Unlike other New Zealand works that have recently appeared on a London stage, April Phillips' Stiff requires no translation. As the 43-year-old writer from Wellington reflects, she has had a British audience in mind since she first penned the play in 1995.

Sitting in the foyer of the Questors Theatre in Ealing just before last week's premiere, she says, "I almost had an English accent in my head at the time. If you read the script you'll see that there are some English expressions. With a lot of the Kiwi theatres that have put it on, some of the actors have adopted English accents. It can be set anywhere."

A former regular on McPhail and Gadsby, Phillips was part of the female comedy troupe Hen's Teeth for 10 years, which taught her how to write short sketches. Stiff grew out of a desire to extend her talents to a full-length play. "I wanted to pick a subject that was normally handled in a serious way and turn it on its head," she says. "Band of Gold had just been on television and that was a really grim prostitute story. I thought there's got to be some humour with the kind of characters who work in that industry and of course funerals are usually treated very seriously."

Stiff centres around a group of working girls taking over a funeral parlour. It was first performed at Hamilton's Playbox Theatre in 2004, a year after the passing of the Prostitution Reform Bill. "There was a bit of controversy at the time about the bylaws so it was topical," recalls Phillips. "They used a black hearse in their publicity which one of the town's massage parlours used in their publicity."

Phillips was born in Coventry in the English Midlands but grew up in Wanganui. For Stiff, she drew on her childhood love of 1970s British sitcoms like Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army and It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

"There's lots of cheekiness, innuendo and double entendres," she laughs. "It's rude but it's not crude. It's absolutely silly, there's nothing deep and meaningful about it unlike some of the other stuff I've written. Killing Me Softly was about assisted suicide. But Stiff is just pure silly entertainment and my aim was just to make people laugh."

Since its sell-out first season in Hamilton, Stiff has been performed throughout New Zealand, Australia and on Norfolk Island. "It's just happened by word of mouth," she says. "Theatres talk to each other. That's how it became so successful. Every theatre wants a sold-out production."

Phillips' British break happened after New Zealand playwriting agency Playmarket contacted several London theatres. Questors requested the Stiff script before inviting Philips over in 2007 to see their Christmas production of Great Expectations. "By the time I got there, they had already decided to put it on,"says Phillips.

"The theatre has amateur status but there is nothing amateur about the standard of the direction, the acting or production values. The market is huge so it's great to get a foot in the door. And also because I'm English it feels like I'm coming home to my folk, to my family, my motherland to put the play on," she adds.

Phillips is quietly confident about how the play will be received in London. "It's always nerve-wracking when you let your baby out although it's also exciting to see what they do with it," she says.

"Obviously they have to follow the script but a lot of them will add little details and it's great to see what they do with the set. I get a kick out of the fact that the director, the cast and the crew are all having a ball. They all have to dress up in these silly costumes and they all have a good time doing it."

Judging from the reaction of the sold-out opening night crowd, who laughed from the first line to the last, Phillips has nothing to fear. Perhaps, as she notes, Stiff is a play for these troubled times.

"There's so much grim and miserable stuff going around," she says. " But people still love to have a laugh. Stiff is basically lots of people running around in their knickers but it gets bums on seats. It's not the deepest, most meaningful theatre but it's a good night out."