When he was 18, Mark Ravenhill was asked at a university entrance interview what he would like to do after graduating.

“Work for the RSC,” he replied.

Now nearly 30 years later he cannot believe he is doing just that.

The 47-year-old, who is in his second year as writer-in-residence at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, says: “It’s really nice. I like the long term commitment to writing for a company of actors and seeing them in different plays.

“I have been living in Waterside, in Stratford-upon-Avon, opposite the theatre for a couple of years. It is nice to be so close to work because of the amount of time you save, you can have a lie-in and the rehearsal room is only 10 minutes away.

“On the other hand you never get away from work.”

For his first project Mark translated Brecht’s A Life Of Galileo starring Star Wars villain, Ian McDiarmid.

Candide is a new work, written in response to Voltaire’s 18th century philosophical novel.

Candide was a book he had read in his early 20s. It was written in 1759 to satirise the then-fashionable views of the philosopher Leibniz, who argued that this is “the best of all possible worlds”.

Mark explains Voltaire felt there was a cruelty in “this deterministically upbeat philosophy”.

After 100,000 people were killed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, he wrote Candide, the story of a young aristocrat and his professor Pangloss, who set off around the world determined to prove – as natural disaster and human cruelty escalates – that “everything is for the best”.”

“Over the years I have read and re-read Candide and like many writers had a lot of ideas. I kept coming back to it and thought ‘I will write something one day’,” Mark explains

“When the RSC asked me what I wanted to write I thought ‘how about that Candide idea?’

“I wanted to write a play that could use the RSC’s resources – costume, staging, dance and music. There would be little point writing a play for four people in one room.”

Richard Goulding as Screenwriter and Rose Reynolds as The Girl in Candide
Richard Goulding as Screenwriter and Rose Reynolds as The Girl in Candide
 

It has been directed by Lyndsey Turner, who also directed the acclaimed Chimerica at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End.

Mark adds: “Lyndsey is very good. I have known her for a few years. She is very thorough, very theatrical and has a very visual eye. It’s her first RSC outing. I think it looks extraordinary.

“We go to five different worlds.”

The two central characters in these five parallel worlds are: the philosopher Candide – and Sarah – a mother whose teenage daughter decides at her 18th birthday party the human race needs culling to save the planet.

His talented ensemble cast are also performing in Sean Foley’s A Mad World My Masters, a stylish 1950’s remake of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean comedy and Titus Andronicus directed by Michael Fentiman at The Swan.

“It’s really good to write for actors who have been together for a while. This play is written to fit these actors. I think they liked having a play written especially for them.

“I changed the first draft completely and during rehearsals I rewrite and cut scenes.

It’s quite challenging for an actor but this lot have really embraced that,” he says. When considering how to write a contemporary version of Candide, Mark revealed he did “some (very unscientific) research via social media” on Facebook and Twitter.

He asked people if they considered themselves optimists and the overwhelming response was positive.

He adds: “Trying to provoke a more negative response, I asked how people felt about the possibility that – due to climate change – it was likely that far less of the planet would be habitable by human beings in 50 years’ time. Still the responses were optimistic.

“Desperate by now to unleash a little negativity, I asked: “How do you feel about the inescapable fact that you will die?” Several people did say that death was something they never allowed themselves to think about – and that was the closest I got to a negative response.”

So, does the playwright consider himself an optimist?

“I think I’m like lots of people day-to-day, I am fairly optimistic. But when you stop and think about the economy and the planet you become quite melancholy.

“Is the planet going to be habitable in 10 years time? There’s a such a big gap between the two.”

The thought-provoking playwright is now writing a new libretto for the Norwegian National Opera.

“I didn’t really know anything about opera until I worked front of house at the ENO. I saw a lot of operas and got into it. I am completely unmusical. I write the words and work with the composer,” he adds.

  •  Candide runs at The Swan Theatre at the RSC until October 26. www.rsc.org.uk .