Plays

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

audio The Country Girl

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

"One of America's great dramatists rocked the worlds of Broadway and Hollywood in this moving drama about a desperately self-destructive alcoholic actor and Georgie, his long-suffering wife. A searing, emotional play of love and redemption.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance starring:

Harry Hamlin as Bernie Dodd

Stacy Keach as Frank Elgin

Mare Winningham as Georgie Elgin

Jamie Hanes as Larry

Rick Podell as Phil Cook

Spencer Garrett as Paul Unger

Mandy Siegfried as Nancy Stoddard

Directed by Nancy Malone. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles."

Featuring: Spencer Garrett, Harry Hamlin, Jamie Hanes, Stacy Keach, Rick Podell, Mandy Siegfried, Mare Winningham

The Duchess of Malfi (adapt. Brecht and Hays)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in collaboration with H. R. Hays and intended for performance by Elisabeth Bergner, (described by the editors of the Collected Works as ‘the most famous of all the exiled German actresses’), Brecht and Hays’s adaptation of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi was born of a tortuous set of drafts, redrafts and recriminations, which led to several versions of the script, including a Broadway staging of a version by W. H. Auden. H. R. Hays sets the scene:

‘Early in 1943 Brecht came to New York and broached the idea of The Duchess of Malfi to me as a vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, who was currently playing on Broadway in a whodunit. Brecht and I were both fond of the Webster piece and both felt that it sprawled too much for a successful production. The idea was to eliminate the anticlimactic series of deaths at the end, tighten up the script and emphasize the implicit incest motivation of the duke . . . We began working in April 1943 . . . We had a meeting in my agent’s office, at which Mr Czinner [producer] announced that what the project needed was “a British poet”. I hit the roof and told them to take my name off the script. Needless to say, the poet was Auden, whose name they hoped would be success insurance. Brecht did not at first withdraw, but later, when he saw what was happening, he too removed his name . . .’

This version of the script, written directly in English by Hays, with Brecht advising on story and structure, reproduces a copy that was in the possession of Hays. It is complemented here by notes and letters by Brecht himself on how the play ought to be performed.

Filumena Marturano (trans. Ardito)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Filumena is De Filippo’s best-known work and arguably his finest comedy-drama, drenched in Neapolitan atmosphere and full of entanglements at once cynical and romantic.

In the heat of late-1940s Naples, Filumena Maraturano lies on her deathbed awaiting her marriage to Domenico Soriano, the man who has kept her as his mistress for twenty-seven years. But no sooner has the priest completed the ceremony than Filumena makes a miraculous recovery. As he reels in shock, Domenico discovers that this brilliant, iron-willed woman has a few more surprises for him.

Is Filumena a simple, illiterate woman who wants to create a family for her children, or a ferine, opportunistic prostitute? Will Domenico, the selfish aged gigolo, learn to accept his responsibilities? Exploring themes of family, age and love, Filumena exemplifies De Filippo’s trademark moral optimism and warmth, coupled with unflinchingly astute and humorous observation of his characters.

This translation is by Carlo Ardito.

Flare Path

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Flare Path, written while he was serving as an air gunner with the RAF during the Second World War, is a story of love and loyalty following a group of RAF airmen and their wives over the course of one day. It was first produced (after a short run in Oxford) at the Apollo Theatre, London, on 13 August 1942.

The play is set in The Falcon, a small hotel in Lincolnshire, close to an RAF base. We meet a series of airmen and their wives, as well as the imperious landlady and her staff. Into this hotel walks Peter Kyle, a famous British film actor, who has come to whisk his lover Patricia Graham away. The only problem is that Patricia is married to Flight Lieutenant Teddy Graham. She has been putting off telling her husband of her affair. However, Peter and Patricia’s elopement is delayed by the sudden announcement of a bombing raid; the airmen take off and they all return but one. Count Striczevinsky, a Polish airman stationed with the RAF, sent out a distress signal, but then nothing was heard and he is presumed lost at sea. The emotional stresses of war are felt by all, notably Teddy, who fears he may have lost his nerve. Patricia is moved by his need for her and resolves to give up Peter; Peter seems unwilling to accept this and plans to tell Teddy himself. However, reading a letter from the Count to his wife, Doris, he has a change of heart and leaves. At the last minute, the inhabitants of the hotel are joyfully surprised by the return of the Count, whose long and eventful journey back is the cause for impromptu celebration as the curtain falls.

Rattigan's script (originally entitled Next of Kin but renamed Flare Path at the suggestion of his psychiatrist, Dr Keith O. Newman, who found the original too bland) was rejected by two of the principal backers of his earlier West End hit French Without Tears on the assumption that the last thing that the public wanted was a play about the war. It was however accepted by Hugh ‘Binkie’ Beaumont at H. M. Tennent Ltd., already on his way to becoming the most powerful and successful West End producer of the era.

The production was directed by Anthony Asquith, with Adrianne Allen as Countess Skriczevinsky (Doris), Martin Walker as Peter Kyle, Dora Gregory as Mrs Oakes, Leslie Dwyer as Sergeant Miller (Dusty), George Cole as Percy, Gerard Hinze as Flying Officer Count Skriczevinsky, Jack Watling as Flight Lieutenant Graham (Teddy), Phyllis Calvert as Patricia Warren (Mrs Graham), Kathleen Harrison as Mrs Miller (Maudie), Ivan Samson as Squadron Leader Swanson and John Bradley as Corporal Jones (Wiggy).

The play was well received by the critics, though several found fault with the happy ending, summed up by Roger Manvell in the New Statesman & Nation as a ‘wanton sacrifice to the wishes of the audience’. Nevertheless, audiences responded enthusiastically, and the play ran at the Apollo for almost 700 performances, a remarkable success for a war play. It re-established Rattigan’s reputation and was the first of five successive box-office successes that put him in the front rank of West End playwrights.

Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato, in his introduction to the play (Nick Hern Books, 2011), notes that 'There is a curious side-story to this production; Dr Keith Newman decided to watch 250 performances of this play and write up the insights that his ‘serial attendance’ had afforded him. George Bernard Shaw remarked that such playgoing behaviour ‘would have driven me mad; and I am not sure that [Newman] came out of it without a slight derangement’. Shaw’s caution was wise. In late 1945, Newman went insane and eventually died in a psychiatric hospital.'

Twentieth Century Fox paid Rattigan £20,000 for the film rights – a remarkable sum at the time. Even so, the film was never made, though aspects of Flare Path make their way into The Way to the Stars (1945), one of the finest British movies of the period, with a screenplay by Terence Rattigan and Richard Sherman.

The play was revived as part of the Rattigan Centenary celebrations at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, on 10 March 2011 in a production directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Sienna Miller and James Purefoy as Patricia and Peter, with Sheridan Smith as Doris. It was the first major London revival of the play since 1942.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

Harlequinade

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan's Harlequinade is a one-act farce about a touring theatre company, first produced in a double-bill with The Browning Version under the joint title Playbill at the Phoenix Theatre, London, on 8 September 1948.

The play is set on the stage of a theatre in a Midlands town. Arthur Gosport and his wife Edna are the principal leads in a professional touring theatre company, currently performing Romeo and Juliet. In order to hide their unsuitability as teenage lovers, they have the stage lights turned down so low that they fuse. However, when Arthur is confronted by the daughter and granddaughter he never knew he had, he discovers that he’s actually still married to his first wife and has (unwittingly) committed bigamy.

As Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato writes in his introduction to the play (published in a volume with The Browning Version by Nick Hern Books, 1994), the play is 'a witty satire of the kind of touring theatre encouraged by the new Committee for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (CEMA, the immediate forerunner of the Arts Council)'. In August 1946, this body was reconstituted as the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The Phoenix Theatre premiere was directed by Peter Glenville, with Eric Portman as Arthur Gosport, Mary Ellis as Edna Selby, Marie Löhr as Dame Maud Gosport, Hector Ross as Jack Wakefield, Kenneth Edwards as George Chudleigh, Peter Scott as First Halberdier, Basil Howes as Second Halberdier, Noel Dyson as Miss Fishlock, Anthony Oliver as Fred Ingram, Henry Bryce as Johnny, Thelma Ruby as Muriel Palmer, Patrick Jordan as Tom Palmer, Campbell Cotts as Mr Burton, Henryetta Edwards as Joyce Langland and Manville Tarrant as the Policeman.

audio The Heiress

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A Tony Award-winning play based on the novel Washington Square by Henry James - one of James’ most complex and satisfying portraits of the American character. Set in New York City in 1850, the play centers on the painfully shy Catherine and her austere father. When Catherine falls in love with a handsome suitor, her father threatens to disinherit her, convinced that the young man could only be interested in Catherine’s fortune.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Amy Irving, George Gaynes, Chris Noth, Jane Beard, Helen Hedman, Maureen Kerrigan, Marty Lodge and Halo Wines.

Featuring: Jane Beard, George Gaynes, Helen Hedman, Amy Irving, Maureen Kerrigan, Marty Lodge, Chris Noth, Halo Wines

The House of Bernarda Alba

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Finished just two months before the author's murder on 18 August 1936 by a gang of Franco's supporters, The House of Bernarda Alba is now accepted as Lorca's great masterpiece of love and loathing.

Five daughters live together in a single household with a tyrannical mother. When the father of all but the eldest girl dies, a cynical marriage is advanced which will have tragic consequences for the whole family. Lorca's fascinatingly modern play, rendered here in an English version by David Hare, speaks as powerfully as a political metaphor of oppression as it does as domestic drama.

This version of The House of Bernarda Alba premiered at the National Theatre, London, in March 2005.