Dennis Kelly

Dennis Kelly (born November 16, 1970) is a British writer for film, television and theatre. He co-wrote BBC Three's sitcom Pulling with actress Sharon Horgan, Matilda the Musical with comedian Tim Minchin, and the Channel 4 conspiracy thriller Utopia.

Dennis Kelly
Born (1970-11-16) 16 November 1970
Barnet, London, England
OccupationPlaywright, film and television scriptwriter
Notable worksDebris (2003)
Love and Money (2006)
Osama the Hero (2005)
DNA (2008)
Orphans (2009)
Matilda the Musical (2010)
Utopia (2013)

Early life

Kelly grew up in Barnet, North London, in an Irish family and was brought up a Catholic. One of five children, he left school at 16 to work in Sainsbury's.

While working in supermarkets, he discovered theatre when he joined a local youth group, the Barnet Drama Centre. At the age of 30, he graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London with First Class Honours in Drama and Theatre Arts.


Kelly wrote his first play Debris when he was 30; 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,[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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 next theatrical venture fared much better; his musical version of Roald Dahl's Matilda co-written with comedian Tim Minchin was a hit at the RSC in 2011. It transferred to the West End and has won several awards including Best Musical at the Evening Standard Awards, The Critics' Circle and Theatre Awards.

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.[4][5]

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, 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.

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 new play Girls & Boys had its world premiere at The Royal Court Theatre in February 2018, starring Carey Mulligan.

Amazon announced in February 2018 that Kelly will adapt Iain Banks' Consider Phlebas for TV.[6]

Film work

Theatre work

Radio work

  • 12 Shares (2005)
  • The Colony (2004)[9]

Television work


Kelly said that writing for TV and theatre is very unusual as Pulling is a comedy and not theatrical unlike his plays which are serious and often non-naturalistic. Kelly said "telling people from the world of TV that I also inhabit the world of theatre is something I've begun to avoid."
Despite very good reviews and good ratings Pulling was cancelled in 2007. The decision by the BBC was much criticised and Kelly and Horgan claimed to have cried and threw themselves at their feet over the decision. Most striking about Pulling is its lack of a moral centre. In an interview with The Guardian Horgan said "I guess there isn't a moral centre because Dennis and I don't have one." Kelly then said "That's scary. Fuck. We need to get a moral centre. Shit. It's really true. But we do try to make sure we don't get nasty for the sake of it. We make sure there's a bit of heart. " [10]


Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2013 Tony Awards Best Book of A Musical Matilda The Musical Won
2012OlivierBest MusicalMatilda the MusicalWon
2011Evening Standard AwardsBest MusicalMatilda the MusicalWon
2011Critics' Circle Theatre AwardBest MusicalMatilda the MusicalWon
2011London Theatre AwardBest MusicalMatilda the MusicalWon
2011TMABest MusicalMatilda the MusicalWon
2009Edinburgh FestivalThe Fringe FirstOrphansWon
2009Edinburgh FestivalHerald AngelOrphansWon
2009British Comedy AwardBest Television ComedyPullingWon
2009Theater heuteBest Foreign PlaywrightTaking Care of BabyWon
2007TMABest New PlayTaking Care of BabyNominated
2007John Whiting AwardTaking Care of BabyWon
2007Laurence Olivier AwardsOutstanding Achievement in an Affiliate TheatreLove and MoneyNominated
2007BAFTA TV AwardBest Situation ComedyPullingNominated
2006Meyer-Whitworth AwardOsama The HeroWon
2004Radio & Music AwardScripting for BroadcastThe ColonyWon
2004Prix EuropaBest European Radio Drama Of The YearThe ColonyWon


  1. "Pulling", BBC
  2. "DNA", National Theatre, 2008, archived from the original on 8 June 2009
  3. "Dramatic Need", Children's Monologues, November 2010, archived from the original on 31 August 2012
  4. MountviewLDN (13 November 2015). "Writer Dennis Kelly's Hilarious Graduation Advice" via YouTube.
  5. "Matilda writers Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly awarded honorary degrees from Mountview - News - The Stage". 11 November 2015.
  6. "Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks". 21 February 2018. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. "The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas at The Royal Court Theatre". The Royal Court Theatre. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  8. " - the playwrights database of modern plays".
  9. "BBC - The Wire - The Colony - Writers Room".
  10. Raphael, Amy (16 May 2009). "There's no moral centre to Pulling because we don't have one!". The Guardian. London.
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