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Dennis Kelly
Born Barnet, London, England
Occupation Playwright, television writer, television producer, screenwriter, film producer
Education Finchley Catholic High School
Alma mater Goldsmiths College, University of London
Notable works Debris (2003)
Osama the Hero (2005)
Love and Money (2006)
DNA (2008)
Orphans (2009)
Matilda the Musical (2010)
Utopia (2013)

Dennis Kelly is a British writer and producer. He has worked 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 awards, with Kelly receiving a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. A film adaptation of the musical with screenplay by Kelly was 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 and Sky Atlantic thriller The Third Day. Kelly also wrote the screenplay for the 2014 film Black Sea.

Personal life

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.

..... 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. ..... 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.

International success and other work

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.



  • Matilda the Musical (2022) - Writer (based on the 2010 stage musical)
  • Black Sea (2014) - Writer



  • 12 Shares (2005)
  • The Colony (2004)


  • Spooks BBC Series 8
  • Pulling for BBC Three co written with Sharon Horgan
  • Utopia for Channel 4
  • The Circuit for Channel 4 co written with Sharon Horgan
  • The Third Day for HBO and Sky One
  • Together for BBC Two

Abandoned, cancelled or unproduced


  • White Pig: a play written around 2002 which Kelly says was about a passive boy with food-obsessed parents who had non-real characters wandering into his life. Kelly has said that, "I used to have lots of these really odd meetings with theatres where I’d go in and they’d tell me how much they loved the play and then tell me they weren’t going to do it". The play was eventually performed publicly at Jacksons Lane by students of Mountview on 30 September 2016. However, no professional production has been mounted and the script remains unpublished.
  • Fifty-Three Million Miles: a play Kelly says was written early in his career, set variously on a council estate, a NASA interview room, and a living pod on Mars. The play remaineds unproduced and the script unpublished.


  • Pulling, series 3: the television sitcom Pulling, which Kelly co-wrote with Sharon Horgan, was unexpectedly not renewed for a third series by BBC Three despite Kelly and Horgan both wanting to write another series. Instead, the channel opted for a one-hour special to tie up loose ends of the narrative. The sitcom had received good ratings, critical success and a nomination for a BAFTA award. BBC Three controller Danny Cohen denied claims the channel was chasing a younger audience, saying the series was cancelled to make room for new shows.
  • Utopia, series 3 and 4: in October 2014, Channel 4 announced that Kelly's conspiracy thriller Utopia had been cancelled after its second series. Kelly said, "The people who liked it really liked it, but the ratings were just bad. I don’t know why. I think going out in the summer didn’t help. It’s gutting not being able to finish the story. We did want to do a special. We said to Channel 4, ‘I could finish it off with a two-hour special,’ but they weren’t going for it. I understand, though. It was a risky show to do." The show's cancellation prompted The Independent in 2015 to publish a list of "The best prematurely cancelled TV shows", with Utopia placed first. In 2017 The Guardian included Utopia in a list of "the best shows that had the plug pulled on them". Publications such as NME and the i newspaper website felt that Netflix should fund a continuation of Utopia for its streaming service. In a 2020 interview about the US remake of Utopia, Kelly said there would be difficulties in making another series but he had not ruled out the possibility.
  • Consider Phlebas adaptation: In February 2018, Amazon Studios announced plans to adapt Iain Banks' Consider Phlebas for television, with Kelly as writer. However, development was discontinued in 2020. Kelly said Banks' estate had not yet seen anything he had written for the project but he believed they did not feel ready to proceed.


  • World War Z sequel: in 2015 Kelly was reported to have been hired to rewrite a sequel to World War Z. The film was being developed by Paramount Pictures with Brad Pitt to star, and a release slated for June 2017. In 2019, Paramount reportedly cancelled the sequel due to budgetary issues, the death of executive Brad Grey who was a key advocate for the film, and director David Fincher's involvement with his Mindhunter series. However, The Hollywood Reporter reported the cancellation was mainly due to a Chinese government ban on zombie films.

Acting credits


Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Sound of Music Herr Zeller Regional
1975 Carousel Enoch Snow
1988-89 Follies Benjamin Stone
1991 La Cage aux Folles Georges
1994-95 ... Yankees Joe Boyd Broadway
1995-97 US Tour
1997 West End
1999 Jekyll & Hyde Sir Danvers Carew 2nd US Tour
Annie Get Your Gun Buffalo Bill / Col. William F. Cody Broadway
2002 Into the Woods Cinderella's Father

u/s The Narrator / The Mysterious Man

Los Angeles (Pre-Broadway)
2003-04 Urinetown Senator Fipp US Tour
2011 Follies Theodore Whitman Regional
2012-13 Anything Goes Elisha Whitney US Tour

Awards and honours


Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result Ref
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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