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The Antigone of Sophocles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his book The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, John Willett writes of The Antigone of Sophocles: 'Perhaps two-thirds of the play follows the Hölderlin version, but even here Brecht has largely reshaped the verse so that although much of the sense, many of the images, and even the words themselves are the same as Hölderlin's the cadence is different. Almost indistinguishable in style, his new passages are woven into this. Considerable changes result. A prologue set in Berlin of 1945 shows two sisters whose brother has deserted from the German army and is found hanged: should they risk being seen by the SS cutting his body down? In the play itself Creon becomes a brutal aggressor who has attacked Argos for the sake of its iron ore; Polyneikes deserts in protest against this war which has killed his brother; and Antigone is partly moved by a like disapproval of her uncle's policy.'

The Antigone of Sophocles was conceived as a new experiment in the epic theatre, and is linguistically an extraordinary composition. It was first produced in February 1948.

Baal

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The classic wandering-poet archetype of the Expressionist movement receives a dark makeover in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Brecht’s first full-length play portrays the seductions and manipulations of a dissolute poet with an inexplicable appeal to women. Baal descends from a civilised dining room to a hut in the woods, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

First performed in Leipzig in 1923, Baal represents an early, almost pre-political stage in Brecht’s career, and shows the playwright experimenting with elements that would become his trademarks, such as the use of song. Even as a young writer, however, Brecht provoked controversy: Baal was immediately shut down by order of the city council of Leipzig.

The Beggar or The Dead Dog

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

In The Beggar, a beggar dares to speak the truth to an emperor when the emperor descends to complain about the smell. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Catch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

When a fisherman’s wife is woken up by her drunk husband and his friends, anger and resentments explode. The Catch was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

Cavalcade

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.

Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’

Charles B. Cochran's 1931 Revue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A sketch for a revue must be quick, sharp, funny (or sentimental) and to the point, with a good, really good black-out line. Whether the performers are naked or wearing crinolines is quite beside the point; the same rule applies'.

Thus did Noël Coward describe the ingredients for a successful revue sketch; in the 1920s and 1930s he mastered and defined the art of the revue – short and often topical or satirical sketches, many of which were a lead-in to a song. He started producing sketches for some of the most famous revues of the period.

Charles B. Cochran's Revue was first presented by Charles B. Cochran at the London Pavilion, on 19 March 1931. It ran for just 27 performances. Although advertised as having 'Music by Noël Coward and others', it in fact had only five Coward numbers and only one of them could be considered as a semi-sketch.

Come into the Garden Maud: from Suite in Three Keys

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Come into the Garden Maud is the final play in the trilogy, Suite in Three Keys, in which each play is set in the same Swiss hotel suite. It was written by Coward in 1966, and represents the last of his output for the stage before he died.

Anna-Mary Conklin and her husband Verner are an exceedingly wealthy American couple and the stars of Come into the Garden Maud. While Anna-Mary, a social-aspirant, is nervously throwing a dinner-party offstage to entertain a prince she wants to impress, Verner – who cares little for the niceties of society life – gets along very well with the aristocratic, but down-to-earth, Maud Caragnani – very well indeed.

Conversation Piece

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the decades after the French Revolution, Conversation Piece tells the story of Paul, Duc de Chaucigny-Varennes, who has come to Brighton to escape the terrors in France. In his company is Melanie, a dance hall singer whom Paul passes off as his ward and the offspring of his murdered friend. He hopes to marry her off to a member of Brightonian high society; she, however, has other plans and, with the help of her suitor Edward, tries to outmanoeuvre Lady Julia Charteris, in the hope of getting her heart’s desires.

Writing about the original production, the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It was a big occasion before ever the curtain rose . . . It became a great one as soon as Yvonne Printemps appeared . . . Mr Coward shares her triumph. Or, rather, since he is author, composer, producer and chief male actor in this brilliant show, he enjoys a separate triumph all to himself.'

Conversation Piece, a musical comedy, was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1934.

Dansen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dansen is a pig farmer and a respectable member of the community. His fellow members of the commerce class in the town often meet, to play cards, sign contracts and sort out disagreements; it is a wholly satisfying way of life.

But this cosy arrangement is upset with the arrival of a stranger, a man who is intent on breaking contracts and instigating the most hostile of takeovers with the point of a pistol. He forces Dansen into collaboration: against his former colleagues, his better judgement and his own interests.

Written in early 1939, Dansen is a one-act agitprop piece which highlights the dangers of appeasement in the face of aggressive behaviour from a self-appointed enemy.

The Days of the Commune

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Days of the Commune tells the story of the uprising and ultimate failure of the Paris Commune in 1871, a city council in France's capital which based its policies on socialism and proclaimed its right to rule over all of France. It held out for two months of counter-attack by the regular French army before its final defeat in May, 1871.

Brecht's account of the Commune is based on Norwegian playwright Nordahl Grieg's play The Defeat. In his adaptation, Brecht eschews a central protagonist, focusing instead on the Commune as characterised by the people in the street.

Ultimately, as in life, the Commune is defeated. But, as the editors write in their introduction: 'In his interpretation of the Paris Commune Brecht adhered closely to the 'classical' line established by Marx . . . that the outcome of the siege of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War could only have been different if the ruling class had been prepared to align themselves behind the National Guard, but that the French bourgeoisie were terrified at the thought of an armed labour force, and so initiated the betrayal of the French people by its government and the capitulation of Paris.'

The Days of the Commune was first performed in November, 1956, shortly after Brecht's death.

Spanning the international stage, the World Classics series brings together the plays of writers from around the world who have achieved a lasting influence. From Anouilh to Oscar Wilde, Bertolt Brecht to Arthur Miller, Ibsen to Noel Coward, the series presents the rich tapestry of the very best of world drama. Each volume features a contronology of the writer's life and work, an introduction and a selection of their plays.