Born: Established: 1946 Sydney ;
Meredith Oakes is an Australian playwright who has lived in London since 1970. She has written plays, adaptations, translations, opera texts and poems, and taught play-writing at Royal Holloway College and for the Arvon Foundation. She also wrote music criticism for The Independent newspaper in London and The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, as well as contributing to a variety of magazines including The Listener.
Her first performed play was 'The Neighbour' for the Royal National Theatre in 1993. Other plays have included 'The Editing Process' (1994), 'Faith' (1997), and 'Scenes from the Back of Beyond' (2006) at the Royal Court Theatre, 'Mind the Gap' (1995) at Hampstead Theatre, 'Man for Hire' (2002) at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, and 'Shadowmouth' (2006) at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield. Her most recently staged new plays were a trio of shorts, 'The Fisherman', 'Short Lease' and 'SATB', written for actor-musician students at Rose Bruford College and presented at Battersea Arts Centre, London in June 2007. Oakes wrote the libretto for The Tempest based on Shakespeare's play with music written by the English composer Thomas Ades. Her text, except for a few distant echoes of familiar Shakespearian phrases, is original.
Oakes wrote the text for the television opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit (1995) by the Irish composer Gerald Barry, commissioned by Channel 4. Other opera texts she has written include Miss Treat for Des Oliver, Jump into My Sack (based on a story by Italo Calvino) for Julian Grant, and Solid Assets for Colin Huehns. Her cycle of poems, Edward John Eyre, was written to be set to music by the Australian composer Barry Conyngham in 1970.
Both The Neighbour and Faith have been staged in the USA. Oakes's plays are mostly published by Oberon Books. The text of The Tempest is published by Faber Music. Her radio plays have included 'Glide' (1998, with incidental music by Gerald Barry), 'Trampoline' (2000), 'The Mind of the Meeting' (2002), and 'Alex Tripped on My Fairy' (2009), all for BBC Radio. She also translated the French Algerian playwright Fatima Gallaire's 'Pebbles for Your Thirst' ('Des Cailloux pour la Soif' , Radio 4, 2002). For television she originated the story of Prime Suspect 4: Inner Circles (1995). Oakes has also written adaptations of some classic works such as Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy presented at the Southwark Playhouse, London in 2006. Her new version of Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) was staged by Garsington Opera in 1995. Her translation include Werner Schwab's modern classic Die Prasidentinnen (with the title Holy Mothers), Fatima Gallaire's Princesses, Thomas Bernhard's Elizabeth II , Jakob Lenz's The New Menoza, Strindberg's Miss Julie, Schiller's Kabale und Liebe (Luise Miller), Odon von Horvath's Italian Night, Thomas Bernhard's Heldenplatz, and two contemporary plays, Moritz Rinke's The Man Who Never Yet Saw Woman's Nakedness, and Christoph Nussbaumeder's To the South Seas by Gherkin-plane.
Oakes is a seventh generation Australian who was educated at Cheltenham Girls High School, Sydney from 1959 to 1963, and then at the University of Sydney where she took double honours in French and Music. She studied violin with Gordon Bennett of the Sydney String Quartet and piano as a second instrument. In London she initially worked for the magazine Music and Musicians as an editorial assistant and writer, and later was public relations officer for Allied Artists Agency from 1972 to 1973 when they were presenting the London Music Digest, a series of contemporary concerts at the Round House. Her dramaturgical work included Stephen Daldry's only opera staging to date ('Manon Lescaut' at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, 1991), and advising on his production of von Horvath's 'Judgment Day' at the Old Red Lion, Islington in 1989. Her collaboration with Daldry when he was directing her play 'The Editing Process' in 1994 at the Royal Court is a major focus of Lesser's book. Oakes also worked as dramaturg on opera productions by Tim Coleman in Dublin and Belfast, and with Tim Hopkins on 'Forest Murmurs' for Opera North in Leeds. '
Source: Biography adapted from information supplied by Tom Sutcliffe, opera critic, writer and husband of Merdith Oakes, and Lesser, W (1997) A Director Calls.