Plays

Blinded by the Light

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Blinded by the Light is a manic black comedy, a madcap farce of drinking, smoking, Mormons, Catholics, transvestites and a saint all crammed into the tiny bedsit of the hapless Mick.

Mick’s priorities in life are finding new ways to call in sick for work, getting hold of some roach paper, and seeing Siobhan again: he needs nothing else to make him happy. But in a moment of idleness he lets a couple of evangelical Mormons into his bedsit; they are so delighted to have found a friendly ear, it seems unlikely they’ll ever leave. Despite Mick’s increasingly desperate attempts to shock them out of all hope of converting him, soon they are visiting three times a week – prompting his landlord to invite over Lily and Jack from the Legion of Mary, to bring him back into the Catholic fold. Mick can just about juggle his schedule of visiting evangelicals, until the moment that the petty criminals from upstairs present him with the preserved head of Saint Oliver Plunkett.

Bolger’s increasingly surreal comedy is a triumph of riotous humour and sharp observation. It was first produced in 1990 by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

Blithe Spirit

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Blithe Spirit is an ‘improbable farce in three acts: a charming and lightly supernatural comedy about a man whose deceased first wife comes back from the spirit world to live with him. Charles invites the mystic Madame Arcati to hold a séance in his living room in order to research the tricks of the medium trade for his new book. But a challenge to his scepticism appears in the elegant form of Elvira, his first wife – an apparition that is invisible and infuriating to Charles’s second wife, Ruth.

As the departed spirit settles into the house, Charles finds himself in the middle of a spectral cat-fight between the acid-tongued Elvira and the fiercely jealous Ruth, Elvira’s invisibility to everyone but Charles resulting in some of Coward’s most delightfully sharp dialogue.

Blithe Spirit proved an ideally escapist entertainment when it was first produced in 1941: flippant and careless enough about death and yet funny and sturdy enough to be a constant source of joy and hilarity to theatregoers for the rest of the war.

Blue Murder

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Blue Murder is a two-part farce, energetic and impossibly self-referential, in which conservative suburbia and Whitehall collide with murders, porn stars and blackmailers, and a playwright trying to keep up with them all.

Subtitled ‘a play or two’, Blue Murder opens with ‘Foreign Bodies’ where swinging London meets bourgeois Shrewsbury and the drinks are laced with cyanide. As the son of the household struggles to write his first play, a murder story is offered to him on a plate. The second half, ‘A Game of Soldiers’, is a Whitehall farce taking place in St James's Palace. The same dramatist has brought his complete play to be censored but the Lord Chamberlain's Men have a few shameful secrets of their own to hide, including a priapic guardsman. Once the actors start to have tantrums about the size of their parts, the whole ridiculous structure begins to tumble.

Nichol’s play was first presented in 1995 at the Quakers Friars, Bristol.

Boom Bang-A-Bang

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It’s 1995, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest and Lulu’s ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ is the soundtrack to this exuberant conjuration of a Eurovision party that starts as camp and ends as farce, though there is a real power to Harvey’s discussion of sexuality.

Norman the lonely neighbour upstairs is trying every trick in the book to get himself invited to the party, but it is strictly for close friends only. In fact, it’s really just for people who knew Michael, Lee’s deceased boyfriend, as the couple used to host the best Eurovision parties and Lee wants to honour his memory. But most of his friends have opted for a rival party, and so Lee is left with his sister Wendy, the camp and irrepressible Steph, the gorgeous raver Roy, and the sparring couple Nick and Tanya. And the evening he had planned, full of kitsch, Bucks Fizz and douze points, goes astray amid the covert love affairs, accidental fires, memories and tears.

Boom Bang-A-Bang was first performed in 1995 at the Bush Theatre, London.

A Bucket of Eels

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Bucket of Eels is a skilful contemporary farce. A bridegroom runs away on the eve of his marriage and unleashes a sequence of increasingly bizarre events.

First staged 1994 by the RSC as a 'production without décor', and set on Midsummer's night A Bucket of Eels is a modern play with a classic edge, exploring the making and breaking of a relationship and the absurd interventions by fate and nature that defines it.

Confusions

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This series of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, for four-to-five actors, typifies his particular brand of black comedy on human behaviour. The plays are alternately naturalistic, stylised and farcical, but underlying each is the echoing problem of profound loneliness.

The Mother Figure shows a mother unable to escape from baby talk; in The Drinking Companion an absentee husband attempts seduction without success; in Between Mouthfuls, a waiter oversees a fraught dinner encounter. A garden party gets out of hand in Gosforth's Fete while A Talk in the Park is a revue style curtain call piece for five actors.

Whether the comedies concern marital conflict, infidelity or motherhood; take place on a park bench or at a village fete, the characters are familiar and their cries for help instantly recognisable.

Confusions was first performed in 1976 at the Apollo Theatre, London.

Derek

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Derek is a short farce with the significance of social commentary, telling a story of waste and exploitation.

The aristocratic Biff is the proud possessor of an Eton education, a Sandhurst polishing, and a mental age of a ten-year-old. To his disgust, some people have pointed out that because of the latter he should not be made a Member of Parliament. So Biff needs a genius desperate enough to sell his brain, and finds Derek, a floor-sweeper who has just outsmarted a safe and stolen two million pounds.

The play is a comic but sharp critique of social stratifications which allow those with a privileged background to steal the life and self of those less fortunate, and send them to die in wars they don’t understand.

Derek was first performed in 1982 at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Youth Festival at The Other Place, Stratford Upon Avon.

Driving out a Devil

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.

A young boy attempts to outwit the parents of a pretty girl in this short farce. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

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 Erpingham Camp

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Orton sets The Bacchae in a Butlin’s resort, staging a holidaymakers' revolution as dictatorial jocularity becomes ludicrous anarchy.

The camp is run by the martinet Erpingham, who rules his redcoats with an iron fist, determined that his resort will be a haven of purity and enforced fun. After the sudden death of the Entertainment Organiser, the ambitious Chief Redcoat Riley takes over the evening’s festivities, but when he has to violently diffuse a well-meant screaming competition, it doesn’t take long for the entertainment to turn into an indignant revolution. The Erpingham Camp is a frantically, energetically hilarious play, an epigrammatic and furious shout against oppressive institutions and hypocrisy.

The original version was produced for television by Rediffusion in 1966, it was adapted for the stage and produced in 1967 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Derived from the Latin for ‘to stuff’, farce as genre or comic technique has seldom been absent from the popular or bourgeois stage. Rooted in ancient drama yet scorned by critics as vulgar, its physicality and ability to please or shock have placed it consistently at the core of popular entertainment. In the hands of skilled dramatists and performers it offers more than a purely mechanical formula for provoking instant laughter. Much modern farce derives from the ‘well-made play’ whose complex plotting, intricacy of planted detail, structural precision and liberal deployment of coincidence and oscillating action were pushed to comic extremes in the nineteenth-century farces of Labiche and those of Feydeau which span the two centuries. English farces, such as those of Pinero, are less risqué in tone and generally less frantically constructed. Although more reliant on eccentricity or playfulness of character and language, they share an enactment of accelerating social or sexual transgressions, creating opportunities for physical comedy, and generating an embarrassing or dangerous madness released in audience laughter. Rapid entrances, exits, concealments and chases contained within precise settings furnish immediate physical demonstration of social transgressions, complemented by transgressions of dress or costume and verbally by transgressive puns, double entendres and nonsense. Such orchestration demands exceptional skill and stamina of dramatist and performers, and the English theatre has enjoyed a strong tradition of farce ensemble acting companies such as were assembled for Pinero’s Royal Court farces (1880s), Ben Travers’ Aldwych Farces(1920s), the Whitehall Farces (1950s) staged by Brian Rix, and Ray Cooney’s Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury (1980s). In the contemporary theatre, social and sexual restrictions have been relaxed, encouraging writers such as Joe Orton to expand the boundaries of comic material beyond the merely titillating for more trenchant purposes. Playwrights as diverse as Neil Simon, Alan Bennett, Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett, Edward Bond and Alan Ayckbourn have been attracted to farce as a way of renegotiating society’s organized structures and categories, or of expressing a contemporary sense of disorder and confusion. Michael Frayn has inherited the elegant cleverness of Feydeau, while Alan Bleasdale and Bill Morrison have raised desperate laughter from acute social and political problems. The genre remains remarkably healthy and disturbingly perceptive.

from Ronald W. Strange, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).