Political theatre

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Plays

13

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

At the beginning of Bartlett’s political and profound epic play, twelve completely different people across London wake up from an identical, terrifying dream – monsters and explosions, thousands of voices. At the same moment, a young man named John returns home after years away to find economic gloom, ineffective protest, and a Prime Minister about to declare war. But John has a vision for the future and a way to make it happen.

Coincidences, omens and visions collide with political reality in this ambitious and dextrous play, which depicts a London both familiar and strange, a London staring into the void.

13 explores the meaning of personal responsibility, the hold that the past has over the future and the nature of belief itself.

The play was first performed in 2011 at the National Theatre, London.

2nd May 1997

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jack Thorne's play 2nd May 1997 is a drama set over the course of the 1997 UK General Election in which the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair won a landslide victory over the Conservatives. The play presents three separate personal stories from different points on the political spectrum as the scale of Labour's victory becomes clear. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 8 September 2009 in a co-production with nabokov theatre company, in association with Watford Palace Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester.

The action takes place in three bedrooms over the course of the night following the election, and the morning after. In Part One, set just before midnight, Tory MP Robert prepares to attend the electoral count. With defeat looming large, he fears becoming a forgotten man, while his wife Marie counts the cost of her sacrifice to politics. In Part Two, set in the early hours of the morning, Lib Dem footsoldier Ian has brought home party-crasher Sarah from an election get-together, but they’re about to connect in a way neither of them expected. Lastly, in Part Three, teenage best friends Jake and Will wake up to a new political reality, with a new set of Cabinet ministers to memorise before their A-level Politics class. Jake dreams of Number 10 and a life in politics, while Will dreams of Jake.

In his introduction to Jack Thorne Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2014), Thorne writes: '2nd May 1997 was and is my attempt to write a political play without the politics. ... I wanted to tell the story of that election from all sides. I was also frustrated by my inability to write a play about anyone else but me, so doing a triptych – inspired by David Eldridge’s Under the Blue Sky – felt like an opportunity to force myself outside of my comfort zone. Three political parties, three love stories, one night.'

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by George Perrin and designed by Hannah Clark. It was performed by James Barrett, Geoffrey Beevers, Linda Broughton, Jamie Samuel, Hugh Skinner and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The production then embarked on a regional UK tour.

3 Winters

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tena Štivičić’s play 3 Winters follows a single Croatian family living in Zagreb throughout the vicissitudes of the nation's history between 1945 and 2011. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 3 December 2014 (previews from 26 November) and went on to win the 2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The play's action is set in and around the Kos family house in Zagreb, Croatia, in three alternating time periods: November 1945, January 1990, and November 2011 (with the exception of the first scene, which takes place in an office in Zagreb in 1945). In 1945 we see Rose, with her mother, husband and their baby daughter, Maša, moving into a partitioned house at the time of the victory of Tito’s communist partisans. By 1990, Maša and her history-teacher husband, Vlado, are occupying the same house, with their young daughters, at the very moment when Croatia and Slovenia are about to break up the dominant Yugoslavian communist regime. Finally we meet the Kos family in 2011 when Maša’s youngest daughter, Lucija, is about to marry an avaricious entrepreneur and Croatia is on the brink of joining the capitalist club of the European Union.

In an article published on the National Theatre's blog (http://national-theatre.tumblr.com/post/103126868756/tena-%C5%A1tivi%C4%8Di%C4%87-on-3-winters), Štivičić writes: 'The very first moments of inspiration for this play came from stories in my family. My mother’s, my aunt’s, my grandmother’s and even my great grandmother’s when I was very little. These women spoke in very different voices, each with a different set of tools, or in fact, lack of tools to express their circumstances and articulate the plight of their life.'

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley. It was performed by Charlotte Beaumont, Lucy Black, Susan Engel, Siobhan Finneran, Daniel Flynn, Hermione Gulliford, Jo Herbert, Alex Jordan, Gerald Kyd, James Laurenson, Jonny Magnanti, Jodie McNee, Alex Price, Adrian Rawlins, Sophie Rundle, Bebe Sanders and Josie Walker.

The Absence of War

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The Absence of War offers a meditation on the classic problems of leadership, and is the third part of a critically acclaimed trilogy of plays (Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges) about British institutions.

Its unsparing portrait of a Labour Party torn between past principles and future prosperity, and of a deeply sympathetic leader doomed to failure, made the play hugely controversial and prophetic when it was first presented at the National Theatre, London, in 1993.

After Independence

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Guy and Kathleen grow their crops, raise their daughter, and pay their taxes. But Africa is changing, country by country. White farmers in Zimbabwe must now answer for history’s crimes. When Charles arrives with a smile and a purchase order, there’s more than just land at stake. With violence threatening to erupt, he will do whatever it takes to restore their farm to the ‘native’ population.

As truths are revealed and moralities questioned, are things ever more than simply black and white?

Inspired by real events in Zimbabwe, May Sumbwanyambe’s debut play is an unflinching examination of land ownership, dispossession and justice in a post-colonial world.

Winner of the 2016 Alfred Fagon Audience Award, After Independence received its world premiere at the Arcola Theatre, London, on 4 May 2016, in a production by Papatango Theatre Company.

The Bankrupt

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

David Mercer’s play is a bleakly comic study of the introspective amnesia of Ellis Cripper, who has emerged from his recent dishonourable bankruptcy into a personal crisis, with no idea of how to construct his life.

He dreams of summoning a series of historical figures, who propose a series of abstract and general answers to his existential crisis, but neither their adages nor the analyses of doctors and psychiatrists are satisfactory. The play flickers between these conjurations, and Ellis’s visit to his father, his sister and her husband, who try to offer their own structures of Ellis’s existence. But Ellis would rather talk to worms, invoke Hamlet, and write down his dreams.

The Bankrupt is a darkly effective play about a man’s struggle for significance. It was first presented by BBC Television on BBC1, in 1972.

Belgrade Trilogy

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Set in Sydney, Los Angeles and Prague on New Year's Eve, the play shows snapshots from everyday life of young people who fled abroad to escape the Balkan war and the choices they face as they attempt to build a new life for themselves as exiles. Winner of the Slobodan Selenic Prize

The Belle of the Belfast City

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Belle of Belfast City is a story of loyalty, both political and familial. At its centre is Dolly, once a music-hall star, whose ballads and memories weave through the play recalling the past. Vi, the elder of her daughters, stayed with her in Belfast, while the younger Rose has travelled all over the world as a journalist. She returns, bringing with her for the first time her mixed-race and illegitimate daughter Belle, who is named for her grandmother’s stage name. The extended family also includes the Protestant Loyalist fundamentalist Jack, and his sister Janet.

Against the background of protests about the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the play confronts different models of Loyalism and allegiance, a rich and honest lament.

The Belle of Belfast City was first produced in 1989 by the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast.

Black Jesus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Zimbabwe. 2015. The Mugabe Government has fallen and investigations into its abuses have begun. Eunice Ncube, working for the new Truth and Justice Commission, begins the interviewing of Gabriel Chibamu, one of the most infamous perpetrators of the horrors of the Mugabe regime. As Gabriel's trial and inevitable prosecution approach, Eunice begins to sift through the past – only to find that right and wrong, and guilt and innocence, are far less clear than she first thought . . .

This stunning play by Finborough Theatre Playwright-in-Residence, and one of the UK's leading political playwrights, Anders Lustgarten, is more urgent than ever. Black Jesus unpicks the political complexities of Zimbabwe through the devastating personal journeys of two very different people, both scarred by one of Africa's most notorious dictatorships.

Black Jesus was first read at the Finborough Theatre as a staged reading as part of Vibrant 2012 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights: Saturday, 23 July 2011, before its first full performance at the Finborough Theatre on Tuesday, 1 October 2013.

Bully Boy

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sandi Toksvig's Bully Boy is a play that tackles the challenging moral issues of contemporary military occupation and its effect on the mental health of serving soldiers. It was first performed at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, on 13 May 2011 (previews from 10 May). It was revived in a new production first performed at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, on 24 August 2012, before transferring to the St James Theatre, London, on 18 September 2012, where it was the new West End theatre's inaugural production.

The play is written for two performers. Falklands War veteran Major Oscar Hadley, now confined to a wheelchair, is sent to a combat zone to probe allegations of severe misconduct by Eddie Clark, a young squaddie from Burnley and part of a self-styled ‘Bully Boy’ unit of the British Army. Eddie is accused of throwing an eight-year-old boy down a well during a military raid in the Middle East. As the interrogation develops, Oscar begins to discover that ‘truth’ in a modern insurgency can be a point of view rather than a fact.

In an Introduction to the published script, Toksvig writes: 'For someone who thinks of themselves as a pacifist I have written a lot about war lately. Perhaps it is not so surprising. We are all subjected to images of conflict every day as one faction or another shoots it out in Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan or Sudan or any number of other distant places which come home to us through the television. ... I began to read about the effect of war on the individual. In particular, Dave Grossman’s book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which had a huge effect on me. ... When Patrick Sandford, artistic director of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, said he wanted to commission a play from me it was as if Bully Boy poured out of my head.'

The Nuffield Theatre premiere was directed by Patrick Sandford, with Anthony Andrews as Oscar and Joshua Miles as Eddie.

The revival at the Royal & Derngate and in the West End was directed by Patrick Sandford and David Gilmore, and designed by Simon Higlett. The cast was the same.

A term denoting theatre used for political purposes, usually as part of a campaign or movement, sometimes as part of the work of a political party. At its loosest, it can have a wide application ranging from community theatre to consciousness-raising by groups with a specific identity such as women’s, black or gay companies. Its usage is often imprecise, overlapping with other terms like alternative, guerilla or radical theatre. Each country has its own tradition of political theatre. In the twentieth century the peaks of activity in the industrialized world coincided with two periods of social and political upheaval, the first and major one triggered by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath, and the second coming in the 1960s and 1970s. Common themes emerged – for peace against war, for democracy and justice against exploitation and tyranny – and common forms too, e.g. Agitprop. Most of this theatre was socialist- or communist-inspired, and often involved professionals working with amateurs in nontraditional venues. By its nature much of the work is ephemeral, but it has also had an important effect on the theatre world through inspirational practitioners like Piscator, Brecht, Littlewood and Boal.

from Colin Chambers, The Continuum Companion to Twenieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).