Anthony Neilson

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Plays by Anthony Neilson

The Censor

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shirley Fontaine, director, visionary, pornographer, meets with Frank, a censor whose job it is to decide what cuts would make her latest work acceptable for general release. On the face of it, her film is comprised solely of a litany of sex scenes: but, in a series of tête-à-têtes, she attempts to make the timid and tentative Frank see the arc of a relationship in her movie, one she believes to be an important record of sex as communication, and, more importantly, a work of art.

First performed at the Red Room, before a West End transfer to the Royal Court at the Duke of York’s, Anthony Neilson’s controversial play tells a tender tale in graphic scenes, challenging the audience to see beyond the images themselves, to a deeper truth, about interaction, honesty and affection.

Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A marvellously bizarre series of sketches inspired by Victorian travelling shows, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is a curious miscellany of tricks, jokes and melancholy.

In 1881, the famed and enigmatic impresario Mr Edward Gant presented his renowned travelling show for the final time: a spectacle of grotesquery, tastelessness, black comedy, mystery and magic realism presided over by an opiate-addicted actor. Over a century later, Neilson has reconstructed this intriguing and fantastic historical event. With a cast that includes a girl whose face sprouts pearls and a teddy bear desperate for an imaginary cup of tea, it is a theatrical piece combining the melodrama, extravagance and painful loneliness that characterised a Victorian freak show.

Neilson's play offers a strange and beautiful exploration of sadness and mortality, probing the nature of theatre and spectacle. It was first performed in 2002 at The Drum Theatre at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.

The Lying Kind

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Neilson’s gleefully escalating farce, soft-hearted and soft-headed police constables Blunt and Gobbel have one last duty to fulfil before they finish their Christmas Eve shift: to tell the old couple at number 58 some terrible news. Neither of them wants to do it. What if the shock is too much for such elderly parents? Maybe they’d be happier not knowing. Maybe it’s for the best if the policemen don’t clear up the rather large misunderstanding caused by their evasions. And maybe they would also be better off if they weren’t in the middle of a lynching, organised by an anti-paedophile vigilante group.

Neilson’s brilliantly disastrous cross-purpose conversations keep the grisly miscommunications spinning in a hilarious nightmarish farce of moral panic. The Lying Kind premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2002.

The Night Before Christmas

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Christmas Eve and an elf lands in a warehouse full of cheap and stolen toys. Gary who's not fully convinced it's an elf, calls Simon, who's not fully convinced Gary's sane anymore. They interrogate the intruder, who pleads with them to release him: kept away from his job, and the steady supply of the almost-narcotic 'Christmas spirit' magical powder, he might just die: ruining his own Christmas, surely, and perhaps everyone else's.

The Night Before Christmas is a hilarious anti-pantomime, which sees Gary and Simon, along with Gary's friend and prostitute Cherry fight it out over the meaning of Christmas, the last box of Power Rangers, and whether or not the midget in the elf suit is all he says he is. It was first performed at The Red Room, London, in December 1995. 

Normal

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Anthony Neilson’s Normal is a gripping account of the real-life German serial killer Peter Kurten who, in Germany in 1931 was convicted of the murders of eight people, including several children.

In Neilson’s semi-fictional account, we meet Kurten in his cell, being interviewed by his counsel for the defence, a legal prodigy by the name of Justus Wehner. A product of a liberal household, Wehner believes that Kurten is insane – himself a victim of brutality. The young lawyer attempts to get to the heart of his client’s psyche, to illuminate his insanity so it can be highlighted to the jury, but becomes enthralled to the charisma and warped logic of the self-confessed murderer. Wehner, an expert before the law, finds himself at a loss before life itself.

A play of crisp language, sudden cut-scenes and starkly comic dumb shows, Normal was first performed at the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh in 1991, before transferring to the Finborough. It has been frequently revived since.

Penetrator

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Max and Alan are goofing around their flat, sorting laundry, making tea, and watching highlights of the Gulf War on telly. Max is passing his time less than fruitfully as he seethes over the breakdown of a relationship, while Alan is primarily concerned with keeping his teddy bears in order.

When their old mate Tadge enters. Tadge has been to war, but has escaped. A shadowy gang molested him, he says. His father's not his real father, he says. And he doesn't like being called Tadge.

Tadge's paranoia, and conviction that Alan is one of the 'penetrators' from whom he fled, leads him to threaten and frighten Alan and Max, fracturing their friendship, and doing unspeakable things to the teddies.

Penetrator was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 1993, before transferring to the Finborough Theatre, London later that year, and subsequently the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1994.

Realism

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Realism follows the life of one man during an ordinary day but veers off from the commonplace to become a deliriously surreal trip inside his wayward imagination.

The play’s shifting, baffling scenes dive inside the mind of Stuart, as the banalities of a wasted Saturday – telly, laundry, toast, cup of tea – spin out into a series of surreal conversations with politicians, a telephone salesman, a foul-mouthed child from the seventies. His real interactions, with his friend and ex-girlfriend and parents, slide down into strange expressions of his darker subconscious and secret thoughts. Like Stuart’s kitchen, which is covered in several tons of sand, Realism is half swamped by surrealism, creating a bold and idiosyncratic dissection of the mind.

Realism premiered in 2006 at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Stitching

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The dark and intimate Stitching is a kind of love story set at the extremes of brutality, banality and tenderness. A faithless couple pick apart their relationship, stitch by painful stitch. Discovering that Abby is pregnant, she and Stu wonder whether they should have the baby when they can barely have a conversation.

In alternating scenes, we see the brutal heart of their relationship as they discuss and act out their sexual fantasies, from the cliché to the violent and shocking. Neilson’s uncensored and unflinching dialogue opens up a fascinating, harrowing psychology of sexual conflict and abortion.

Stitching opened in 2002 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh and transferred to the Bush Theatre, London.

The Wonderful World of Dissocia

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Wonderful World of Dissocia is a weird and magical play that takes a trip away from reality, exploring a world of psychological disconnection.

Somewhere between a delayed transatlantic flight and the clocks going back, Lisa has lost an hour of her life – she’s an hour slow, and it’s spoiling her life. So she’s travelled to the country of Dissocia to try and get it back, but Dissocia is a surreal and wonky place, filled with insecurity guards, musical fields, time flies and a violent scapegoat, all under threat from the Black Dog King. But in the second act, Dissocia has disappeared back inside Lisa’s head.

Neilson’s bold and moving fantasia was originally produced for the 2004 Edinburgh Festival.

Year of the Family

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Fliss's real father has been dead, presumed missing, since she was two years old. Now she believes she has found him, living rough on the streets of London. She takes him in, shaves and bathes him, and puts in place of his total amnesia the identity she hopes he will live up to.

Her half-sister, Claire, doesn't believe her, but has enough trouble of her own, juggling an ageing boyfriend Dickie and the younger, leaner Sid. She doesn't know what she sees in both of them – but see it in both of them she must.

Claire and Fliss may be sisters, but are separated not just by paternity, but by shady goings-on in the childhood home, a separation they seem pathologically driven to compound with every action they take and choice they make.

Neilson's Year of the Family was first performed in 1994, the European Year of the Family, at the Finborough Theatre, London.

Picture of Anthony Neilson

Anthony Neilson (b. 1967, Edinburgh) is a Scottish playwright and director. His breakthrough show Normal: The Dusseldorf Ripper was produced at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in 1991. Other shows include The Wonderful World of Dissocia (2004), Realism (2006) and Orson Welles in the Land of the Peas (2010). He also took part in the Bush Theatre's Sixty Six in 2011.