, William (2011), The Argumentative Theatre of Joe Penhall, McFarland Press
  3. ^ "The Long Firm", BBC, 2004
  4. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (18 June 2008), "Screenwriters To Watch", Variety
  5. ^ "The Road", Rotten Tomates, United States, 2009
  6. ^ "Joe Penhall", Variety, United States, 2008
  7. ^ "Penhall on Moses Jones", The Times, London, 2011
  8. ^ Jones, Alice (28 June 2012). "Guess who's having a baby: Joe Penhall's new play, Birthday, tackles childbirth – with a twist". The Independent. London.
  9. ^ "Some Voices", Royal Court, 1995
  10. ^ "Pale Horse", Royal Court, 1995
  11. ^ "Love and Understanding", Bush Theatre, 1997, archived from the original on 5 April 2012
  12. ^ "The Bullet", Donmar Warehouse, 1998
  13. ^ "Blue/Orange", National Theatre, 2000, archived from the original on 25 August 2011
  14. ^ "Dumb Show", Royal Court Theatre, 2004
  15. ^ "Landscape With Weapon", National Theatre, 2007, archived from the original on 17 September 2009
  16. ^ "Haunted Child", Royal Court Theatre, 2011
  17. ^ "Birthday", Royal Court Theatre, 2012
  18. ^ "Some Voices", Imdb, 2000
  19. ^ "Enduring Love", Imdb, 2004
  20. ^ "The Undertaker", Imdb, 2005
  21. ^ "The Road", Imdb, 2009
  22. ^ "Go Back Out", Imdb, 1995
  23. ^ "The Long Firm", Imdb, 2004
  24. ^ "Blue/Orange", Imdb, 2005
  25. ^ "Moses Jones", Imdb, 2009

External linksEdit