Satire

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Plays

Dahling You Were Marvellous

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Three actors, a director, and a producer are dining at a trendy London restaurant. In the glamour of it all, they compliment, flatter, and boast – while privately criticising and drowning in self-doubt.

This thoughtful comedy explores the superficial and hypocritical nature of the dazzling thespian world, while also pointing out the vulnerability and good-naturedness that lies beneath it all.

Dark Race

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Vietnam’s Nguyen Đăng Chương's satirical play which looks at personal integrity in business and political leaders.

audio The Doctor's Dilemma

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The blowhards, the know-it-alls, the scrupulous and the impecunious are all targets for Shaw’s incisive wit in his classic satire of the medical profession. A well-respected physician is forced to choose whom he shall save: a bumbling friend or the ne’er-do-well husband of the woman he loves.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Jane Carr, Gregory Cooke, Kenneth Danziger, Roy Dotrice, Martin Jarvis, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Simon Templeman, Douglas Weston and Paxton Whitehead.

Includes a conversation with Dr. Neil Wenger, the Director of the Healthcare Ethics Center at the University of California-Los Angeles

The Doctor’s Dilemma is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Featuring: Jane Carr, Gregory Cooke, Kenneth Danziger, Roy Dotrice, Martin Jarvis, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Simon Templeman, Douglas Weston, Paxton Whitehead

Duped

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Duped is a satire which is set on an airship designed to carry out covert operations for the South African government to safeguard the security of the country and international delegates visiting our shores. The cleverness of the work is the multi-faceted themes of ‘Big Brother is watching’ as South Africa enters the realms of international politics; the threats of internal security and challenges of maintaining a productive workforce; gender politics; and the jostling for power along race and class divides. The standout genius in the play is when the ship’s American designer, Mr. Johnson, takes out his latest invention, a reconciliatory chip, and extols: ‘It’s time to forgive me.’ Images of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission come flooding to mind and the path of the healing of our nation following the atrocities of Apartheid are juxtaposed against the positioning of our democracy in present day South Africa. Have we been naïve in claiming a Rainbow Nation? Have the politics of the country aligned with international party politics to provide a monetary value to freedom? It is particularly noteworthy how theft and greed needle through the story, from the ranks of the officials to the fabric of society until it knits a blanket of deception and covers their foibles.

Early Morning

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

At the beginning of the savage and satirical Early Morning, Bond asserts that, ‘The events of this play are true.’ The events of the play are starkly at odds with history as we know it: they show a world in which Queen Victoria is a lesbian, her sons Prince George and Prince Arthur are conjoined twins, and Disraeli is plotting her death. A man is put on trial for eating someone who pushed in front of him in a queue; Victoria arranges for Florence Nightingale to be married to George and then rapes her; Heaven turns out to be an eternity of cannibalism.

Bond’s iconoclastic rewriting of the Victorian monarchy peels apart humanity’s cruelty and consumption in a play that is by turns comic, shocking and macabre.

Early Morning was first performed privately in 1968. Banned by the Lord Chamberlain until the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968, it was revived as a full production at the Royal Court in 1969.

The Elephant Calf: An interlude for the foyer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Originally written as part of Mann ist Mann (Man Equals Man), The Elephant Calf was later removed and redrawn as a play in its own right, to be performed as an interlude in the foyer during performances of the former play.

The Elephant Calf sees Galy Gay – the protagonist of Man Equals Man – undergo a trial for the murder of his mother (who, in a surreal turn of events, is in rude health on the stage, and even called as a witness). The play’s farcical denouement is critiqued by ‘audience members’ – in fact, part of the cast – who storm the stage and insist on having their money back, with the threat of menaces to come if the cast don’t accede.

Sometimes subtitled ‘You Can Prove Anything’, this version of The Elephant Calf was translated by John Willett, and was first published in 1979.

Epicoene or The Silent Woman

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Jonson’s buzzing satire on gender and language enjoyed enormous prestige for more than a century after its first performance. The central figure is Morose, who hates noise yet lives in the centre of London, and who, because of his decision to marry a woman only because he is duped into believing she is silent, exposes himself to a fantastic cacophony of voices, male, female and – epicene.

The title signals Jonson’s satiric and complex concern with gender and performance: the play interrogates sexual decorum and the performance of gender, asking how men and women should behave both as fit examples of their sexes and to one another. The characters – knights, barbers, female collegiate and tricksters – present a cross-section of wrong answers, enabling Jonson to create riotous entertainment out of lack, loss and disharmony. Jonson is fascinated by the denigration of language into empty chatter or furious abuse: it is teeming with idiomatic vitality.

Epicoene was first performed in 1609 or 1610 by a children’s company. This text is based on the only authoritative text, from the 1616 folio Works.

Family Album

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Featherway family are gathered glumly in the drawing room in 1860 after their father’s funeral. But as Madeira is drunk, dressing-up boxes unearthed, songs sung, childhood memories re-discovered and the scandalous secrets of the will revealed, the gloom turns into what Coward described as ‘a sly satire on Victorian hypocrisy.’

Family Album is a short play from Tonight at 8.30, originally starring Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself, conceived by Coward as an antidote to the boredom of a long run of the same script. It is a sequence of ten plays to be performed by the same cast in sets of three, alternating matinees and evenings, ranging from farce to melodrama to romantic comedy.

After touring, Tonight at 8.30 was produced at the Phoenix Theatre in London in 1936.

Feelgood

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Feelgood is an outrageously funny satire on modern politics and the fine art of spin.Alistair Beaton's wonderful play, part farce, part biting satire, is set in the plush seaside hotel of a party conference. As anti-capitalist riots rage in the streets below, sinister and obsessive press secretary Eddie and young speech-writing aide Paul are trying to finalise the PM's conference speech.

But Eddie's manipulative skills are to be tested far more by the scandal that George, dim-witted lord and close friend of the PM, gradually reveals – not helped by the arrival of Eddie's ex-wife and investigative journalist, Liz.

Described by The Times as 'a play for our time', Feelgood premiered at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in January 2001, in a production directed by Max Stafford Clark.

Fred and Madge

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Written in 1959 when he was only 26 years old, Fred and Madge was Joe Orton’s very first play and has been rarely produced since its composition.

The title characters of the play seem to be the stereotypical middle-aged couple, bored with one another and conversing in clichés. But it turns out that Fred’s job is to push boulders uphill like Sisyphus and Madge’s is to sieve water all day long. Furthermore, since the action is repeatedly interrupted by a quasi-director, it seems they are inhabiting a play about themselves. Soon, it becomes clear that London is becoming subsumed by rampant greenery and the whole cast dreams of escape. Orton’s play zings with sharp one-liners and dialogue that reeks of sexual and social innuendo – a foretaste of his inimitable theatrical style that would eventually turn him into one of Britain’s best-loved playwrights.

Fred and Madge fuses anger with absurdity in its portrait of a working-class couple dehumanised by the relentless routine of their mundane lives. These routines are paralleled by the rituals of the theatre itself, something with which Orton was all too familiar.

A term that comes from the Latin for ‘medley’ and may have had origins in cooking, though not in the Greek satyr play, as the first Elizabethans believed. Satire uses various types of comic exaggeration to ridicule human institutions or behaviour, in the hope of their being changed or corrected. Among the common devices of satire are irony, parody and caricature. The first known dramatic satires are the plays of Aristophanes, and the tradition extends back beyond these to pre-dramatic Greek lampoons making fun of local figures. Satire, a favourite Roman form, has ever since been associated with the emphases of its two leading practitioners, Horace and Juvenal; Horatian satire is gentler, with some sympathy for its victims, while Juvenal lashes his victims without mercy. Both types of satire have a long and important tradition in the drama: the Horatian from Molière through the goodnatured comedies of Goldsmith to the humane comedies of Chekhov, a good deal of Shaw and the generally sentimentalized tradition of the modern musical comedy; the harsher Juvenalian strain from Jonson through much of the ‘English’ comedy of manners tradition – Wycherly, Wilde, Coward– to many modern black comedy authors (e.g. Joe Orton) and Theatre of the Absurd writers such as Ionesco. Juvenalian satire has also long been a favourite device of politically engaged drama, a tradition that can be traced back to Aristophanes and that would include Henry Fielding and Bertolt Brecht. Together with plays such as Pravda (Hare and Brenton, 1985) or Serious Money (Caryl Churchill, 1987), these examples suggest that Juvenalian satire is often closely related to the political cartoon or caricature, a relation that has been made explicit by modern agitprop and street theatre companies like the American Teatro Campesino and the Bread and Puppet Theater.

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