Plays

3 Winters

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tena Štivičić’s play 3 Winters follows a single Croatian family living in Zagreb throughout the vicissitudes of the nation's history between 1945 and 2011. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 3 December 2014 (previews from 26 November) and went on to win the 2015 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The play's action is set in and around the Kos family house in Zagreb, Croatia, in three alternating time periods: November 1945, January 1990, and November 2011 (with the exception of the first scene, which takes place in an office in Zagreb in 1945). In 1945 we see Rose, with her mother, husband and their baby daughter, Maša, moving into a partitioned house at the time of the victory of Tito’s communist partisans. By 1990, Maša and her history-teacher husband, Vlado, are occupying the same house, with their young daughters, at the very moment when Croatia and Slovenia are about to break up the dominant Yugoslavian communist regime. Finally we meet the Kos family in 2011 when Maša’s youngest daughter, Lucija, is about to marry an avaricious entrepreneur and Croatia is on the brink of joining the capitalist club of the European Union.

In an article published on the National Theatre's blog (http://national-theatre.tumblr.com/post/103126868756/tena-%C5%A1tivi%C4%8Di%C4%87-on-3-winters), Štivičić writes: 'The very first moments of inspiration for this play came from stories in my family. My mother’s, my aunt’s, my grandmother’s and even my great grandmother’s when I was very little. These women spoke in very different voices, each with a different set of tools, or in fact, lack of tools to express their circumstances and articulate the plight of their life.'

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley. It was performed by Charlotte Beaumont, Lucy Black, Susan Engel, Siobhan Finneran, Daniel Flynn, Hermione Gulliford, Jo Herbert, Alex Jordan, Gerald Kyd, James Laurenson, Jonny Magnanti, Jodie McNee, Alex Price, Adrian Rawlins, Sophie Rundle, Bebe Sanders and Josie Walker.

55 Days

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's 55 Days is a historical drama set at the culmination of the English Civil War when the future, not only of the King, but of the nation itself is decided. The play was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 18 October 2012.

The play's action begins in December 1648. The Army has occupied London. Parliament votes not to put the imprisoned King on trial, so the Army moves against Westminster in the first and only military coup in English history. What follows over the next fifty-five days, as Oliver Cromwell seeks to compromise with a king who will do no such thing, is nothing less than the forging of a new nation.

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by Howard Davies, with Mark Gatiss as King Charles, Douglas Henshall as Oliver Cromwell, Gerald Kyd as John Lilburne and Simon Kunz as Lord Fairfax. The production was generally well received by the critics, with The Guardian applauding its 'fervent dramatic power' and the Evening Standard noting that 'It could have been a dour history lesson. Instead it engages with the present, raising some pungent questions about the kind of democracy we have in Britain today.'

In an article describing the play's genesis (published at http://nickhernbooksblog.com/2012/10/25/howard-brenton-a-forgotten-revolution-the-historical-context-to-55-days/), Brenton wrote: 'Recently I met a Frenchman in London and we fell to talking about the high drama of the climax of the French Revolution: the struggle between Danton and Robespierre. "In this country you don’t remember you also had a revolution," he said, adding, rather waspishly, "and you don’t realise you still live with the consequences". He was right. The heroic, horrific story of our revolution, the Civil War that began in 1642 and resulted in the execution of King Charles I in 1649, is not part of our national consciousness.'

Agnes Colander - An Attempt at Life  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

We should all have been taught more of life and less good manners

It is three years since Agnes, an artist, left her unfaithful husband Henry. Now he writes to her in her Kensington studio begging to reunite, but Agnes married young; her innocence has gone and her ambition and independence is growing. As she travels from London to France, Agnes finds herself torn between Otho, a worldly Danish artist and Alec, an infatuated younger suitor, between a longing to paint and be an independent woman and a yearning to be loved.

This witty and compelling exploration of love, sexual attraction and independence was written in 1900 and unearthed among Granville Barker's papers in the British Library a century later. Revised by playwright and librettist Richard Nelson this edition was published to coincide with the world premiere at the Theatre Royal Bath in Spring 2018. 

Albert's Boy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Graham’s portrait of Einstein’s tortured conscience is delightfully tinged with both homely and black humour, in a play that is nonetheless deeply serious about questions of pacifism and necessity.

It is 1953 and Albert Einstein’s house is empty, his cat is missing, he can’t unify the fields of relativity and particle physics and he can’t escape his guilt. When a family friend, newly released from a POW camp, comes to visit, a warm reunion soon becomes a collision of opposing beliefs on the subjects of evil, the winning of wars and the construction of the atomic bomb. Albert’s Boy is both a fascinating biographical sketch and a passionate duet about the ethics of moral responsibility. The play premiered at the Finborough Theatre in 2005.

All For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

All for Love, or The World Well Lost is John Dryden's epic adaptation of the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra into a neo-classical quintet with supporting voices. The play, which the 1678 quarto titlepage claims is ‘Written in Imitation of Shakespeare’s Stile’, draws heavily on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; it does away, however, with the salaciousness of Shakespeare’s text, and reduces his temporal and geographical range to that of one time and place as per Aristotelian dramatic unities. The play was arguably intended to be seen in direct relation to the contemporary Antony and Cleopatra: A Tragedy (1677), written by politician and playwright Charles Sedley. Dryden’s application of neo-classical conventions and contemporary dramatic practice gives the classic love story a structural beauty and an austere power.

After Cleopatra’s desertion of Antony at the battle of Actium, not only his wife Octavia but also his general Ventidius and his friend Dolabella strive to win him over to their side. Antony, torn between the claims of duty, friendship, dignity and love, despairs when he hears the rumour of Cleopatra's death, which is not, as in Shakespeare’s version, spread by the queen herself but by her deceitful eunuch.

The first recorded performance was at the Theatre Royal, London by the King’s Company in 1677. The play’s political implications have perhaps been lost over time: absolute monarchy and the illicit love of a ruler were highly topical concerns in a post-Restoration Britain, when King Charles II’s extra-marital amours, most famously with the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, were the subject of much anxiety.

All Our Children  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Unwin's debut play All Our Children explores the fate of disabled children in Nazi Germany, examining the moral dilemma facing those in whose care they were placed. It was first produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Jermyn Street Theatre, and was first performed at Jermyn Street Theatre, London, on 26 April 2017.

The play is set in January 1941, in the Winkelheim Clinic near Cologne, run by paediatrician Victor Franz. Having created the clinic in peacetime to help sick children, Victor is now being forced to use it to dispatch severely disabled people to their deaths. His own growing qualms about the process are brutally countered by a young SS officer, Eric, who has been installed as his deputy. In the course of the play's action, Victor is forced to defend himself against two visitors: a mother, Elizabetta, anxious about the fate of her son; and the historical figure of Bishop von Galen, who, as in life, challenges both the practice and the philosophy of the extermination of the supposedly 'unproductive citizens'.

In a note in the published script, Stephen Unwin writes: 'All Our Children is very much a work of fiction. There is no evidence that von Galen had a meeting of the kind that I have dramatised (though he did talk with senior figures in the SS) nor do we know of a doctor involved in the programme having qualms about what he was doing. What’s clear, however, is that his intervention raised the most profound questions about the innate value of the human being, regardless of cost or productivity, and his voice, for all its stubborn absolutism, deserves to be heard.'

The premiere production was directed by Stephen Unwin and designed by Simon Higlett. It was performed by Edward Franklin, Rebecca Johnson, Lucy Speed, Colin Tierney (as Victor) and David Yelland (as Bishop von Galen).

Anne Boleyn

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's Anne Boleyn is a dramatisation of the life and legacy of the notorious second wife of Henry VIII. It was first performed at Shakespeare's Globe, London, on 24 July 2010.

King James I, rummaging through the dead Queen Elizabeth’s possessions upon coming to the throne in 1603, finds alarming evidence that Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, was a religious conspirator in love with Henry VIII but also with the most dangerous ideas of her day. Anne comes alive for him as a brilliant but reckless young woman confident in her sexuality, whose marriage and death transformed England forever. The potent love between Anne and Henry is so alive and electric that it cannot be contained in the stultifying social mores of the time, but is viewed with alarm by those at Court who fear the threat it poses to their position and influence.

The premiere at Shakespeare's Globe was directed by John Dove, with Miranda Raison as Anne Boleyn, James Garnon as King James and Anthony Howell as King Henry. It was well received by the critics, with the Daily Mail (not generally favourable to Left-leaning playwrights) commenting 'It takes a big, generous spirit to fill the Globe, and in this Brenton follows Shakespeare – not just with asides and soliloquies, but with a large colourful canvas.' The play was named Best New Play at the Whatsonstage.com Awards in 2011.

Anne Boleyn was revived at the Globe in 2011 and toured regionally in 2012 in a joint production between Shakespeare’s Globe and English Touring Theatre.

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Antony and Cleopatra rival Romeo and Juliet for the title of most famous lovers in Western drama. Shakespeare’s play, probably written around 1606-7 (though not appearing in print until the First Folio of 1623), reflects the popularity of the story in the early modern imagination. Shakespeare’s play is heavily indebted to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, written in the first century AD, and translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

Marc Antony is one of three triumvirs ruling Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Neglecting his political duties, he lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra, a queen who sees herself as a demigod, an embodied Isis. When unrest threatens Rome, Antony must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. Despite marrying Octavia, the passive sister of Caesar, for the sake of peace, he soon longs for his ‘wrangling queen’ and returns to Egypt. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world. The eponymous lovers are unable to reconcile their martial defeat and its consequent shame with their hyperbolic self-images, and commit two of the most memorable suicides in the Shakespearean canon.

From its earliest audiences, Antony and Cleopatra has received criticism. Post-Restoration critics knocked the play for the way it disregarded the classical unities of drama, which stated that a play should cover one idea, in one place, at one time. With its action historically spanning a decade, and its scenes ranging from Europe to Africa and back again, the play affronted those who desired a neater retelling of the famous love story. John Dryden took it upon himself to rewrite the tragedy in his play All for Love, first performed in 1677: covering only the last day of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, the play reaches for a grander love affair, removed from the lust, jealousy and self-inflation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholarly criticism has dwelt upon the play’s use of opposites, the imagery of instability, and the performance of gender on the early modern stage (to which Cleopatra metatheatrically refers, when she fears boy actors will portray her ‘squeaking [. . .] i’th’posture of a whore’ [5.2.219-20].

The staging of the play has long been of special interest to critics and theatre-makers alike: the play calls for a sea-battle, and a colossal monument to Cleopatra up to which the dying Antony must be hoisted. Notable Antonys have included John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart; notable Cleopatras Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance, in the 1999 all-male production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

Appomattox

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

4th March, 1865: On the night of his second inauguration, a few weeks before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln meets the veteran black abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the White House to discuss the prospect of extending the vote to black men who have served in the soon to be victorious Union armies.

4th March, 1965: In the White House, Lyndon Johnson, anxious to introduce a new Voting Rights Act, is briefed by his sinister and "unfirable" FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, on the imminent Selma to Montgomery march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. It is a demonstration prompted by a state trooper's murder of the young activist Jimmie Lee Jackson, in Marion, Alabama, following a rally in support of voter registration in Perry County.

In this play, Christopher Hampton traces a line which runs from the last days of a brutal Civil War to the high-water mark of the Civil Rights movement and on, all the way to the present day; and considers the agonisingly slow healing of a wound, universal, but especially deep and painful in America: racism.

Appomattox premiered at the McGuire Proscenium Stage in the Guthrie Theater on 5 October, 2012.

The Art of Success

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Eighteenth century London. The world of art is on the brink of transformation, about to spread from the drawing rooms of the rich to public houses across the country. Compressing the events of ten tumultuous years into a single night, Nick Dear uncovers the hidden world of seminal artist William Hogarth. The Art of Success is a raucous play with resonant debates about gender, sex, hedonism in the face of censorship and the responsibility of the artist.

The Art of Success by Nick Dear was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, in July 1986.

The Astronaut’s Chair

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's The Astronaut's Chair is a play about the race to be the first woman in space. The second of a proposed trilogy of plays about space exploration, it followed her earlier play Little Eagles (2011), about the engineer behind the Soviet space programme.

The Astronaut's Chair was commissioned by and first performed at the Drum Theatre, Plymouth, on 20 September 2012.

The play's protagonist, Renee Coburg (loosely based on pioneer woman aviator Jacqueline Cochran), is a gritty, glamorous aviator, the fastest, highest, bravest woman in the world. A self-made pilot, she battled against a poor childhood to fly planes in World War II. As America and the USSR enter the space race, she becomes determined to be the first woman to go into orbit. However, it won’t all be plain sailing as she faces stiff competition from an ambitious new rival. Jo Green is a determined, brilliant and much younger pilot with her eye on all Renee’s records. They both want to be the first woman in space but there’s only one chair at the top of the rocket.

The Drum Theatre production was directed by Simon Stokes and designed by Bob Bailey. The cast included Ingrid Lacey (as Renee Coburg), Tom Hodgkins, Jack Sandle, Eleanor Wyld and Amanda Ryan.

Battle Royale

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

1795: England is at war with France, women are seen but not heard, and the Prince Regent, a man with ‘an undeserved reputation for enjoying the amusements of his position whilst not embracing duties’, is under pressure to marry and produce and heir.

audio Becket, or The Honor of God

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Waiting to be punished for his part in Becket's murder, King Henry II re-lives his deeply felt relationship with the saint, once his dearest friend and partner in unbridled decadence. His catastrophic mistake? To appoint Becket Archbishop - for Becket finds his allegiance shifting from king and country to God and Church.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Asher Book, Kevin Daniels, Ken Danziger, Jean Gilpin, Alan Mandell, Charlie Matthes, Tim Monsion, Denis O' Hare, Jennifer Rau-Ramirez, Simon Templeman, John Vickery, Douglas Westen and Greg Woodell.

Featuring: Asher Book, Kevin Daniels, Ken Danziger, Jean Gilpin, Alan Mandell, Charlie Matthes, Tim Monsion, Denis O' Hare, Jennifer Rau-Ramirez, Simon Templeman, John Vickery, Douglas Westen, Greg Woodell

Berlin Bertie

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

An intimate and at times savagely funny psychological study of two sisters, one of who has made her home in East Berlin and one who has stayed on in their native London.

Fleeing from an encounter that has destroyed her marriage, Rosa Brine leaves Berlin in the wake of the downing of the Wall and seeks shelter with her sister Alice. But the sinister figure of 'Berlin Bertie' follows and finds her. A turbulent Easter weekend of explosive confrontations ends in an oddly comic kind of salvation.

The Blinding Light  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's play The Blinding Light is about the playwright August Strindberg, focussing on a period of crisis in his life when, in 1896, he suffered a mental breakdown in a hotel room in Paris. The play was first performed at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London, on 6 September 2017.

The play is set in February 1896 in a squalid top-floor room in the Hotel Orfila, Rue d’Assas, Paris. The room is occupied by the famous Swedish playwright August Strindberg, who, having abandoned theatre, is living a life of squalid splendour, attempting to make gold by finding the philosopher’s stone, the secret of creation. As his grasp on reality weakens, his first two wives, Siri and Frida, visit him to bring him to his senses. But their interventions spin out of control.

In an introduction to the published script, Howard Brenton writes: 'I wrote The Blinding Light to try to understand the mental and spiritual crisis that August Strindberg suffered in February, 1896. Deeply disturbed, plagued by hallucinations, he holed up in various hotel rooms in Paris, most famously in the Hotel Orfila in the Rue d’Assas. ... Before and after the crisis in Paris he always wanted to make the theatre more real, at first by being true to the minutiae of everyday life – the famous cooking on stage in Miss Julie – then by trying to stage psychological states so vividly you think you are dreaming wide awake. By ‘realist’ or expressionist’ means he wanted audiences to see the world in a new light.'

The Jermyn Street Theatre production was directed by Tom Littler with a set designed by Cherry Truluck for Lucky Bert. It was performed by Laura Morgan, Jasper Britton (as August), Susannah Harker and Gala Gordon.

Blood and Ice

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's earliest play, Blood and Ice is a psychodrama that tells the story of Frankenstein’s creation and weaves a web of connections between Mary Shelley’s own tragic life and that of her literary monster. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1982. It was later revived, in a revised version, by David McVicar at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1988, and subsequently toured by McVicar's company, Pen Name. It was again revived, in the version that was ultimately published, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 24 October 2003.

The play unfolds as a series of flashbacks from the perspective of Mary Shelley in later life, disillusioned, let down by her friends, and struggling to understand her own creation, Frankenstein, or why she wrote it in the first place. It focuses on the summer of 1816, when eighteen-year-old Mary and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley are joined at a house party on the shores of Lake Geneva by Mary’s half-sister Claire and the infamous Lord Byron. They take part in a challenge to see who can write the most horrifying story. Little do they know that Mary’s contribution is to become one of the most celebrated novels of all time, nor how her life, already burdened with the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, is to be so full of tragedy.

Liz Lochhead, in a 2009 Introduction to the published text, writes 'It’s exactly thirty years since I first took down from a library shelf Muriel Spark’s Child of Light, her wonderful biography of Mary Shelley, and, shortly after, began my own pursuit. Could I make a play…? Naively, I was, at the time, quite blithely unaware that I wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, to be fired by the dramatic possibilities of this moment in history, that iconic stormy summer of 1816 by the shores of the lake and beneath the high Alps.'

The 2003 Royal Lyceum production was directed by Graham McLaren and performed by Lucianne McEvoy, Phil Matthews, Alex Hassel, Susan Coyle and Michele Rodley.

Bloody Wimmin

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Lucy Kirkwood’s Bloody Wimmin is a short play written for the Tricycle Theatre’s Women, Power and Politics season, staged at the Tricycle, London, in June–July 2010. The play examines the impact of the 1980s Greenham Common protests and the fight for nuclear disarmament. It was first performed at the Tricycle on 4 June 2010, in rep with short plays by Marie Jones, Moira Buffini and Rebecca Lenkiewicz.

It’s 1984 and the peace camp at Greenham Common is in full swing. Mother-to-be Helen is torn between her commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament and her expectant husband back home. Twenty-five years later and her now adult son, James, is an environmental activist, railing against what he perceives as sexual exploitation in the way the media is covering their protests.

The Tricycle Theatre production was directed by Indhu Rubasingham with a cast including Niamh Cusack, Stella Gonet and Kika Markham.

Boudica  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tristan Bernays' play Boudica is a history play in verse that tells the story of Boudica, queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe in the first century AD. It was first performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on 8 September 2017.

The play is set in the year 61 AD in Britannia, on the furthest western borders of the Roman Empire. The King of the Iceni has died and his widow, Boudica, has tried to claim her rightful throne. For her insolence in defying Rome, the queen has been flogged, her daughters have been raped, and they have been banished from their homeland. But now, Queen Boudica has returned with an army, seeking revenge.

The premiere production was directed by Eleanor Rhode and designed by Tom Piper. It was performed by Bethan Clark, Samuel Collings, Owen Findlay, Jenny Fitzpatrick, Kate Handford, Joan Iyiola, Brian Martin, Forbes Masson, Gina McKee (as Boudica), Anna-Maria Nabirye, Abraham Popoola, Clifford Samuel, Natalie Simpson and Tok Stephen.

The Business of Good Government

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Business of Good Government was written for and first performed in 1960 in the village of Brent Knoll, Somerset. Telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, it focuses less on the divine and miraculous, and more on the geopolitical forces at play in Herod's kingdom.

Under threat of Roman invasion from the west and Persian invasion from the East, Herod is disconcerted to receive a party of Persian delegates, wise men, whom he fears are spies for his neighbour. Realising the threat that might come from a child born which might match and ancient prophecy, he issues an edict to slaughter all males aged under two-years-old.

In spite of this heinous crime, The Business of Good Government presents a not altogether unsympathetic portrait of that infamous king, in whom we can perhaps see echoes of calculated government policy in modern times.

Still, it is the goodness of Joseph and Mary, who parent a newborn, then bear it to safety out of a hostile kingdom, which shines through. The Business of Good Government is a traditional, if human, version of the story of Jesus' birth, and was first performed in Brent Knoll's Church of St. Michael, in 1960.

Bye Bye Columbus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Peter Barnes mockingly dramatises the distinctly unheroic expedition of Christopher Columbus, which changed the face of the globe, though not entirely in the way he was expecting.

Columbus’s famous venture begins with a desperate struggle for funding, as well as an attempt to convince his backers that the /world was a lot smaller than everyone else thought. Eventually the Spanish King and Queen concede to his terms, which demanded extravagant personal rewards for services of dubious integrity. When he finally claims the Americas for the Spanish Empire, he isn’t entirely sure which country they are, but that doesn’t stop him finding ways to make money out of the people he found there.

Bye Bye Columbus is a wry and mocking portrait of a man who sailed halfway across the world for a hint of gold. The play was broadcast by BBC Television in 1992.

Caledonia

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

William Paterson was a financial adventurer who devised one of the most daring and disastrous speculations of all time. His plan: to found a Scottish colony on Darien in Central America and turn Scotland, one of the poorest nations in Europe, into a colonial power. He invited the public to invest. And they did – in a big way. Within weeks a vast proportion of the nation’s wealth had been subscribed.

The plan went wrong though, and badly so, so that, within a few years, the Scots – demoralised and impoverished – were forced to give up their nation’s independent status and sign the 1707 Treaty of Union with England.

Inspired by documents, journals, letters, songs and poems of the period, Caledonia is both a tribute to heroic ambition and a darkly witty take on the deceptions and self-deceptions of rich and poor alike. It was first performed at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, on 21st August 2010, in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An exuberant and sweeping ‘Ceilidh Play with Scenes, Songs and Music of Highland History’ which tells the continuing story of the exploitation of the Scottish Highlands.

McGrath’s winding, furious, innovative play begins with the story of the Clearances: in the nineteenth century, aristocratic landowners discovered the profitability of sheep farming, and forced a mass emigration of rural Highlanders, burning their houses in order to make way for the Cheviot sheep. The play follows the thread of capitalist and repressive exploitation through the estates of the stag-hunting landed gentry, to the most recent rush for profit in the name of North Sea Oil. It is a passionate history told through ballads, Gaelic songs, poetry, comic sketches and tragic stories of resistance.

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil was first performed in 1973 at the ‘What Kind of Scotland’ conference in Edinburgh, then toured throughout Scotland before being televised.

The Clearing

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing is an original play about the effects of Oliver Cromwell’s military campaign in Ireland. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, in November 1993.

The play is set in Ireland in 1652. Oliver Cromwell has passed the Act for the Settlement of Ireland, decreeing that all Catholic landowners must relocate to the province of Connaught, a blighted and barren land in the west of the country. Madeleine, an Irish woman married to an English man, Robert Preston, has just given birth to their first child, but their joy is short-lived. Their union becomes the focus of an ever-rising resentment within their small farming community. As the English parliament under Cromwell’s command mount their ‘to Hell or Connaught’ policy, the Prestons’ happy world is torn apart.

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by Lynne Parker, with Adrian Rawlins as Robert Preston and Susan Lynch as Madeleine. The play went on to win a Time Out Theatre Award and the John Whiting Award.

The play was revived by Shared Experience in 2002 on a tour starting in Birmingham on 7 March and including a month-long engagement from 23 April to 25 May at London's Tricycle Theatre. The production was directed by Polly Teale and designed by Angela Davies. The cast was Amelda Brown, Pip Donaghy, Aislin McGuckin, Mairead McKinley and Joseph Millson.

The Clink  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stephen Jeffreys’s play The Clink is a satirical farce set in Elizabethan England, about a comedian who becomes unwillingly involved in the political skullduggery surrounding the dying queen. It was first staged by Paines Plough at Theatre Royal Plymouth on 20 September 1990, ahead of a tour of Britain and Holland.

The play opens in the Liberty of the Clink, an area on the south bank of the Thames which historically was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county's high sheriff, and where the renowned prison known as The Clink was to be found. Lucius Bodkin, one half of traditional comedy duo the Bodkin Brothers, wants a brilliant career and, unlike his brother Thomas, is willing to take any risk to achieve it. His opportunity arrives when he is chosen to entertain a visiting delegation from the Dutch Republic. But the Queen is at death's door, conspirators are everywhere, and Lucius has reckoned without the backstabbers and wide boys that stand in his way.

The Paines Plough production was directed by Sally Furse and designed by Sally Jacobs. It was performed by Tony Bluto, Shelagh Fraser, David Gant, Didi Hopkins, Liz Kettle, Mark Lockyer (as Lucius Bodkin), Ric Morgan, Keith Osborn and Taiwo Payne.

Coram Boy

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson's stage adaptation of Jamila Gavin's Whitbread Award-winning children's novel, Coram Boy (published in 2000), is a Dickensian tale of philanthropy, foundling children, and families both divided and, ultimately, reunited. It was first performed, with music composed by Adrian Sutton, in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 15 November 2005 (previews from 2 November).

In 18th-century Gloucestershire, the evil Otis Gardner preys on unmarried mothers, promising to take their babies (and their money) to Thomas Coram's hospital for foundling children. Instead, he buries the babies and pockets the loot. But Otis's downfall is set in train when his half-witted son Meshak falls in love with a young girl, Melissa, and rescues the unwanted son she has had with a disgraced aristocrat. The child is brought up in Coram's hospital, and proves to have inherited the startling musical gifts of his father – gifts that ultimately bring about his father's redemption and a heartbreaking family reunion.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Melly Still and designed by Ti Green and Melly Still. It was performed by Jack Tarlton, Justine Mitchell, Nicholas Tizzard, Abby Ford, Anna Madeley, Paul Ritter, Ruth Gemmell, Inika Leigh Wright, Adam Shipway, Rebecca Johnson, Kelly Williams, Eve Matheson, Katherine Manners, Sophie Bould, William Scott-Masson, Bertie Carvel, Sharon Maharaj, Akiya Henry, Chetna Pandya and Stuart McLoughlin.

It was revived at the National Theatre from November 2006 to February 2007.

The play opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on 2 May 2007, with previews from 16 April 2007, directed by Melly Still.

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coriolanus was first published in the First Folio of 1623; we have no recording of a first performance contemporary with Shakespeare. As a result, dating the play has proven to be a difficult task, with most modern critics placing the writing of the play in the second half of the 1610s.

Affording Coriolanus a genre is similarly tricky: it is ‘The Tragedy of Coriolanus’ in the First Folio, but it is deeply indebted to the sub-genre of ‘Roman plays’ that form a significant part of the Shakespearean oeuvre. As with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare draws on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for both historical detail and literary tropes.

The exploration of the public voice and the body politic in Coriolanus is immediately displayed in the play’s opening, where Roman citizens are rising up against the mounting price of grain. (It has been argued that this is a contemporary reference to the Midland Revolt of 1607, where peasants in the Midlands of Britain rioted against the enclosure of common land.) Menenius, a wise old Roman generally respected by the people, recites a parable narrating the breakdown of the body when its individual parts are not in accord. For the body politic to function, the head (here, the General; in Shakespeare’s England, King James I) and the belly (the people) must support each other.

One of the play’s central explorations, that of the battle between public and private identity, and political and personal duty, is encapsulated in the figure of Coriolanus, much as it is in other Roman figures (e.g. Brutus in Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra). His identity is unfixed, and manipulated by the patricians and his ambitious mother, Volumnia.

Unlike other Shakespearean tragic heroes, Coriolanus only has one lengthy soliloquy, in which he laments the ‘dissension’ and ‘bitterest enmity’ to which ‘friends now fast sworn’ have turned. As his affinity shifts from Romans to Volscians, his own identity gets lost, until he cries at the end of Act IV that ‘only that name remains’ – the irony being that ‘Coriolanus’ is not the name he started off with at the beginning of the play (he was ‘Caius Martius’ until he was granted the toponym Coriolanus, after his defeat of the town of Corioles). He is murdered at the end of the play in a bloody attack perpetrated by conspirators, mirroring Caesar’s death in his eponymous Roman tragedy. The opacity of the play’s central figure has rendered theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Coriolanus manifold in the past century especially: Laurence Olivier (twice), Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Ian McKellan and Ralph Fiennes have all portrayed the general.

video Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse / NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

This Donmar Warehouse production was recorded through National Theatre Live on 30th January, 2014

When an old adversary threatens Rome, the city calls once more on her hero and defender: Coriolanus. But he has enemies at home too. Famine threatens the city, the citizens’ hunger swells to an appetite for change, and on returning from the field Coriolanus must confront the march of realpolitik and the voice of an angry people.

Shakespeare’s searing tragedy of political manipulation and revenge, Coriolanus features an Evening Standard Award-winning performance from Tom Hiddleston in the title role, directed by the Donmar's former Artistic Director Josie Rourke.

CAST
First Citizen: Rochenda Sandall
Second Citizen: Mark Stanley
Third Citizen: Dwane Walcott
Menenius: Mark Gatiss
Caius Martius Coriolanus: Tom Hiddleston
Cominius: Peter de Jersey
Titus Lartius: Alfred Enoch
Brutus: Elliot Levey
Sicinia: Helen Schlesinger
Aufidius: Hadley Fraser
Volumnia: Deborah Findlay
Virgilia: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Valeria, Fourth Citizen: Jacqueline Boatswain
Young Martius: Joe Willis

CREATIVES
Director: Josie Rourke
Designer: Lucy Osborne
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Emma Laxton
Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding
Composer: Michael Bruce
Movement: Jonathan Watkins
Fight Director: Richard Ryan

Cromwell

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in England during the 1600s, Cromwell depicts a world of conflict and survival as the warring of rival ideological factions decimates the opportunities for ordinary people to live ordinary lives.

The play centres on a man named Procter who finds himself drafted into war, and even accepts the principles for which he is fighting, until he falls in love with a woman, Joan, whose life has been decimated by the conflict around her. Procter lays down his weapon and becomes a pacifist, preferring a quiet life of domesticity. However, he and Joan are powerless to prevent the war from coming to their doorstep once more – and again find their lives torn to pieces at the point of a sword.

In his introduction, David Storey writes that ‘Cromwell was written when the war in Vietnam, and the troubles in Northern Ireland, were at their height . . . To some extent an enigma, the play’s form emerged at a time when I was much enthralled by naturalistic – or poeticised naturalistic writing, a sudden transposition to something approaching free verse reflecting, to a degree, the dilemma explicit in the play itself: how to reconcile humanity’s insatiable appetite for destruction with a longing for transcendence and peace.’

Cromwell was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 15 August 1973, in a production directed by Anthony Page.

Dara

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tanya Ronder's adaptation of Shahid Nadeem's play Dara is a domestic drama of global consequence, set in 17th-century Mughal India. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 27 January 2015 (previews from 20 January).

Nadeem’s original play was first performed by Ajoka Theatre at Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, Pakistan, in January 2010, and later in Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, and Amritsar, Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur and Hyderabad in India.

The play's action begins in 1659, in Mughal India. The imperial court is a place of opulence and excess, with music, drugs, eunuchs and harems. Two brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb, whose mother’s death inspired the Taj Mahal, are heirs to this Muslim empire. Now they fight ferociously for succession. Dara, the crown prince, has the love of the people, and of his emperor father; but the younger Aurangzeb holds a different vision for India’s future. Islam inspires poetry in Dara, puritanical rigour in Aurangzeb. Can Jahanara, their beloved sister, assuage Aurangzeb’s resolve to seize the Peacock Throne and purge the empire?

In an author's note in the published script, Ronder writes: 'My brief was to take Shahid Nadeem’s play and adapt it for a National Theatre audience. We set out, myself and director Nadia Fall, to unpack the events cited in the original play, to educate ourselves, and to recreate the story in a way that didn’t put our audience at arm’s length, able to write the drama off as a story that was not theirs. The tale of Dara and Aurangzeb is one which a Pakistani or an Indian audience would have preexisting knowledge and some ownership of. A story, albeit differently told across borders, which children all over the Indian subcontinent will have heard at school or at home, (perhaps akin to our connection in Britain to Henry VIII or Elizabeth I), but that very few of us in the West know about. ... The result is a more recognisable shape of play; it has expanded to five acts, it starts before the original begins and ends several decades later. I have added in a trial scene to give Dara the voice I think we need to hear, and added various characters and storylines, all taken from or inspired by historical facts – Itbar and Afia, Murad, Mian Mir, Hira Bai and Aurangzeb’s relationship with her – and also incorporated a childhood for the brothers and sisters of this Mughal court. All in an attempt to round the story out, to make it a fairer fight between the brothers and to hopefully give our audience the psychological and emotional complexity they are used to.'

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Nadia Fall and designed by Katrina Lindsay. It was performed by Zubin Varla (as Dara), Gurjeet Singh, Scott Karim, Ronak Patani, Emilio Doorgasingh, Anjana Vasan, Sargon Yelda (as Aurangzeb), Rudi Dharmalingam, Esh Alladi, Nicholas Khan, Mariam Haque, Gary Wood, Vincent Ebrahim, Nathalie Armin, Anneika Rose, Anjli Mohindra, Liya Tassisa, Indira Joshi, Chook Sibtain, Simon Nagra, Emilio Doorgasingh, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Ranjit Krishnamma.

Doctor Scroggy’s War

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's play Doctor Scroggy's War is the story of a fictional soldier, Jack Twigg, who, after receiving an injury on the front line during the First World War, encounters the polymath and celebrated surgeon Harold Gillies, acknowledged as the father of modern plastic surgery. The play was first performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on 12 September 2014, marking the centenary of the war.

The play's action centres around the invented character Jack Twigg, a ship’s chandler’s son who enlists in the London Regiment, falls in love with the upper-class Penelope Wedgewood and works as a junior intelligence officer for Sir John French during the battle of Loos in 1915. But Jack leaves the staff, determined to serve in the front line, and there receives a terrible facial injury. This, in the play’s second half, brings him into contact with Harold Gillies, a real-life pioneering plastic surgeon who developed new methods of skin-grafting to restore the faces of badly mutilated men at the Queen’s hospital, Sidcup. The play’s title derives from the roistering alter ego Gillies created to prevent his patients from succumbing to despair. Gillies tries to convince Twigg not to go back to the front, but is unable to do so and the play ends with the young soldier back on the Western Front.

In an article published in The Independent (10 September 2014), Brenton says of the play: 'What helped me in dramatising Harold Gillies were accounts of his extraordinary way of speaking. He was renowned for being difficult to understand, flinging out sentences studded with bizarre metaphors, speeding ahead of his listeners and, at times, himself. Gillies had a hyperactive sense of humour: there were practical jokes and entertainments; there was cross-dressing and illicit champagne and oysters served at night in the wards. Queens was a military hospital and rumours of "goings on" troubled authority. But Gillies, who treated more than five thousand terribly wounded men, some needing as many as 50 operations, understood that souls as well as faces had to be healed. Some of his patients never reintegrated into society but an extraordinary number did, with an insouciance that Gillies's "goings on" encouraged. I have him say about the hospital "We don't do glum here" – that was his spirit. But he was also conflicted in his work by a great fear: that the men he healed would go back to fight at the front.'

The Shakespeare's Globe premiere was directed by John Dove and designed by Michael Taylor. It was performed by Catherine Bailey (as Penelope Wedgewood), Sam Cox, Patrick Driver, Will Featherstone (as Jack Twigg), James Garnon (as Harold Gillies), Daisy Hughes, Joe Jameson, Tom Kanji, Christopher Logan, William Mannering, Holly Morgan, Rhiannon Oliver, Keith Ramsay, Paul Rider, Katy Stephens and Dickon Tyrrell.

Dorothea's Story (Play Two from The Middlemarch Trilogy)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Dorothea's Story is part of The Middlemarch Trilogy, a three-part stage adaptation by Geoffrey Beevers of George Eliot's novel Middlemarch (published 1871-2).

The Middlemarch Trilogy comprises three interconnected plays (Dorothea's Story, The Doctor's Story and Fred and Mary's Story) telling the story of Eliot's fictitious town of Middlemarch from the perspective of three different sets of characters: from county, town and countryside. They were first performed at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, in 2013. Dorothea’s Story opened on 23 October.

In Dorothea’s Story, set among the big houses of the local aristocracy of Middlemarch, young, intelligent Dorothea is so enamoured of the pedantic Reverend Casaubon that she marries him, much to everyone’s disbelief. But her friendship with Casaubon’s young cousin Will Ladislaw arouses suspicions in her new husband, who will do anything to thwart their mutual affection.

The Orange Tree production was directed by Geoffrey Beevers and designed by Sam Dowson. The cast was Georgina Strawson, Daisy Ashford, Christopher Ettridge, Christopher Naylor, Jamie Newall, Liz Crowther, Ben Lambert, Michael Lumsden, NiamhWalsh, David Ricardo-Pearce and Lucy Tregear.

In his introduction to the published script (Nick Hern Books, 2014), Geoffrey Beevers writes, 'I’ve always loved the challenge of huge themes in intimate spaces, where the principle must be, not: ‘What can we do with this?’ but: ‘What can we do without? How can we tell this story, as simply as possible, so the story will shine through?’ I wanted to use only her words, a few actors and a minimum of setting, and leave as much as possible to the audience’s imagination.'

Drawing the Line

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's Drawing the Line is a historical drama about the partition of India in August 1947, an act that was to have huge ramifications for the modern world. It highlights the extraordinarily contingent and chaotic political circumstances that lay behind such a momentous historical act. It was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 3 December 2013.

The play opens in London in 1947. Summoned by the Prime Minister from the court where he is presiding judge, Cyril Radcliffe is given an unlikely mission. He is to travel to India, a country he has never visited, and, with limited survey information, no expert support and no knowledge of cartography, he is to draw the border which will divide the Indian sub-continent into two new Sovereign Dominions. To make matters even more challenging, he has only six weeks to complete the task. Wholly unsuited to his role, Radcliffe is unprepared for the dangerous whirlpool of political intrigue and passion into which he is plunged – untold consequences may even result from the illicit liaison between the Leader of the Congress Party and the Viceroy’s wife. As he begins to break under the pressure he comes to realise that he holds in his hands the fate of millions of people.

The play's premiere at Hampstead Theatre was directed by Howard Davies with Tom Beard as Cyril Radcliffe, Silas Carson as Nehru, Andrew Havill as Mountbatten and Abigail Cruttenden as Antonia Radcliffe.

The performance on Saturday 11 January 2014 was live-streamed to a worldwide audience for free by the theatre in association with The Guardian.

Edward II

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When the courageous and impressive Edward I dies, his son, Edward II, is a disappointing successor. He prefers domestic tasks to waging wars, and he prefers men to women. However, Edward I’s death is good news for Piers Gaveston, who has been exiled and is now allowed to return to England under the young Edward’s wishes. The new King bestows extravagant favours upon Gaveston, including the protection of his life, while his sovereign duties are neglected. Not everyone is as smitten with Gaveston as the King, however, and the King’s nobles pressure Edward to banish the favourite to Ireland. It is Edward’s Queen, Isabella of France, who will only be satisfied with Gaveston’s murder.

Based on Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) and set in early fourteenth century England, Marlowe’s play is a portrait of a flawed monarch, driven by his animal passions and by an overwhelming romantic obsession.

Copyright © 1997 A & C Black Publishers Limited

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.

Gabriel (Adamson)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

This is noisily Protestant England - the England of William and Mary's Glorious Revolution at the end of a century of civil strife. This is London in the 1690s, the monster city tamed into awe by our only Orpheus: Henry Purcell.

Monarchs, princes, prostitutes, wigmakers, composers, tapsters, musicians, transvestites and watermen jostle for attention in the teeming, unruly world of late seventeenth-century London, where enthralling stories both real and imagined merge and intersect.

Gabriel premiered at Shakespeare's Globe, London, in July 2013 with Alison Balsom, one of the world's finest trumpeters, performing the music of Purcell and Handel.

Gilbert is Dead

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Gilbert Is Dead is a Victorian scientific mystery play: a clever, funny and moving portrait of grief, faith and science.

The plot follows Lucius Trickett, London's most celebrated taxidermist, who finds himself in cahoots with Queen Victoria and the hero Gilbert Shirley, to disprove Darwin's theory of evolution. The key is a stuffed specimen of the mysterious ghost loris, suicidal enough to disprove the theory that every animal struggles for survival. But Gilbert goes missing and the fate of Trickett’s private museum hangs in the balance. The play’s distinctive, often surrealist voice is characterised by historically intelligent, meticulously researched subjects and a precise, quirky sense of irony. It is an academic, mad-cap labyrinth, toying with history, scientific theories and popular beliefs.

Gilbert is Dead premiered at Hoxton Music Hall, London in 2009.

Glory On Earth  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Linda McLean's play Glory on Earth is a historical drama about Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. It was first performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh on 20 May 2017.

The play is set in Scotland between 1561 and 1563. The French-raised Mary Stuart arrives in Leith docks with her female retinue. She is eighteen and on her young shoulders rest the hopes of the Catholic establishment of Europe. The nation that receives her has just outlawed her church and its practices. Its leader is the radical cleric and protestant reformer, John Knox. Both believe themselves ordained by God. Both believe themselves beloved by their people. Both were exiled and returned home... but only one can make Scotland their own.

The premiere production was directed by David Greig and designed by Karen Tennent. It was performed by Rona Morison (as Mary), Jamie Sives (as John Knox), Christina Gordon, Christie Gowans, Kirsty Eila McIntyre, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Shannon Swan and Fiona Wood.

The Glove Thief  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Beth Flintoff’s play The Glove Thief is a historical drama about a group of Elizabethan tapestry-makers whose embroidery expresses their deepest longings and perhaps has the power to change the course of English history.

The play was commissioned as part of the Platform initiative from Tonic Theatre in partnership with Nick Hern Books, aimed at addressing gender imbalance in theatre by offering a series of big-cast plays with predominantly or all-female casts, written specifically for performance by young actors.

It was first performed by students of Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance at Ugly Duck, London, on 15 June 2017.

The play is set in the year 1569, and Elizabeth I is Queen of England. With no heir to the throne, political unrest is growing. Elizabeth has spies everywhere, and there are rumours of threats against her life, which begin to centre on her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. When Mary arrives in England, escaping Scotland in fear for her life, Elizabeth sends her to Tutbury Castle, the home of Bess of Hardwicke, once the richest woman in England. Is Mary a guest, there for her own safety, or is she Elizabeth’s prisoner? In the play, the three most powerful women in England are seen through the eyes of an ordinary young girl, Rose. When Rose is accused of stealing, Bess steps in and takes her into her household, on condition that Rose spies on Mary for Queen Elizabeth. Rose must spend her days sewing with Mary and her attendants. Sewing is a subversive and escapist act: for Rose, it is an art form and a chance to break away from her background; for Bess, it is an expression of her love and loss, and liberation from her marriage; and for Mary, it might literally be her way out of captivity.

The play can be performed by a minimum of sixteen people (twelve female, four male), with no maximum size.

In an Introduction to the published playtext, Beth Flintoff writes: 'This is the fourth in a series of historical plays I am lucky enough to have been asked to write in the past couple of years. The experience has made me realise how profoundly dissatisfied I am with the way history has been presented to us so far, and how happy to discover that all along there have been countless stories of remarkable women, sitting unnoticed in the dustbin of history, waiting for someone to brush them off. This story, of a group of women forced to spend years closed up together and trying not to go mad in the process, was one such forgotten tale of courage and ingenuity that deserves to be told.'

The Rose Bruford production was directed by Ola Ince and designed by Elle Rose. It was performed by Katie Spencer-Blake, Adriana Moore, Daisy Adams, Jesse Bateson, Alice Renshaw, Ellie-Jane Goddard, Siobhan Bevan, Rachel Lemon, Billie Hamer, Grace Liston , Jorginho Osuagwu, Robert Rickman, Niall Cullen, Tayla Kovacevic-Ebong and James Killeen.

A Hard Rain

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper's A Hard Rain is a play about a key moment in the history of gay rights, set in New York in the weeks leading up to the Stonewall riots in 1969. It was first performed on 26 February 2014 at Above the Stag Theatre, London, a fringe theatre with a focus on producing LGBT-themed theatre. Above the Stag Theatre had previously staged several adult pantomimes written by Bradfield and Hooper.

The play's action takes place mostly in New York City in June 1969. It centres around a seedy, illicit gay bar in Greenwich Village owned by the mafia. Kicked out of the military after a year in Vietnam, cross-dressing Ruby (male, aged 26) winds up in Greenwich Village with no prospects. There he meets Jimmy, an abused, cheeky 16-year-old street kid who will change his world.

The premiere production was directed by Tricia Thorns and designed by David Shields. It was performed by Nigel Barber, Stephanie Willson, Michael Edwards (as Ruby), Rhys Jennings, Oliver Lynes and James El-Sharawy (as Jimmy).

video Henry IV (Donmar)

Donmar Warehouse
Type: Video

What makes a king? What makes a father? Shakespeare’s monumental history play travels to the heart of family, duty and country.

This innovative film, recorded before a live audience, documents the Donmar Warehouse’s all-female stage production, adapted from William Shakespeare’s two plays about King Henry IV, Prince Hal and Falstaff.

The bold, contemporary production is presented as if played by inmates of a women’s prison and was described by critics as ‘unforgettable’. The director for both stage and screen is Phyllida Lloyd, and Dame Harriet Walter is Henry IV.

The Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy began in 2012 with an all-female production of Julius Caesar led by Dame Harriet Walter. Set in a women’s prison, the production asked the question, ‘Who owns Shakespeare?’ Two further productions followed: Henry IV in 2014 and The Tempest in 2016, all featuring a diverse company of women. The Trilogy enthralled theatre audiences in London and New York and was shared with women and girls in prisons and schools across the UK. The film versions were shot live in a specially built temporary theatre in King’s Cross in 2016.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

For more videos about the trilogy, visit this page.

video Henry IV Part 1 (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In 1978, the BBC set itself the task of filming all of William Shakespeare's plays for television. The resulting productions, renowned for their loyalty to the text, utilised the best theatrical and television directors and brought highly praised performances from leading contemporary actors.

Henry IV Part One: these are troubled times for King Henry. His son, Prince Harry acts more like a rogue than royalty, keeping the company of drunken highway robber Falstaff and other shady characters. Meanwhile, from the north come rumours of a rebellion led by the son of the Percy family, the valiant Hotspur. One of Shakespeare's most celebrated dramatic achievements, this play mixes history and comedy effortlessly, moving from scenes of royalty to rough drinking dens with ease. This production matches its superb characters with great actors, particularly in Anthony Quayle's magnificent Falstaff.

Credits:

Starring: Anthony Quayle, Jon Finch, David Gwillim, Tim Piggott-Smith, Brenda Bruce

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Henry IV, Part 1 (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

King Henry IV Part 1 is an epic tale of power, treachery and war, exploring the complexity of father-son relationships Stage director: Dominic Dromgoole. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Jason Baughan, Roger Allam, Patrick Brennan, Daon Broni, Phil Cheadle, Oliver Coopersmith, Oliver Cotton, Sam Crane, William Gaunt, Christopher Godwin, Sean Kearns, James Lailey, Danny Lee Wynter, Kevork Malikyan, Barbara Marten, Jamie Parker, Paul Rider, Lorna Stuart, Joseph Timms, Jade Williams.

video Henry IV Part 1 (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

With his crown under threat from enemies both foreign and domestic, Henry IV prepares for war. Having deposed the previous king, he is only too aware how tenuous his position is, and the price to be paid if he falters. As his father prepares to defend his crown, Prince Hal is languishing in the taverns and brothels of London, revelling in the company of his friend, the notorious Sir John Falstaff. With the onset of war, Hal and Falstaff are thrust into the brutal reality of the battlefield, where Hal must confront his responsibilities to family and throne.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

video Henry IV Part 1 (The Hollow Crown, Series 1, Episode 2)

NBC Universal
Type: Video

The heir to the throne Prince Hal defies his father King Henry by spending his time at Mistress Quickly's tavern in the company of the dissolute Falstaff and his companions. The king is threatened by a rebellion led by Hal's rival Hotspur, his father Northumberland and his uncle Worcester. In the face of this danger to the state, Prince Hal joins his father to defeat the rebels at the Battle of Shrewsbury and kill Hotspur in single combat.

Credits

Henry IV: Jeremy Irons, Falstaff: Simon Russell Beale, Prince Hal: Tom Hiddleston, Mistress Quickly: Julie Walters, Northumberland: Alun Armstrong, Hotspur: Joe Armstrong, Poin: David Dawson, Kate Percy: Michelle Dockery, Bardolph: Tom Georgeson, Worcester: David Hayman, Westmoreland: James Laurenson, Mortimer: Harry Lloyd, Doll Tearsheet: Maxine Peake, Glendower: Robert Pugh, Lady Mortimer: Alex Clatworthy, Peto: Ian Conningham, Douglas: Stephen McCole, Lancaster: Henry Faber, Vernon: Mark Tandy, Coleville: Dominic Rowan, Blunt: Jolyon Coy, Francis: John Heffernan, Sheriff: John Ashton, Bracy: Conrad Asquith, Hotspur's Servant: Jim Bywater, Producer: Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Director: Richard Eyre, Writer: Richard Eyre, Author: William Shakespeare

Find out more about The Hollow Crown films and Shakespeare's history plays in an introductory essay by Peter Kirwan here.

video Henry IV Part 2 (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In 1978, the BBC set itself the task of filming all of William Shakespeare's plays for television. The resulting productions, renowned for their loyalty to the text, utilised the best theatrical and television directors and brought highly praised performances from leading contemporary actors.

Henry IV Part Two (1979): Prince Harry's father figures are ageing. While the King frets about the Prince's lifestyle, Falstaff continues to make merry. But there are serious matters afoot. Prince John has to lead the King's army against an uprising, and Hal is forced to reassess his attitude to responsibility as his father grows increasingly sick. Retaining the same cast and director as Part One, this production assuredly charts the transformation of the Prince. It reflects the play's darker and more intimate focus, but contrasts it with colourful scenes from Falstaff's Eastcheap as well as the bucolic Gloucestershire of Shallow and Silence.

Credits:

Starring: David Gwillim, Michele Dotrice, Jon Finch, Bruce Purchase and Brenda Bruce.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Henry IV, Part 2 (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Hotspur is dead and Prince Hal has proved his mettle on the battlefield, but Henry IV lies dying and the rebels, though scattered, show no sign of declaring their allegiance to the Crown. Stage director: Dominic Dromgoole. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Roger Allam, Jason Baughan, Patrick Brennan, Daon Broni, Phil Cheadle, Oliver Coopersmith, Oliver Cotton, Sam Crane, William Gaunt, Christopher Godwin, Sean Kearns, James Lailey, Danny Lee Wynter, Kevork Malikyan, Barbara Marten, Jamie Parker, Paul Rider, Lorna Stuart, Joseph Timms, Jade Williams.

video Henry IV Part 2 (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

King Henry's health is failing as a second rebellion against his reign threatens to surface. Intent on securing his legacy, he is uncertain that his son Hal is a worthy heir, believing him more concerned with earthly pleasures than the responsibility of rule. Sir John Falstaff is sent to the countryside to recruit fresh troops. Amongst the unwitting locals, opportunities for embezzlement and profiteering prove impossible to resist as Falstaff gleefully indulges in the business of lining his own pockets. As the King's health continues to worsen, Hal must choose between duty and loyalty to an old friend.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

video Henry IV Part 2 (The Hollow Crown, Series 1, Episode 3)

NBC Universal
Type: Video

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury, Northumberland learns of the death of his son. The Lord Chief Justice attempts on behalf of the increasingly frail king to separate Falstaff from Prince Hal. The rebels continue to plot insurrection. Falstaff is sent to recruit soldiers and takes his leave of his mistress, Doll Tearsheet. The rebel forces are overcome. This brings comfort to the dying king, who is finally reconciled to his son. Falstaff rushes to Hal's coronation with expectations of high office.

Credits

Henry IV: Jeremy Irons, Falstaff: Simon Russell Beale, Prince Hal: Tom Hiddleston, Mistress Quickly: Julie Walters, Northumberland: Alun Armstrong, Shallow: David Bamber, Lady Northumberland: Niamh Cusack, Poins: David Dawson, Kate Percy: Michelle Dockery, Bardolph: Tom Georgeson, Warwick: Iain Glen, Archbishop of York: Nicholas Jones, Westmoreland: James Laurenson, Lord Chief Justice: Geoffrey Palmer, Doll Tearsheet: Maxine Peake, Pistol: Paul Ritter, Hastings: Adam Kotz, Lancaster: Henry Faber, Mowbray: Pip Torrens, Silence: Tim McMullan, Gloucester: Will Attenborough, Coleville: Dominic Rowan, Gower: Pip Carter, Peto: Ian Conningham, Falstaff's Page: Billy Matthews, Producer: Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Director: Richard Eyre, Writer: Richard Eyre, Author: William Shakespeare

Find out more about The Hollow Crown films and Shakespeare's history plays in an introductory essay by Peter Kirwan here.

video Henry V (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Shakespeare’s masterpiece of the turbulence of war and the arts of peace tells the romantic story of Henry’s campaign to recapture the English possessions in France. But the ambitions of this charismatic king are challenged by a host of vivid characters caught up in the real horrors of war. Stage director: Dominic Dromgoole. Screen director: Ross MacGibbon. Featuring: Jamie Parker, Nigel Cooke, Sam Cox, Kurt Egyiawan, Matthew Flynn, David Hargreaves, James Lailey, Paul Rider, Roger Watkins, Brid Brennan, Graham Butler, Giles Cooper, Beruce Khan, Brendan O'Hea, Olivia Ross, Chris Starkie, Lisa Stevenson.

video Henry VIII (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

The Tudor Court is locked in a power struggle between its nobles and the Machiavellian Cardinal Wolsey, the King's first minister and the most conspicuous symbol of Catholic power in the land. Stage director: Mark Rosenblatt. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Michael Bertenshaw, Sam Cox, John Cummins, Ben Deery, Mary Doherty, John Dougall, Will Featherstone, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Anthony Howell, Colin Hurley, Miranda Raison, Dominic Rowan, Dickon Tyrell, Kate Duchene, Amanda Lawrence, Ian McNeice.

video Henry VI Part 1 (The Hollow Crown, Series 2: The Wars of the Roses, Episode 1)

NBC Universal
Type: Video

Against the backdrop of wars in France, the English nobility quarrel. News of the English defeat at Orleans reaches the duke of Gloucester and other nobles. After the funeral of Henry V, his son, the infant Henry VI, is proclaimed king.

Seventeen years later, Henry sits on the throne whilst the rivalries at court continue - Plantagenet has learned of his own strong claim to the crown. After Rouen falls to the French, Plantagenet, Exeter and Talbot pledge to recapture the city from the Dauphin, but the French, led by Joan of Arc, defeat the English. The valiant English commander Talbot and his son John are killed.

Warwick and Somerset arrive too late for the battle but join forces with the survivors and retake Rouen. Somerset captures and woos Margaret of Anjou as a potential bride for Henry VI. Plantagenet takes Joan of Arc prisoner and orders for her to be burnt at the stake.

Despite Gloucester's protests, Margaret is introduced to the court as Henry's queen. Margaret complains that Eleanor, Gloucester's wife, behaves like an empress. Eleanor is banished and warns Gloucester that he is in great danger.

Gloucester is accused of high treason and is murdered at the Tower of London on the orders of Somerset while he and Margaret make love in the palace.

Henry banishes Somerset and Suffolk after Gloucester is found dead. Plantagenet is incensed when Margaret is able to bully Henry into reversing the sentence. Plantagenet makes his claim for the throne and sets the Houses of York and Lancaster in open opposition.

Credits

Producer: Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Author: William Shakespeare, Director: Dominic Cooke, Adaptor: Dominic Cooke, Adaptor: Ben Power, Gloucester: Hugh Bonneville, Plantagenet: Adrian Dunbar, Mortimer: Michael Gambon, Talbot: Philip Glenister, Eleanor: Sally Hawkins, Exeter: Anton Lesser, Somerset: Ben Miles, Margaret: Sophie Okonedo, Henry VI: Tom Sturridge, Warwick: Stanley Townsend, Suffolk: Jason Watkins, Bishop of Winchester: Samuel West, Sir William Lucy: Tom Beard, John Talbot: Max Bennett, Dauphin Charles: Tom Byam Shaw, Murderer: Sean Cernow, Joan's Mother: Pandora Colin, Joan of Arc: Laura Frances-Morgan, Brakenbury: John MacKay, Vernon: Stuart McQuarrie, Basset: Matthew Needham, Young Cecily: Lucy Robinson, Young Cecily: David Troughton, Production Company: Neal Street Productions

Find out more about The Hollow Crown films and Shakespeare's history plays in an introductory essay by Peter Kirwan here.

video Henry VI Part 2 (The Hollow Crown, Series 2: The Wars of the Roses, Episode 2)

NBC Universal
Type: Video

After the Battle of St Albans, Plantagenet and the Yorkists ride to London to claim the throne. Henry negotiates to keep the crown for his lifetime but agrees to disinherit his son Prince Edward.

Margaret is outraged and attacks Plantagenet at his house, slaughtering the duke and his youngest son Edmund. Elder brothers Edward, George and Richard escape and swear to avenge the murders and destruction of their house.

The Yorkists are victorious at the Battle of Towton and Plantagenet's eldest son is crowned Edward IV. Henry VI is imprisoned in the tower and Margaret escapes to France with her son Prince Edward.

Warwick travels to the French court to find Edward a bride. Word arrives that Edward is already betrothed to Elizabeth Woodville. Humiliated, Warwick switches sides and joins the House of Lancaster. Together with Margaret and the French king, Warwick forms an alliance to place Henry back on the throne.

George, Edward IV's brother, also joins with Warwick after failing to secure a good marriage or advance at court, but returns to the Yorkist cause moments before the Battle of Tewkesbury. The Lancastrians are defeated and Warwick is killed.

In the aftermath of battle, Richard slays Prince Edward in front of a distraught Margaret. Richard returns to London and murders the former King Henry in his cell. The court of Edward IV congregates for the christening of a new heir to the throne. The Yorkist dynasty seems secure.

Credits

Producer: Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Author: William Shakespeare, Director: Dominic Cooke, Adaptor: Dominic Cooke, Adaptor: Ben Power, Production Company: Neal Street Productions, Richard: Benedict Cumberbatch, Buckingham: Ben Daniels, Plantagenet: Adrian Dunbar, Hastings: James Fleet, Anne: Phoebe Fox, Queen Elizabeth: Keeley Hawes, Exeter: Anton Lesser, Somerset: Ben Miles, Margaret: Sophie Okonedo, King Louis: Andrew Scott, Clifford: Kyle Soller, Edward IV: Geoffrey Streatfeild, Henry VI: Tom Sturridge, Warwick: Stanley Townsend, George: Sam Troughton, Suffolk: Jason Watkins, Grieving Father: Simon Armstrong, Grieving Son: Jamie Ballard, Young Ned: Archie Bradfield, Bishop of Ely: Alan David, Lady Bona: Mariah Gale, Shepherd II: Christopher Godwin, Shepherd I: Tom Godwin, Ned: Barney Harris, Edmund: Angus Imrie, Westmorland: Richard Lynch, Brackenbury: John MacKay, Young Soldier: Jordan McCurrach, Vernon: Stuart McQuarrie, Oxford: Steffan Rhodri, Young Cecily: Lucy Robinson, Stanley: Jo Stone-Fewings, Soldier: Patrick Tolan, Messenger: Gerald Tyler, Grey: Samuel Valentine, Rivers: Al Weaver

Find out more about The Hollow Crown films and Shakespeare's history plays in an introductory essay by Peter Kirwan here.

video Henry V (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Henry IV is dead and Hal is King. With England in a state of unrest, he must leave his rebellious youth behind, striving to gain the respect of his nobility and people. Laying claim to parts of France and following an insult from the French Dauphin, Henry gathers his troops and prepares for a war that he hopes will unite his country. Gregory Doran continues his exploration of Shakespeare’s History Plays with Henry V performed in the 600th anniversary year of the Battle of Agincourt. Following his performance as Hal in Henry IV Parts I & II Alex Hassell returns as Henry V.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

video Henry V (The Hollow Crown, Series 1, Episode 4)

NBC Universal
Type: Video

Henry V has settled onto the throne and has the makings of a fine king when the French ambassador brings a challenge from the Dauphin. Inspired by his courtiers Exeter and York, Henry swears that he will, with all force, answer this challenge. The chorus tells of England's preparations for war and Henry's army sails for France. After Exeter's diplomacy is rebuffed by the French king, Henry lays a heavy siege and captures Harfleur. The French now take Henry's claims seriously and challenge the English army to battle at Agincourt.

Credits

Henry V: Tom Hiddleston, Mistress Quickly: Julie Walters, The Chorus: John Hurt, Alice: Geraldine Chaplin: Thomas Erpingham: Paul Freeman, Bardolph: Tom Georgeson; Duke of Burgundy: Richard Griffiths; Duke of York: Paterson Joseph: Westmorland: James Laurenson, Exeter: Anton Lesser, Pistol: Paul Ritter, Archbishop of Canterbury: Malcolm Sinclair, Captain Fluellen: Owen Teale, Princess Katherine: Melanie Thierry, Charles, King of France: Lambert Wilson, Louis, the Dauphin: Edward Akrout, Corporal Nym: Tom Brooke, Montjoy: Jeremie Covillault, The Constable of France: Maxime Lefrancois, Duke of Orleans: Stanley Weber, Williams: Gwilym Lee, Earl of Salisbury: Richard Clothier, Bishop of Ely: Nigel Cooke, Peto: John Dagleish, Falstaff's Boy: George Sargeant, Producer: Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Director: Thea Sharrock, Author: William Shakespeare

Find out more about The Hollow Crown films and Shakespeare's history plays in an introductory essay by Peter Kirwan here.

The Heresy of Love

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson's play The Heresy of Love is based on the extraordinary life of Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz, a poet, nun and major literary figure of Mexico. The play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and first performed in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 2 February 2012.

In a convent in seventeenth-century Mexico, Sister Juana strives to reconcile her love for God with her desire for a life of the mind. Her gift for writing plays and poems is celebrated by the Court, but her success creates alarm within the Church. Persecuted by a zealous archbishop, Sister Juana’s world threatens to crumble around her as everything she holds dear is jeopardised by dangerous ambitions and illicit desires. The play places Juana’s faith at the centre of the story and provokes questions about orthodox belief systems and the silencing of women within the Church.

In an author's note in the published edition of the play, Edmundson writes, 'I decided early on that I wanted to try to write about [Sister Juana] rather as a seventeenth-century Spanish playwright might have done. The context and high drama of her story seemed to invite this. So I have luxuriated in intrigues and rivalries, in disguised identities and mischievous servants. I have made full use of the bold and sudden contrast of the comic and the dramatic, characteristic of the period, and enjoyed forging a rhythmic and heightened language.'

The RSC production was directed by Nancy Meckler and designed by Katrina Lindsay. The cast was Teresa Banham, Geoffrey Beavers, Matthew Flynn, Raymond Coulthard, Dona Croll, Marty Cruickshank, Laura Darrall, Catherine Hamilton, Diana Kent, Youssef Kerkour, Catherin McCormack, Ian Midlane, Sarah Ovens, Daniel Stewart and Simon Thorp.

The play was revived in a new production at Shakespeare's Globe, London, in July 2015, directed by John Dove and directed by Michael Taylor.

Her Naked Skin

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Love is just fear I suppose. Masquerading as a fever. Then you explore each other and suddenly you have licence to become totally pedestrian. And ultimately abusive.

Militancy in the Suffragette Movement is at its height. Thousands of women of all classes serve time in Holloway Prison in their fight to gain the vote. Amongst them is Lady Celia Cain who feels trapped by both the policies of the day and the shackles of a frustrating marriage. Inside, she meets a young seamstress, Eve Douglas, and her life spirals into an erotic but dangerous chaos.

London 1913. A crucial moment when, with emancipation almost in sight, women refuse to let the establishment stand in their way.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's Her Naked Skin premiered at the National Theatre, London, in July 2008.

Hoodoo Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Young Toulou has run away from the cotton fields of Mississippi to big city Memphis to make it as a blues singer. When she falls in love with a rambling bluesman, Ace of Spades, she gives into the suggestions of the local madam, Candylady, and conjures up a hoodoo trick to make him fall in love with her back. When her brother Jib, a born-again Christian missionary, arrives in town, Toulou is forced to confront all that she was running away from, and a chain of events with devastating consequences is set in motion.

The first of Katori Hall’s ‘Memphis Plays’, Hoodoo Love is set during the Great Depression, when the memory of slavery, and the slave belief in hoodoo folk magic, is still very much alive. With original music and lyrics by Katori Hall, the play was first produced by Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City in 2007.

Human Cannon

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Human Cannon is a narrative of class struggle, set in a small village consumed by the fight against Fascism in Spain, a play which swells from resentment against the privileged landowners to blazing revolution.

At the centre are Agustina and her family, who we see in the first scene preparing to bury her nameless child, while her husband explains the violent origins of capitalism. When the war takes over the village and the play, Agustina begins by learning to fire her enemies’ cannon, and ends by herself becoming – through the strength of human will – the most effective weapon in the armoury of revolution.

Human Cannon is a tremendous manifesto of resistance and an unflinching interpretation of the Spanish Civil War.

Imperium: The Cicero Plays  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Poulton’s Imperium: The Cicero Plays is a cycle of six historical plays about the Roman statesman and orator, Cicero, in the first century BC, adapted from Robert Harris's trilogy of novels, Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009) and Dictator (2015), collectively known as The Cicero Trilogy.

The adaptation was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on 16 November 2017, with the six linked plays presented across two performances entitled Imperium I: Conspirator and Imperium II: Dictator. The production subsequently transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End from 14 June 2018.

In the plays, the action is presented largely from the perspective of Tiro, Cicero’s loyal secretary, who announces near the start of the first play that he is writing a life of Cicero, the greatest orator of his age – 'some say of any age'. The narrative presents a backstage view of Ancient Rome at its most bloody and brutal, as Cicero devotes all his energy and cunning to preserve the rule of law, and defend Rome’s Republic against the predatory attacks of political rivals, discontented aristocrats, and would-be military dictators.

In Imperium I: Conspirator, Cicero is elected consul by a unanimous vote of the Roman people. Catiline, his aristocratic rival, is furious in defeat and refuses to accept the results of the election. He swears a blood oath to destroy Cicero, murder the government, and take Rome by force. Behind the conspiracy, Cicero suspects, lurks Julius Caesar – young, ruthless, popular with the Roman mob and greedy for absolute power. As law and order begins to break down, who controls the mob controls Rome: Cicero, Catiline, Caesar or the charming but vicious playboy, Publius Clodius?

In Imperium II: Dictator, Cicero has retired from politics. Julius Caesar – dictator, and commander of Rome’s armies – is assassinated. Cicero sees his death as an opportunity to restore the Republic but the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, dither as power in Rome begins to fall into the lap of Mark Antony. Determined to prevent Antony imposing a military dictatorship on Rome, Cicero forms an unlikely alliance with the 19-year-old great-nephew and heir of Julius Caesar. Confident that he can control the boy and use him to destroy Mark Antony, Cicero sets out to save the Republic.

In a preface to the published playscript, Mike Poulton writes: 'The plays Robert [Harris], Greg [Doran, director and RSC Artistic Director] and I identified, lying below the surface of the trilogy, concerned Cicero’s destruction of the power-crazed and vicious Sergius Catiline, and Cicero’s attempt to prevent Mark Antony from succeeding to Julius Caesar’s dictatorship. The background to all six linked plays is Cicero’s duel with Caesar, and its aftermath. It’s a story of natural humanity, and good laws versus military ambition. Cicero succeeds in one case, and achieves a partial success in the other. But this flawed master of political oratory carries with him the seeds of his own destruction. He is, ultimately, brought low by young men – the next generation – he has trusted, taught and nurtured.'

The RSC production was directed by Gregory Doran and designed by Anthony Ward. It was performed by Nicholas Boulton, Guy Burgess, Daniel Burke, Jade Croot, Peter de Jersey, Joe Dixon, John Dougall, Michael Grady-Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Paul Kemp, Joseph Kloska (as Tiro), Patrick Knowles, Richard McCabe (as Cicero), Hywel Morgan, Lily Nichol, David Nicolle, Pierro Niel-Mee, Siobhan Redmond, Patrick Romer, Jay Saighal, Christopher Saul, Eloise Secker and Simon Thorp.

Inigo

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Follow Inigo (Ignatius of Loyola) from ambitious, hot-headed, street-fighting sensualist to his co-founding (with a radical group of young friends) of the Society of Jesus in the 16th century. In Jonathan Moore's bold, visceral, funny and poetic play, he asserts Loyola's position as counter-cultural radical. But it is not only for those interested in Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. It is also a political allegory about those who fight for change against an implacable Establishment. With the current Pope (Francis) a Jesuit, this is a timely exploration of one of history's major spiritual leaders and reformers: a story of a spiritual journey from sinner to saint. Published in conjunction with the play's run at the Pleasance Theatre, London (2015), it explores the life and times of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Of special interest to Catholic schools, colleges and seminaries. The play has been translated into Spanish.

James II: Day of the Innocents

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's play James II: Day of the Innocents is the second in her trilogy, The James Plays, about three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the fifteenth century. The play depicts a violent royal playground from the perspective of the child King.

The James Plays (also comprising James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock and James III: The True Mirror) were premiered on 10 August 2014 at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The production opened in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 10 September 2014.

In James II: Day of the Innocents, James II becomes the prize in a vicious game between Scotland’s most powerful families. Crowned when only six, abandoned by his mother and separated from his sisters, the child King is little more than a puppet. There is only one friend he can trust: William, the future Earl of Douglas. As James approaches adulthood in an ever more threatening world, he must fight to keep his tenuous grip on the crown while the nightmares of his childhood rise up once more.

In an introduction to the published script, Munro writes: 'In the delightful possibility that you are reading these plays with the view to giving them further production, here are some guidelines and warnings. All stage directions are suggestions only, you can take enormous liberties with those and emerge unscathed. Lines are very definitely not, tweak at your peril, you’ll find you’re pulling on a thread that could unravel all your plans. These texts represent a version of what was staged by the original production. Various solutions were found to represent some large moments and staging problems which are quite baldly stated in the text. As an example, we solved the problem of how to involve very small children in bloodshed and horrifying, murderous events in Day of the Innocents by using puppets. Feel free to find your own solutions.'

The premiere production was directed by Laurie Sansom and designed by Jon Bausor. The cast included Daniel Cahill as the Earl of Douglas, Ali Craig as Crichton, Blythe Duff as Isabella Stewart, Nick Elliott as John Stewart, Peter Forbes as Balvenie, Andrew Fraser as David Douglas, Sarah Higgins as Meg, Stephanie Hyam as Joan, Gordon Kennedy as Livingston, David Mara as Hume, Rona Morison as Annabella, Andrew Rothney as James II and Mark Rowley as William Douglas.

James III: The True Mirror

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's play James III: The True Mirror is the third in her trilogy, The James Plays, about three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the fifteenth century. The play, like James III himself, is colourful and unpredictable, turning its attention to the women at the heart of the royal court.

The James Plays (also comprising James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock and James II: Day of the Innocents) were premiered on 10 August 2014 at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The production opened in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 10 September 2014.

In James III: The True Mirror, Scotland comes dangerously close to civil war. Charismatic, cultured, and obsessed with grandiose schemes that his nation can ill afford, James III is by turns loved and loathed. The country's future may be decided by his resourceful and resilient wife, Queen Margaret of Denmark. Her love and clear vision can save a fragile monarchy and rescue a struggling people.

The premiere production was directed by Laurie Sansom and designed by Jon Bausor. The cast included Daniel Cahill as Jamie, Ali Craig as Sandy, Blythe Duff as Annabella, Andrew Fraser as Ross/Tam, Sofie Gråbøl as Margaret, Gordon Kennedy as John, Rona Morison as Phemy, Andrew Rothney as Cochrane, Mark Rowley as Ramsay, Jamie Sives as James III and Fiona Wood as Daisy.

James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's play James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock is the first in her trilogy, The James Plays, about three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the fifteenth century. It explores the complex, colourful character of James I, poet, lover and law-maker.

The James Plays (also comprising James II: Day of the Innocents and James III: The True Mirror) were premiered on 10 August 2014 at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The production opened in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 10 September 2014.

Captured at the age of 13 and crowned King of Scots in an English prison, James I of Scotland is delivered home 18 years later with a ransom on his head and a new English bride. The nation he returns to is poor: the royal coffers empty and his nobles ready to tear him apart at the first sign of weakness. Determined to bring the rule of law to a land riven by warring factions, James faces terrible choices if he is to save himself, his Queen and the crown.

In an introduction to the published script, Munro writes: 'These plays are set within a period of Scottish history which is virtually unknown. I feel a certain responsibility, therefore, to alert you to the fact that some small liberties have been taken with known events in order to serve our stories. Certain characters represent amalgamations of many characters or stand for political forces within Scotland. Certain events have had their timelines altered to maximise the drama. However, as far as narrative imperatives allow, I’ve followed history and used primary sources. We cannot know the character and thoughts of these dead kings and queens and long-gone Scots. We can speculate a whole series of possibilities from the few hard facts we can rely on, the slim historical evidence of their actions. However, I feel robustly certain that whatever their thoughts and feelings might have been, human nature is exactly the same now as it was then. Only culture and circumstances have changed.'

The premiere production was directed by Laurie Sansom and designed by Jon Bausor. The cast included Cameron Barnes as Big James Stewart, Blythe Duff as Isabella Stewart, Peter Forbes as Balvenie, Sarah Higgins as Meg, Stephanie Hyam as Joan, Gordon Kennedy as Murdac Stewart, James McArdle as James I, Andrew Rothney as Walter Stewart, Mark Rowley as Alisdair Stewart and Jamie Sives as Henry V.

Jefferson’s Garden

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

America. 1776.

Christian is a Quaker. His family came to America to live in peace. But he is a young man fired up by dreams of revolution. Should he defy his community and pick up a gun?

Thomas Jefferson is an idealist, with a vision of liberty for all. But America is a fractured coalition of states, in a bloody war for independence. How will he balance the ideal with the reality?

Susanna was born a slave. But the British promise liberation for those who join their fight against the revolution. Where does true freedom lie?

Jefferson's Garden premiered at Watford Palace Theatre in February 2015.

The Judas Kiss

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Oscar Wilde's philosophy leads him on a path to destruction. The Judas Kiss describes two pivotal moments: the day Wilde decides to stay in England and face imprisonment, and the night when the lover for whom he risked everything betrays him.

With a burning sense of outrage, David Hare presents the consequences of an uncompromisingly moral position in a world defined by fear and conformity.

The Judas Kiss was first presented by the Almeida Theatre Company at the Playhouse Theatre, London, in March 1998.

Kindertransport

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Between 1939 until the outbreak of World War II, nearly 10,000 Jewish children were taken from their families in Nazi-occupied Germany and sent to live with foster families in Britain. Diane Samuels’ seminal play, Kindertransport, imagines the fate of one such child. Now widely considered a modern classic, Kindertransport has been read and studied the world over.

Nine-year-old Eva is taken from her home in Germany and sent to Manchester to live with the Miller family. At first she clashes with her foster mother, Lil, but slowly a bond of trust forms between them. After she learns that her parents have failed to escape Germany, the Millers become her family and a new identity begins to form. After the war is over, she changes her name to Evelyn and acquires British citizenship. Over thirty years later, her now grown-up daughter, Faith stumbles across some old letters in their attic and Evelyn is forced to confront her traumatic past. Samuels deftly weaves together Evelyn’s past and present as she explores the devastating impact of the Holocaust on three generations.

The play won the 1992 Verity Bargate Award and was subsequently staged by the Soho Theatre Company at the Cockpit Theatre in London in 1993. It was a huge success both in the UK and the US, where it was staged at the Manhattan Theatre Club, with the New Yorker calling it ‘a powerful contribution to Holocaust literature.’ It also won the Meyer-Whitworth Award in 1993.

Since its premiere the play has been revived several times. Watford Palace Theatre staged it in 1996, in a production that transferred to the West End. Renowned theatre company Shared Experience also revived the play to great acclaim for a regional tour in 2007. Kindertransport is a set-text for GCSE Drama (AQA) and AS/A-Level English Literature.

King Charles III

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Bartlett's King Charles III is a ‘future history play’ that speculates about events following the death of the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and the subsequent coronation of her son as King Charles. Drawing on the style and structure of a Shakespearean history play, it explores the people beneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of British democracy, and the conscience of the Royal Family.

It was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 3 April 2014. The production transferred to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre from 2 September 2014 for an initial three-month run, later announcing an extension to the end of January 2015.

The play is in five acts and is written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameters, the form most commonly used by Shakespeare in his plays). It begins with a Prologue presenting the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth II. Charles, as the new King, then holds his first weekly audience with the Prime Minister, principally discussing a new bill for statutory regulation of the press. The bill has already been passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and is only awaiting Charles' royal assent to become law. Charles, however, is concerned that the law places excessive restrictions on the freedom of the press, and refuses to grant his assent. In a subplot, Prince Harry falls for Jess, an art student with republican convictions. Both Charles and Prince William are visited by the ghost of Princess Diana, who promises each that he will become 'the greatest king of all'. The Prime Minister holds a crisis meeting over the press bill with the Leader of the Opposition, and then threatens to pass a new law bypassing the royal assent. But Charles uses his royal prerogative to dissolve parliament. Protests break out across the country. Charles increases the armed guard at Buckingham Palace, offers his protection to Jess (whom the media have made the centre of a sex scandal) and agrees to Harry's wish to become a commoner. Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, presents a way forward: William should offer himself as a mediator between parliament and his father. When William announces this at a press conference without his father's knowledge and consent, Charles reacts angrily, seeing it as a betrayal; but ultimately the King finds himself forced to abdicate in favour of William, who will sign the press bill and restore the status quo between crown and parliament. The play concludes with Harry's rejection of Jess, and William and Kate's coronation.

The Almeida Theatre premiere was directed by Rupert Goold and designed by Tom Scutt. It was performed by Katie Brayben, Oliver Chris, Richard Goulding, Nyasha Hatendi, Adam James, Margot Leicester, Tim Pigott-Smith (as Charles), Tom Robertson, Nicholas Rowe, Nick Sampson, Tafline Steen, LydiaWilson, Anna-Helena McLean and Belinda Sykes.

The critical response to the play was very favourable. Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph called it 'the most spectacular, gripping and wickedly entertaining piece of lèse-majesté that British theatre has ever seen'. Dominic Maxwell in The Times declared that 'Theatre doesn’t get much better than this'. The critic for Time Out described it as 'a meaty, hilarious, dizzyingly audacious state of the nation political thriller'.

The play went on to win Best New Play at both the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards and the Olivier Awards. It also won South Bank Sky Arts Theatre Award.

In an essay included in the hardback edition of the play (Nick Hern Books, 2014), Mike Bartlett writes 'The idea for King Charles III arrived in my imagination with the form and the content very clear, and inextricably linked. ... An epic royal family drama, dealing with power and national constitution, was the content, and therefore the form had surely to be Shakespearean.'

Following its West End run, the play began a UK tour at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in September 2015 with Robert Powell in the role of Charles. The play transferred to Broadway for a limited engagement with the original London cast, running at the Music Box Theatre from 1 November 2015 until 31 January 2016, following previews from 10 October 2015.

King Henry IV Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Henry IV Part 1 is the second play in Shakespeare’s Henriad tetralogy, following on from King Richard II.

The play was first printed in the First Quarto of 1598 (Q1), as 'The History of Henrie the Fovrth; With the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the humorous conceits of Sir Iohn Falstalffe'. It seems that it was an extremely popular play as it was reissued in a second edition in the same year, a rare occurrence at the time. The Arden text is taken from Q1 and from Q0, the surviving fragment of the quarto from which Q1 appears to have been taken.

The action of the play is based on part of the king's reign, from 1402–3. Shakespeare used multiple historical sources in the writing of King Henry IV Part 1, in particular Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) and the cautionary The Mirror for Magistrates (1559).

As the play begins, Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV of England, is plagued by guilt at the usurpation and murder of his predecessor, Richard II, and troubled by disquiet from rebellious nobles from two of the highest families in the land, the Percys and the Mortimers.

The king's son, Prince Hal (the future Henry V), has acquired a new friend in the merry-making Sir John Falstaff, a lover of sack (a type of early modern sherry), who takes him round taverns and introduces him to low-lifes and madams. Hal insists he is living this lifestlye only temporarily, so that when he decides to become princely once again, members of the court will have more respect for him.

The opportunity arises when the revolt of the nobles comes to a head at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hal comes head to head with his foil, Henry Percy (or 'Hotspur'), and eventually kills him in combat. Having been coerced onto the battlefield, Falstaff steals money from fallen men and plays dead when under attack, surviving the battle, but declaring that from then on he will live an honourable life. The play ends with the king commanding his sons and allies to ride towards York and Wales to prepare to fight further rebellious nobles.

As is common in Shakespeare's history plays, King Henry IV Part 1 deals extensively with the idea of kingship: how legitimate is Henry's reign, and is he a good king? Hal learns that he too must decide what kind of prince (and later, king) he wants to be: he rejects his friends in order to become the man that will one day defeat the French at Agincourt, the most glorious of English victories to the early modern mind. Honour, chivalry and courtesy are always brought into question in the play's medieval courtly world view.

Falstaff, the opposite of all that is 'honourable', has remained throughout the centuries one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedic creations. Likely first portrayed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men popular clownish actor, Will Kemp, rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth I was so delighted with the character that she 'commanded' Shakespeare to write a further play that saw Falstaff in love: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

King Henry IV Part 2 (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

More troubled and troubling than King Henry IV Part 1, King Henry IV Part 2 is the second play in the Henriad tetralogy, continuing the story of King Henry’s decline and Hal’s reform. Though Part 2 echoes the structure of the earlier play, its is a darker and more unsettling world, in which even Falstaff’s revelry is more tired and cynical, and the once-merry Hal sloughs off his tavern companions to become King Henry V. Though probably less written about and performed, critics have nevertheless praised the play for its mature style.

The play was written soon after Part 1, probably in 1598. This text, based on the 1600 First Quarto, is supplemented by additional sequences from the 1623 First Folio. It is uncertain whether the play was conceived as a second part, a sequel, or an independent play in its own right. Unlike the popular Part 1, there were no reprints of Part 2 before the Folio, perhaps due to censorship. It uses similar source matter to Part 1, including Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), The Mirror for Magistrates (1559) and Daniel’s Civile Wars (1595), and thematically it also echoes Part 1, in its concerns about kingship, miscalculation, trust and unrest.

Rumour opens the play with an Induction on the rifeness of slander. After hearing one such false report of victory, the rebel Northumberland learns of the death of his son Hotspur, and the defeat of his army at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Morton tells him that the Archbishop of York is taking up the fight against King Henry.

Falstaff is arrested for a debt to Mistress Quickly – but manages to wriggle out of it by promising (again) to marry her. An anxious Prince Hal is distracted from his ailing father’s by Poins’, who persuades him to help spy on Falstaff at dinner by pretending to be waiters. After they reveal themselves, Hal is summoned to court. The king broods on his position as his health deteriorates.

The rebel forces are at Gaultree Forest, led by the Archbishop of York, Mowbray and Hastings. Northumberland, a crucial ally, has opted against joining them and instead has fled to Scotland. Prince John of Lancaster, Hal’s younger brother, leads an army against them, but sends an envoy to suggest a parley. To the rebel leaders’ great surprise, Lancaster agrees to the terms of their peace – but once they have dismissed their army, he turns on them anyway, arresting them for treason. Falstaff, having recruited unfit soldiers, nevertheless manages to capture an enemy.

Henry collapses at the news of the victory. Mistakenly assuming his father dead, Hal tries on the crown at his bedside. Upon waking Henry is furious at this irreverence, but the two are at last reconciled before he dies, and Hal becomes King Henry V. In a heartbreaking moment, Falstaff travels hastily to London to see his old friend (and secure a royal favour or two), but the new king dismisses him with the famous lines: ‘I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers. / How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!’ For all his misspent hours with the fat knight, Hal has finally thrown off his youth and embraced the responsibilities of royalty. He will rise to great heights over the course of his reign.

audio King Henry IV: The Shadow of Succession

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare’s riveting, epic drama of a family in crisis, and a country on the brink of civil war. Wracked by illness and tormented by guilt, King Henry IV fears for England’s future after his death. The heir to the throne, Prince Hal, seems intent only on a life of debauchery in the company of the dissolute – but hilarious – Sir John Falstaff. As war looms and the stakes increase, father and son struggle to face their destinies – and each other.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Harry Althaus as Earl Of Westmoreland and Justice Shallow William Brown as King Henry IV Wilson Cain III as Earl Of Northumberland and Bardolph Michael J. Cargill as Thomas, Duke Of Clarence and Peto Tony Dobrowolski as Earl Of Worcester and Chief Justice Lisa A. Dodson as Mistress Quickly & Nurse Shawn Douglass as Prince John and Poins Raul Esparza as Hotspur and Pistol Raymond Fox as Prince Henry Ned Mochel as The Douglas and The Messenger Nicholas Rudall as Sir John Falstaff Doran Schrantz as Humphrey, Duke Of Gloucester & Doll Tearsheet

Featuring: Harry Althaus, William Brown, Wilson Cain III, Michael Cargill, Tony Dobrowolski, Lisa Dodson, Shawn Douglass, Raul Esparza, Raymond Fox, Ned Mochell, Nicholas Rudall, Doran Schrantz

King Henry V (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Henry V is the final play in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. Having shaken off his less savoury companions at the end of Henry IV Part 2, Hal takes his place on the throne following his father’s death, proving himself a pious and sensible ruler, much to the court’s surprise. Following enquiries into his genealogical right to rule over France as well as England, and taunts from the French Dauphin about his youth in the form of tennis balls, Henry resolves to invade France. His old carousing companions, after hearing of the death of Sir John Falstaff, join Henry’s army, their quarrels forming the comic underbelly of the play. Following the English victory at the siege of Harfleur, the two armies prepare to confront one another at Agincourt. On the eve of battle, Henry disguises himself and goes into the camp, discussing with his soldiers the responsibilities of a king. The English win a spectacular victory, and the play ends with the promise of Henry’s marriage to the French Princess Katherine of Valois.

Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have been familiar with the events at fifteenth-century Agincourt, following the anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1594/8). At the time of performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599, the re-telling of the glorious English victory would have been ironically juxtaposed with contemporary attempts by the Earl of Essex to suppress rebellion in Ireland.

The first Quarto (Q1) was not published until 1600. This ‘Cronicle History’ is only half the length of the text printed in the First Folio of 1623 (F); it has been hypothesised that Q1 was the initial write-up of the play, and F the theatrical text pieced together after performance. We cannot be sure where the play was first performed: many have romanticized ‘this wooden O’ as the Globe theatre, newly built in 1599, but it is possible that it was originally performed at the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch, where Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, had been performing since 1596.

The critic William Hazlitt commented that the eponymous king is ‘a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant’. These contradictions are characteristic of responses to the play itself: its treatment of warfare has been the topic of debate for almost as long as it has been in performance. Does the play speak of national pride and English glory, or of ironic disenchantment and authoritarian kingship? The divergence of twentieth-century screen versions has visualised this contrary nature: Laurence Olivier’s 1944 wartime film, intended as a morale boost for Allied troops before the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, creates a halcyon backdrop for ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’, whereas Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film portrays a starker and less sentimental picture of the potential horrors of war.

King Henry VIII (All is True)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A play obsessed with historical, political and performative truth, King Henry VIII was first performed under the title All is True at the Globe in 1613, when the charging of a small cannon near the end of the play famously set fire to the thatch at the top of the playhouse, and burnt it to the ground. As well as possibly being staged at the indoor Blackfriars theatre (where Henry and Katherine’s divorce trial had been held 84 years previously), it has been hypothesised that the play was performed at the wedding of James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine, in 1613: its Protestant moralising and mythologizing, as well as the significance it places on a young princess named Elizabeth, would have suited such an occasion. With the sudden death of the young Prince Henry the year before, England’s hope of a proselytising Protestant monarch had been shaken. Such a play, with its suggestion of James I as a mythic heir, may have soothed the national consciousness.

As the play begins, Norfolk, Buckingham and Abergavenny are talking about the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. They complain about Cardinal Wolsey, who ensures that Buckingham is accused of high treason and executed. At a dinner given by Wolsey, Anne Bullen (Boleyn) attracts the attention of Henry, who is married to Queen Katherine of Aragon, and is made Marchioness of Pembroke. Henry sets up a court judged by Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius from Rome to consider his divorce; Katherine pleads with him and then leaves. The court is adjourned until she returns; the two Cardinals persuade her to relent.

Henry secretly marries Anne. Some of Wolsey’s letters to the Pope and an account of his wealth have found their way to Henry; Wolsey is disgraced, and Sir Thomas More is appointed Lord Chancellor in his place. Henry’s new marriage is announced, and Anne is crowned. Katherine is dying, and sees a vision of spirits of peace. After commending her daughter Mary to Henry, she dies. Anne falls pregnant. Henry’s secretary Gardiner plans to bring down Cranmer and Cromwell who are close to the King, but Henry intervenes. There is great rejoicing for the christening of Anne’s new-born daughter, who will become Queen Elizabeth I.

The play was a collaboration between the ageing Shakespeare and the young John Fletcher, who would go on to work together on The Two Noble Kinsmen (c.1613-4). It differs from other Henrican plays of the era which focus on or parody ‘Bluff King Harry’; here, the eponymous king is treated with gravitas as his marital meanderings enable a providential outcome for the English church and crown, as implied in Samuel Rowley’s earlier play When You See Me, You Know Me (1605), which was probably the play’s principal source. Generically, the play has been subject to debate: categorised under ‘Histories’ at its first appearance in the 1623 Folio, it has also been labelled a tragicomedy, a romance, and a late play by critics.

The Folio text is uniquely detailed in Shakespeare’s plays for its abundance of stage directions. As a result, the play has often been staged for its theatrical effect over its dramatic content. It was perennially popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in productions dominated by static sequences of tableaux and grandiose set speeches. Throughout the twentieth century, however, this spectacular performance style began to wane in favour of more ‘authentic’ renderings, and the play is now one of the most rarely performed of the Shakespearean canon.

King Henry VI Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The history play King Henry VI, Part 1 can be seen as a mediation on history itself, on the mechanisms of genealogy, combat and heroism. The dominant character of Joan la Pucelle (otherwise Joan of Arc) is a locus of questions about gender and the supernatural.

Questions of authorship, date and place in a ‘historical cycle’ are attendant on the play, which was first printed in the Folio. Some editors claiming single authorship for Shakespeare; for others it is the result of a collaboration, probably including Thomas Nashe. The Arden edition argues that it was written after Parts 2 and 3. It may be the play which records show was performed in 1592 by the Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose theatre.

The young Henry VI is now king. At the funeral of Henry V, news arrives of military difficulties in France: cities have been lost, the Dauphin Charles has been crowned, and the military captain Talbot has been taken prisoner. The English nobles squabble over power. The rivalry between Richard Plantagenet (later Duke of York) and the Duke of Somerset escalates, and they pluck a white and a red rose respectively to represent the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Henry travels to France to be crowned.

In France, Joan la Pucelle has arrived at the siege of Orléans, promising that heaven-sent powers will help her to lead the French to victory. Put in charge of the army, she fights the English — led first by the Duke of Bedford and then by Talbot – for Orléans and Rouen. Joan also persuades the Duke of Burgundy, Henry’s uncle, to switch to the French side. The feud between Richard and Somerset results in the defeat of the British army at Bordeaux, and the death of Talbot. Joan is captured and condemned to death. The play ends with an uneasy peace, as Henry marries Margaret, the daughter of the Duke of Anjou, instead of the Earl of Armagnac’s daughter.

King Henry VI Part 2 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Discussion of King Henry VI, Part 2 has been dominated by examinations of the providential pattern of God in history and the insurrectional eruption of rebels in society: of the high and the low forces of history. The play has also been viewed from the perspectives of Senecan poetics, feminism, the carnivalesque and burlesque.

This text uses the 1613 Folio as the control text. The play also appeared in a shorter, reconstructed form in three quartos entitled The Contention . . . The play was composed and performed before 1592, an issue that is linked to the dating of Henry VI, Part 1. The question of authorship — whether Shakespeare is the sole author, or collaborated, or revised an earlier play—is unresolved.

The English court is still fractious, and ill at ease with Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou, which was arranged by Margaret’s very close confidant Suffolk. The Cardinal (Bishop of Winchester) and Buckingham are suspicious of the King’s Protector and uncle, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, and they conspire with Margaret and Suffolk to disgrace him, tricking his wife Eleanor into meeting a witch. She is banished, and Henry takes away Gloucester’s Protectorate; the conspirators accuse him of treason and losing the remaining territories in France, and secretly plan to kill him.

Meanwhile York has persuaded Salisbury and Warwick of his claim to the throne, and told them he is biding his time. The King sends him to quell the rebellion in Ireland. York explains that he has persuaded a man called Jack Cade to pose as York’s dead ancestor and start a rebellion against Henry’s rule.

Henry discovers Gloucester’s murder and exiles Suffolk. The Cardinal dies raving; Suffolk is killed at sea. Cade’s violent insurrection swells, until the memory of Henry V quiets the rebels. York returns from Ireland with an army and two of his sons Edward and Richard, and fights the Lancastrians at St Albans. The King and Queen flee the battlefield; the Yorkists pursue them.

King Henry VI Part 3 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Henry VI Part 3 is effectively shaped from dense historical narratives, drawing out the complexities of morality and justice in the chaos of the Wars of the Roses. Criticism has examined integrity of characters, on feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives, on the Senecan influence, on the play’s context, on magical thinking, and on the play’s use of the morality play tradition.

The play was known in the theatre by 1592. Like the two other parts of Henry VI, questions surrounding its authorship remain unsolved. The play exists in a 1595 Octavo called The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…, and in the Folio, on which this text is based.

In parliament, the victorious Yorkists confront Henry VI and the Lancastrians. They agree that on Henry’s death his crown will pass to Richard, Duke of York, passing over Henry’s son Prince Edward. Queen Margaret is furious, and leaves with their son to join the Northern lords and fight against the agreement. Once alone, York’s sons Edward and Richard persuade him to break his oath.

At the Battle of Wakefield between York and Margaret’s forces, Clifford kills York’s youngest son, and then with Margaret torments and kills York himself. His sons, Edward and Richard, hear first of their deaths and then of the defeat of their ally Warwick at the second Battle of St Albans. At the Battle of Towton, the Lancastrians are defeated, Clifford is killed. Margaret and Prince Edward flee to France; Henry is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London; Edward (York’s son) is made King.

Both the Lancastrian Margaret and the Yorkist Warwick entreat the assistance of the French King Lewis. Warwick confirms Edward’s betrothal to Lewis’s sister, but news arrives that King Edward has married Lady Jane Grey instead, and this turns both Warwick and Lewis to the Lancastrian cause. Warwick returns to England with French reinforcements , captures King Edward, and frees King Henry. King Edward escapes to France, and then returns, capturing King Henry.

King Edward defeats Warwick’s forces at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick is killed. Margaret returns from France for the Battle of Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward is killed by the three brothers King Edward, Clarence and Richard. Richard goes to the Tower and kills King Henry; Margaret is banished.

King Richard II (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Richard II is the first play in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, the set of four plays whose events are often regarded as the root of the Wars of the Roses. The play teleologically points to the domestic conflict that haunted the country for generations after Richard’s deposition: ‘The blood of English shall manure the ground … this land be called / The field of Golgotha and dead men’s skulls’.

The play relates the events surrounding the dethronement of the inept (but divinely appointed) Richard II by his more able (but illegitimate) cousin Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. Following the death of his father, John of Gaunt, during his six-year exile abroad, Bolingbroke returns to England to demand the reinstatement of his estates from Richard. Richard, unpopular due to his court favourites, his arrogant belief in his own pre-ordained right to kingship, and his ever-increasing taxes, is losing supporters. Under duress, he eventually hands over his crown to Bolingbroke. Misinterpreting the words of the new king, one of Bolingbroke’s followers kills Richard in his prison cell. With the murder on his conscience, Henry IV vows to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to clear his troubled soul. Critical discussions of the play often focus on the play’s protagonists and the ambivalence of their characters. Is Richard a tyrant or a martyr? Is Bolingbroke a pious social hero or a self-serving Machiavel?

First performed c. 1595 at the Theatre, the Lord Chamberlain Men’s Shoreditch venue, the play was first titled a ‘tragedie’ in the first quarto of 1597 (Q1), and later a ‘historie’ in the First Folio of 1623 (F). The deposition scene (in this edition, Act 4 Scene 1) was omitted in Q1, not appearing in print until 1608. The final years of the ageing, heirless Elizabeth’s reign were marred by rebellion and uprising. Deposition was a real and present threat: in 1601, supporters of the Earl of Essex, a one-time favourite of Elizabeth’s, paid for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to put on the play (by this point, a relatively agèd production) less than a week before their doomed rebellion. Post-Restoration, the political clout of the play was still being acknowledged, with Nahum Tate attempting to suppress performances at Drury Lane in 1680. In the twentieth century, the role became a favourite of John Gielgud, who performed it three times over four decades. The effeminacy that has come to be associated with the role came to a peak with Deborah Warner’s 1997 production, which saw Fiona Shaw play an androgynous Richard.

King Richard III (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Richard III is the final play of Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, the culmination of the War of the Roses and the inception of the Tudor dynasty. The play picks up where Henry VI Part 3 left off, with the Lancastrian king dead and the house of York in the ascendant. Richard, the youngest son of York, orders the murder of his middle brother, the Duke of Clarence, and awaits the death of the eldest, King Edward IV; he marries the Lady Anne, the late Prince of Wales’ widow, to seal his power. In his role as Lord Protector to Edward’s young sons, Richard rules as a tyrant and orders the deaths of the two princes as they lie in wait at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, is gaining support in England and France to launch an attack on Richard’s Yorkist army. They come together at the Battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard is killed, and Henry becomes the first Tudor monarch, King Henry II, uniting the houses of York and Lancaster through his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV.

The play first appears in the 1597 first Quarto (Q1) as The Tragedy of King Richard the third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his iunocent nephews: his tyrannicall vsuration: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death. While he has been regarded as a medieval Vice, or a Machiavellian devil through and through, the characterization of Richard as a ‘lump of foul deformity’ has come under scrutiny in recent years. Shakespeare’s written sources were all sixteenth-century chronicles or ‘histories’; historians have argued that sources such as Thomas More’s History of King Richard III (1513) present a biased account of disjointed Plantagenet rule in order to emphasise the ‘Tudor myth’ of the harmonious, united reign initiated by Henry VII. By the 1623 First Folio (F), the play is catalogued in the Histories section. F is significantly longer than Q1 (the second longest play in the Folio, after Hamlet), with manifold textual differences; this edition incorporates both, generally deferring to F).

From 1700 until the mid-nineteenth century, the play text used in performance was not Shakespeare’s original, but a revised and abridged version by Colley Cibber, The Tragical History of King Richard III. Twentieth-century performances of Richard ranged from the king as monstrous, bestial caricature (Anthony Sher, 1984) to extreme right-wing dictator (Ian McKellen, 1995 – film based on earlier stage performance).

The Last Witch

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's The Last Witch tells the story of the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in the British Isles. It is based on the historical account of Janet Horne, the alleged witch of Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands, who was executed in 1727.

The play was commissioned by Edinburgh International Festival and co-produced by the Festival and the Traverse Theatre Company. It opened at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, on 23 August 2009.

The play's action takes place in Dornoch, northern Scotland, in 1727. In the claustrophobic heat of summer, a woman’s apparent ability to manipulate the power of land and sea stirs suspicion. Janet Horne can cure beasts, call the wind and charm fish out of the sea. Or can she? Men hold all the power in this society and any woman with an independent mind is cruelly shamed. Horne’s refusal to deny the charge of witchcraft puts her in dangerous opposition to the new sheriff, Captain David Ross. Her defiance threatens not only her own life but also that of her daughter Helen.

Munro depicts the wildness of the Scottish highlands and the grinding poverty that accompanies life in such an unforgiving landscape. The play also walks a line of ambiguity between whether Janet actually practised witchcraft or if she was merely the victim of trenchant misogyny.

The Edinburgh premiere was directed by Dominic Hill and designed by Naomi Wilkinson. It was performed by Kathryn Howden (as Janet Horne), Hannah Donaldson, George Anton, Vicki Liddelle, Neil McKinven, Andy Clark, Ryan Fletcher and Simon Smith.

A Laughing Matter

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

It's 1773 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The crowd is getting restless. The leading man's unconscious but the show must go on.

This irreverent version of real-life events tells the story of David Garrick, Dr Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and a new play called She Stoops to Conquer. Caught between financial pressures and artistic ambition, Garrick must decide if he can risk staging a play that could make or break his career.

A Laughing Matter was produced by Out of Joint and the National Theatre, London. Following its premiere at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, in October 2002, it transferred to the National in November and returned in February 2003.

Lawrence After Arabia

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton’s Lawrence After Arabia is a biographical play exploring the later years in the life of T.E. Lawrence, once celebrated as Lawrence of Arabia. It was commissioned to mark the centenary of the start of the Arab revolt, and was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 28 April 2016.

The play's action, according to an author's note in the script, 'takes place at Shaw’s Corner, the home of George Bernard and Charlotte Shaw, in the Hertfordshire village of Ayot St Lawrence, in August 1922 and February 1923, and in the head of T.E. Lawrence'. Wearied by his romanticised persona and worldwide fame, disgusted with his country and himself, Lawrence has disappeared from public life. Craving normality, he has retreated to the idyllic calm of Ayot St Lawrence, where he occupies lodgings on the top floor of the home of Mr and Mrs Bernard Shaw. But England wants its hero back, and Lawrence finds himself trapped in his love/hate relationship with the limelight, tormented by ghosts and haunted by broken promises.

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by John Dove and designed by Michael Taylor. The cast was Sam Alexander, William Chubb, Geraldine James (as Charlotte Shaw), Khalid Laith, Jack Laskey (as T.E. Lawrence), Rosalind March and Jeff Rawle as George Bernard Shaw.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Churchill uses the events of the millenial movement during the English Civil War, when the revolutionary belief in the second coming of Christ reached fever pitch, to stage a volatile discussion of idealism, pragmatism and justice.

In a series of compact, concentrated scenes, Churchill dramatises the fervent conflicts of a time when hierarchies and conventions had been shaken. The Putney Debates pitted Cromwell against the nonconformist Diggers and Levellers, the Ranters triumphed in the non-existence of sin and preachers warned of the end of days.

Churchill suggests that, as in the original performance, parts are swapped and the same character is played by different actors. Light Shining in Buckinghamshire refracts, unbalances and shifts ideological positions producing profound and timeless debate well as historical insight.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire opened in 1976 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

audio The Lion in Winter

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

James Goldman’s brilliant historical drama pits King Henry II of England against the strong-willed Eleanor of Aquitaine. Back stabbing, spying, double crossing, and rampant infidelity – a typical family Christmas. Typical, that is, for the Plantagenets. Kathleen Chalfant and Alfred Molina bring to life the witty, eloquent battle of the sexes that was immortalized in the Academy Award-winning film of the same name starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Lars Carlson, Kathleen Chalfant, Kevin Daniels, Spencer Garrett, Laurel Moglen, Alfred Molina and Steven Sutcliffe.

Featuring: Lars Carlson, Kathleen Chalfant, Kevin Daniels, Spencer Garrett, Laurel Moglen, Alfred Molina, Steven Sutcliffe

Little Eagles

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's Little Eagles tells the true story of Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov, chief designer and unsung hero of the Soviet space programme. Under the leadership of this remarkable man, the USSR trounced the Americans in the space race throughout the fifties and for much of the sixties, achieving a series of firsts including the first human in space and Earth orbit.

The play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to mark the 50th anniversary of the first flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, one of Korolyov's 'little eagles'. It was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 16 April 2011.

The play charts the transformation in Korolyov’s life from his humble beginnings as a dying prisoner in one of Stalin’s punishing gulags to national hero after pioneering a rocket-development programme. But success came at a high price – Korolyov was only allowed to pursue his passion for space exploration as long as he continued to make long-range missiles for the government. A combination of ill health, the Cuban missile crisis and seismic shifts within the USSR itself meant that this brilliant engineer was never able to capitalise on his success.

In an author's note in the published script, Munro writes that 'Little Eagles is intended as the first part of a trilogy of plays about the years of space exploration that formed such a significant backdrop to my childhood. ... In writing about Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov and the others who inhabit this play, I have had to take some glaring liberties with time and space and imagined events and emotions which may never have occurred or, if they did, may not have occurred as I’ve chosen to portray them. I’ve invented some characters, condensed others and turned great chunks of detailed human history into a few short scenes. I don’t think I’d have been doing my job if I hadn’t dared to mess things around like this, it was a very necessary outcome to the wonderful wrestling match any writer goes through turning real events (in this case on an epic scale) into drama.'

Little Eagles was the second play by Munro to be commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company following her earlier play The Indian Boy (2006).

The RSC production was directed by Roxana Silbert and designed by Ti Green. The cast included Darrell D'Silva (as Korolyov), Dyfan Dwyfor, Brian Doherty, Noma Dumezweni, Greg Hicks and Samantha Young.

Lizzie Siddal

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jeremy Green's play Lizzie Siddal is a historical drama charting Elizabeth Siddal's rise from obscurity to fame as an artist's model associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, her own artistic aspirations, and her tragic early death. It was first performed at the Arcola Theatre, London, on 20 November 2013.

The play begins with a short scene set in Highgate Ceremony in October 1869, seven years after the death of Lizzie Siddal, with two men charged with opening her coffin. The action then flashes back to trace her rise from the obscurity of a bonnet shop to model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, group of young painters – including William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – who were bent on revolutionising the Victorian art world. Inspired by their passion, Lizzie throws herself headlong into their lives and their art. She nearly dies in the creation of Millais' painting ‘Ophelia’ (lying in a tin bath of water so cool she catches a chill), but the painting is a triumph. Lizzie wants more and dares to dream of being an artist in her own right. Falling in love with the charismatic Rossetti, she becomes his muse, and fulfils her dream of being an independent artist. But independence isn't lasting and she suffers from ill-health and Rossetti's fickle affections, finally succumbing to a laudanum addiction that has fatal consequences. The final scene, seven years after her death, shows Rossetti agreeing to have her coffin opened so that he can retrieve the poems he had buried with her.

The Arcola Theatre premiere was directed by Lotte Wakeham and designed by David Woodhead. It was performed by Tom Bateman (as Dante Gabriel Rossetti), Daniel Crossley (as John Ruskin), Simon Darwen (as William Holman Hunt), James Northcote (as John Everett Millais), Emma West (as Lizzie Siddal) and Jayne Wisener.

London Road

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

London Road is a verbatim-theatre musical with book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe and music by Adam Cork. It is about the impact on the community around London Road in Ipswich of the series of murders carried out there by Steve Wright in 2006, and the frenzied media interest that ensued.

It was developed by the National Theatre, London, and first performed there in the Cottesloe auditorium on 14 April 2011 (previews from 7 April).

The musical traces the impact of the murders on the residents of London Road over a period from December 2006 until July 2008. The community had struggled for years with the soliciting and kerb-crawling that they frequently encountered in the area. As Steve Wright, the occupant of number 79, was arrested, charged and then convicted of the murders, residents grappled with the media frenzy and what it meant to be at the epicentre of this tragedy.

The book and lyrics are based on Alecky Blythe's extensive recorded interviews with the real residents of London Road, and composer Adam Cork’s score is a response to the melodic and rhythmic speech patterns captured on those recordings.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Rufus Norris and designed by Katrina Lindsay. The cast was Clare Burt, Rosalie Craig, Kate Fleetwood, Hal Fowler, Nick Holder, Claire Moore, Michael Shaeffer, Nicola Sloane, Paul Thornley, Howard Ward and Duncan Wisbey.

Critical reaction was generally favourable with the Evening Standard describing it as ‘a startling, magically original success’, and Time Out declaring that 'this is something very new for the musical form, a powerful, beautiful and unsettling articulation of the ambivalence that underpins all communities'. Less enthusiastically, Brian Logan in The Guardian reported that 'the inarticulacy gets frustrating' and complained that 'the conventionally dramatic parts of this story are [often] happening offstage'.

London Road won the 2011 Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical and the production was revived in the National Theatre's larger Olivier auditorium with performances from 28 July 2012. This time the critical response was even more favourable, with Michael Billington in The Guardian reporting that 'This miraculously innovative show finds a new way of representing reality [and] opens up rich possibilities for musical theatre'.

A feature film version of the musical, written by Alecky Blythe and again directed by Rufus Norris, was released in June 2015. It starred Olivia Colman, Anita Dobson, Tom Hardy and the entire original cast of the National Theatre production.

Madame Rubinstein  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set against the glamorous skylines of 1950s Manhattan, world-leading cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein is locked in a power struggle with rivals Elizabeth Arden and Revlon.

From humble beginnings as a Polish-Jewish immigrant, this is the story behind one of the best-known faces in the world of beauty. But as her professional and family conflicts reach fever pitch, will the ghosts of a turbulent past topple one of the world's richest businesswomen?

Madame Rubinstein is a bright new comedy where the nails are painted and the gloves are off. Yet when the lipstick bleeds and the makeup fades, what is there left to hide behind?

Written by esteemed Australian playwright John Misto, this edition of the text was published to coincide with its 2017 run at the Park Theatre, London. 

The Maiden Stone

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro's The Maiden Stone is a play about a group of women struggling to get by in the harsh world of north-east Scotland in the early nineteenth century. It was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 21 April 1995 (press night on 27 April), having already won the inaugural Peggy Ramsay Award.

Down-on-her luck and out-of-work actress Harriet and her family are wandering the roads of Scotland looking for food, shelter and the opportunity to perform. But they are not the only ones travelling the highways and byways – there’s traveller and storyteller Bidie and her family, always looking for a break; and the dangerously beguiling stranger Nick, whose presence on the road might turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing.

In a note accompanying the published text, Munro writes that it is a play about her own birthplace. 'The language of the piece is the native dialect as I remember it and is in no sense historical but a living language. For the Hampstead production we reproduced this with minimal compromise and I don’t think the rhythm or the integrity of the play would survive any attempt at translation.'

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by Matthew Lloyd and designed by Robin Don (set) and Anne Sinclair (costumes). It was performed by Frances Tomelty, Carol Ann Crawford, Shirley Henderson, Sarah Howe, Paul Higgins, Alexander Morton and Anthony Colbert.

A Man for All Seasons

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In this tense play of conscience, faith and power, Bolt brings to the stage one of history’s most adamantine and principled figures.

Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, enters into a fierce political and moral conflict with King Henry VIII when he refuses to support the King’s decision to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. More’s decision to endorse the divine right of the Pope over and above that of the King leads to his tragic martyrdom.

A Man for All Seasons depicts the confrontation between Church and State, theology and politics, absolute power and individual freedom. Throughout the play Sir Thomas More's eloquence and endurance, his purity, saintliness and tenacity in the face of ever-growing threats to his beliefs and family, earn him status as one of modern drama's greatest tragic heroes.

The play was first staged in 1960 at the Globe Theatre in London.

Mary Barton

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Rona Munro’s stage adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1848 novel Mary Barton presents a panorama of Manchester life in Victorian England, from the mill owners’ new prosperity to the thousands of ordinary people living and dying in their factories. It was first performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, on 6 September 2006.

The action of the play takes place in Manchester in the 1840s. Mary Barton, a mill worker’s daughter, has been taken on as an apprentice in an upmarket dress shop making gowns for the daughters of the newly moneyed mill owners. Her father, John Barton, is active in the campaign for workers’ rights. Mary has been promised to her childhood friend, Jem, but becomes distracted by one of the mill owner’s sons, Harry Carson. Her aunt Esther, former mill worker turned prostitute, warns John about Mary’s behaviour, arguing that she too fell for a rich man when she was younger, with disastrous consequences. But Mary sees Carson as an opportunity to better herself and so is unprepared when she finds herself plunged into a maelstrom of murder, intrigue and romance.

The Royal Exchange premiere was directed by Sarah Frankcom and designed by Liz Ascroft. It was performed by Kellie Bright (as Mary Barton), Lucy Black, Roger Morlidge, Hannah Storey, William Ash, Will Tacey, Toby Sawyer, Christine Mackie, Penny Layden, David Sterne and Patrick Bridgman.

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Liz Lochhead's play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off is about the bitter rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin and fellow ruler, Elizabeth I of England. The story is presented in a distinctive cabaret style, with much of the dialogue in the 'Braid Scots' vernacular. It explores the deep sectarian divisions within Scotland and dramatises the fateful moment the country rejected Mary’s Catholicism for the Protestantism of anti-feminist revolutionary John Knox.

It was first performed by the Communicado Theatre Company at the Lyceum Studio Theatre, Edinburgh, on 10 August 1987. It was revived, with a revised text, by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2009, when it was first performed at Druimfin, Tobermory, Mull, on 18 April at the start of a tour.

The play's action is introduced and narrated by a crow-like character known as La Corbie. Following the death of her husband, the Dauphin of France, the beautiful and staunchly Catholic Mary Stuart returns to the British Isles to rule Scotland, a country she neither knows nor understands. Ill-prepared to rule in her own right, Mary has failed to learn what her Protestant cousin, Elizabeth Tudor, knows only too well: that a queen must rule with her head, not her heart. All too soon the stage is set for a deadly endgame in which there can only be one winner and one queen to rule the green island.

In her introduction to the revised text published in 2009, Lochhead describes the play as 'a debate about the then current state of affairs between Scotland and England. ... Margaret Thatcher is not Queen Elizabeth the First, but questions of women and power – and how to hold on to it – are always there as we consider either icon. There was at that time a real sense of frustration in Scotland, a need for us to tell our own stories and find our own language to tell it in.'

The 1987 Communicado Theatre production was directed by Gerard Mulgrew and designed by Colin MacNeil. It was performed by Anne Wood, Myra McFadyen, Anne Lacey, Alison Peebles, Stuart Hepburn, Gerard Mulgrew, Frank McConnell and John Mitchell.

The 2009 National Theatre of Scotland revival was directed by Alison Peebles (a member of the original cast) and designed by Kenny Miller. It was performed by Joyce Falconer, Jo Freer, Angela Darcy, John Kielty, Lewis Howden, Marc Brew and Owen Whitelaw.

Mary Shelley

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson's Mary Shelley is a play that explores the extraordinary life of the author of Frankenstein. It was first performed in a co-production between Shared Experience, Nottingham Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, on 16 March 2012.

The play centres on a crucial episode in Mary's early life. Her parents, radical feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher William Godwin, are struggling under the weight of heavy debts. When young poet Percy Bysshe Shelley becomes a regular visitor to the house, his financial stability and dangerous charisma charms the family, especially Godwin’s three young daughters. But it is feisty young Mary who becomes the object of his affections. The play details their scandalous elopement when Mary was just sixteen and the impact it has upon her stepmother, her sisters and above all, her troubled father. Three years after this life-changing event, Mary would write one of the greatest novels in the English language, Frankenstein, which changed the literary landscape forever.

The Shared Experience production was directed by Polly Teale and designed by Naomi Dawson. The cast was Kristin Atherton, Flora Nicholson, Sadie Shimmin, Shannon Tarbet, William Chubb and Ben Lamb. It subsequently toured to Nottingham Playhouse; Liverpool Playhouse; Hull Truck Theatre; Northern Stage, Newcastle; Oxford Playhouse; Winchester Theatre Royal and the Tricycle Theatre, London.

Mary Stuart (trans. Harrower)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

One of European theatre's major plays, Schiller's masterpiece hinges on a brilliantly imagined meeting between Mary, Queen of Scots – focus of simmering Catholic dissent and her cousin Elizabeth, Queen of England, who has imprisoned her. Isolated by their duplicitous male courtiers, the women collide headlong, each wrestling with the rank, ambition and destiny their births have bestowed, against a thrilling background of intrigue, plot and counter-plot.

David Harrower's version of Mary Stuart premiered at the Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow, in October 2006.

Mary Stuart (trans. Poulton)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart is one of the great works of German literature. A grand historical drama, it tells the story of the personal struggle between two extraordinary women – one French, one English – both captive to the demands of sovereignty and both caught in a tumult of political and religious intrigue. Which of them is the rightful Queen of England: Mary Stuart or Elizabeth Tudor?

Intertwined with this rivalry is a vicious struggle between Lord Burghley and the Earl of Leicester, both of whom feel a loyalty to their queen, while Leicester also harbours a secret passion for Mary.

Mary Stuart, written in 1800 by Friedrich Schiller, and produced by Goethe at Weimer, was translated by Mike Poulton for a production that premiered at Clwyd Theatr Cymru on 7 May 2009.

The Mountaintop

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The night before his assassination, King retires to room 306 in the now-famous Lorraine Motel after giving an acclaimed speech to a massive church congregation. When a mysterious young maid visits him to deliver a cup of coffee, King is forced to confront his past and the future of his people.

Portraying rhetoric, hope and ideals of social change, The Mountaintop also explores what it is to be human in the face of inevitable death. The play is a dramatic feat of daring originality, historical narration and triumphant compassion.

The Mountaintop received its world premiere at Theatre503, London, on 9 June 2009, and opened on Broadway on 13 October 2011. It is the third of Hall's 'Memphis Plays' tetralogy.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ian Kelly’s play Mr Foote's Other Leg is a comedy about the life of the eighteenth-century satirist, impressionist and comedian Samuel Foote, exploring the nature of celebrity and an obsession with fame. Based on Ian Kelly's award-winning biography, Mr Foote's Other Leg: Comedy, tragedy and murder in Georgian London (Picador, 2012), the play was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 21 September 2015 (previews from 14 September), transferring to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, on 4 November 2015 (previews from 28 October).

The play is set in London in the mid-eighteenth century. After a prelude in which two people attempt to steal Foote's amputated leg from the Hunterian Collection, the action tracks back twenty years to cover the period from Foote's tutelage under Charles Macklin in the 1740s until his involvement in a controversy that saw his fall from grace in the 1770s.

In an introduction to the published playtext (Nick Hern Books, 2015), Ian Kelly writes: 'in adapting [my biography of Samuel Foote] for the stage I have striven to put across the spirit of Foote – one of the most extraordinary men ever to have worked in the theatre – as much as the factual detail of his bizarre career. At the same time I wanted to express some of the style of the Georgian age – a period I love – but for a modern audience, and therefore the scabrous, sexually knowing underbelly of the Augustan Age is also represented here in all its four-letter, rakehelly, occasionally rancid ridiculousness – and lack of political correctness.'

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by Richard Eyre and designed by Tim Hatley. The cast was Simon Russell Beale (as Foote), Dervla Kirwan, Joseph Millson, Forbes Masson, Micah Balfour, Jenny Galloway, Ian Kelly, Colin Stinton, Sophie Bleasdale and Joshua Elliott.

My Boy Jack  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Haig's play My Boy Jack is a dramatised account of how the writer Rudyard Kipling sent his son to his death in the First World War. It was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 13 October 1997 (previews from 9 October).

The play opens in September 1913, in the drawing room at ‘Batemans’, the Kiplings' home in Sussex. War with Germany is imminent, and Rudyard Kipling is set on sending his severely short-sighted son, John (known as 'Jack'), to war. The plan triggers a bitter family conflict which leaves Britain's renowned patriot devastated by the warring of his own greatest passions: his love for children – above all his own – and his devotion to King and Country.

The premiere production was directed by John Dove and designed by Michael Taylor. It was performed by David Haig (as Rudyard Kipling), Belinda Lang, John Light (as John Kipling), Sarah Howe, Billy Carter, Fred Ridgeway and Dermot Kerrigan.

The play was revived at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, in 2004, and toured the UK. It was filmed for television in 2007, with Daniel Radcliffe as Jack and the author himself as Kipling.

Nell Gwynn

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jessica Swale's Nell Gwynn is a historical drama about the life of the seventeenth-century actress who rose from obscure roots to win the heart of King Charles II. It was first performed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on 19 September 2015. The play received its West End premiere at the Apollo Theatre, London, on 12 February 2016 (previews from 4 February), produced by Nica Burns, Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Paula Marie Black. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2016.

The play is set in the 1660s, after the ascension to the throne of Charles II. It begins in the playhouse in Drury Lane, London, where Nell Gwynn is an 'orange hawker' whose quick wit and remarkable beauty soon get her noticed. When she takes to the stage as an actress, she causes merry havoc in a traditionally male world, and soon comes to the attention of the King. But can her charm and spirit protect her from the dangers of the Court?

The premiere at Shakespeare's Globe was directed by Christopher Luscombe and designed by Hugh Durrant, with a cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Nell and David Sturzaker as King Charles II.

The production transferred to the West End with Gemma Arterton taking over the role of Nell.

An earlier version of the play was performed by students at LAMDA, as part of the 2014 Long Project, directed by Raz Shaw.

Onassis

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Onassis is based on the life of the wealthy shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, an explosive account of how those in positions of enormous power and wealth often live lives detached from the realities and moralities of everyday existence.

After a notorious affair with the opera singer Maria Callas, Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the US President John F. Kennedy, in 1968. Commented on by a gossiping Greek chorus, Aristo is a portrait of the complex and sometimes dark entanglements of their families, his relationship with Jacqueline and the scorned Maria, and the tragedy of his son Alexandros. Onassis himself is charming, charismatic, and inescapably sinister.

Based in part on Peter Evans’ book Nemesis, the play premiered as Aristo at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2008; Onassis is a revised version.

Over There

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Over There is an intense drama of synchronous disconnection, an allegory of competing ideologies set across the Berlin Wall.

When the mother of identical twins, Franz and Karl, defects to the West, she escapes only with Franz, leaving Karl behind. Twenty-five years later, Karl crosses the border from East Germany to West Germany to find his other half. The two men have shared experiences, know scraps of each other’s lives and talk at the same time, but the gulf of ideology and upbringing between them is impossible. When the Berlin Wall comes down, the physical barrier between them is removed, but although their worlds recombine it can never reconnect.

Ravenhill’s visceral, confrontational play examines the hungers released when two ideologies, separated by a common language, meet again.

Over There premiered in 2009 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Historical drama is almost as old as theatre itself and continues to play a viable role in contemporary theatre. For the oldest surviving play, The Persians in 472 B.C.E., Aeschylus drew on events from the Greco-Persian War in which he had fought eight years earlier. Using historical characters and events, he imagined dialogue, compressed episodes for dramatic effect, and dramatised material to make points relevant to his contemporary audience, all strategies that remain part of the genre. In The Poetics almost 140 years later, Aristotle advised that tragedies based on history increased an audience’s belief in the probability of events and thus heightened the emotional impact of the play.

“History play”, describing a genre as opposed to the subject matter of a play, has imprecise origins and boundaries. When the editors of the 1623 folio edition divided Shakespeare’s plays into comedies, tragedies, and histories, they already had some sense of the history play as a distinct dramatic type, but among the histories they included Richard II and Richard III, which today we consider as tragedies, emphasizing the difficulty of making sharp generic distinctions.

In the 19th century the term “chronicle", which had medieval origins, was introduced to describe plays that depicted a series of events in temporal order, unified usually by a central character or a specific occasion. Some critics posited a more disconnected, episodic sequence in the “Chronicle play", contrasting with a cause and effect order of events in the history play. While a useful distinction, it was not observed by playwrights in any period. Today the term history play describes any play ostensibly drawing on actual events.

With the development of theatre in the Renaissance, the history play re-emerged from the religious moralities, a process we can see in England with John Bale’s King Johan, written about 1538 for the court of Henry VIII. Here the abstract characters of the morality play morph into historical figures with King John depicted as a proto-Protestant battling an evil pope. Christopher Marlowe developed the genre more fully with his Edward II and The Massacre at Paris, both probably written in 1593, and Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and the Richard II/Henry IV/V tetralogy follow in the 1590s. After the death of Elizabeth in 1603, the popularity of the genre rapidly declined to the point that John Ford in the prologue to his history play Perkin Warbeck, published in 1634, commented that the genre was “of late so out of fashion, so unfollowed.” This was in large part because the focus of art in this period was to depict universal truths unencumbered by the peculiarities of specific times and places.

Interest in history plays revived in the early 19th century with the Romantic rejection of neoclassicism in favor of a view that history depicts a metaphysical plane revealing itself as it unfolds through the material world. Historical precedent was also enlisted to support emerging forces of nationalism, democracy, and spiritualism. Friedrich Schiller in Germany, Victor Hugo in France, and most of the important English Romantic poets wrote history plays, though of the latter group only Alfred Lord Tennyson’s plays had any degree of commercial success. Historical authenticity became a new standard for elaborate stage spectacles throughout Europe and America, and even melodrama explored historical or pseudo historical material.

In spite of elaborate staging, the 19th century history plays were basically biographical dramatisations of major historical figures. Early 20th century historical drama kept this focus, but reflecting the rise of realism, often shifted toward domestic settings and greater emphasis on the private rather than public lives of “shakers and movers.” The English playwright John Drinkwater created half a dozen successful bio-dramas between 1918 and 1925, two of the most popular dealing with prominent Americans Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. George Bernard Shaw, in separate plays, reshaped General John Burgoyne, Julius Caesar, and Joan of Arc into social iconoclasts who advocated Shaw’s political and social ideas.

Saint Joan was also the subject of one of the American Maxwell Anderson’s more than half a dozen historical dramas. Of these, three of the most successful, written in verse, dealt with British queens: Elizabeth the Queen (1930), Mary of Scotland (1933), and Anne of a Thousand Days (1948). The most successful verse dramatisation of the period was T.S. Eliot’s one historical play Murder in the Cathedral (1935), depicting the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett. Christopher Fry also cast historical material into verse. His most successful play, Curtmantle (1962), dealt as well with Beckett, but focused more on King Henry II, who was also the subject of James Goldman’s popular 1966 play The Lion in Winter. This, like John Osborne’s 1961 psycho-biographical history play, Luther, was successfully adapted as a film.

Another variation of historical drama developed in the 1930s— outdoor summer productions, often with musical accompaniment, staged principally in America. The first outdoor symphonic drama, Paul Green’s The Lost Colony, opened in 1937 and is still performed. Green wrote eight subsequent history plays for outdoor theatres, often built especially for each play. His plays usually retained a central male figure, but focused more broadly on how events impact a community, reflecting the influence of the early 20th century Community Pageant Movement. The even more prolific Kermit Hunter wrote as many as 40 outdoor historical plays. While the vogue for outdoor historical plays peaked in the 1960s, more than 30 are still produced each summer in the United States. Their impact is measurable more as a social phenomenon and an economic resource for communities than in the quality of the scripts produced.

After World War II attitudes toward historical studies began to shift, a change eventually echoed in the structure of history plays. Traditional historical studies, termed pejoratively “Old History” or “Whig History", focused on political and military events, commonly from a Euro-centric perspective. Individuals, usually male representatives of the dominant culture, shaped events that led progressively to the ascendance of the hegemony. Historical “facts” that could be discovered and objectively reported were assumed to exist. The first challenges came from Marxist historians who viewed history in terms of economic forces and class conflict. Later a group of French historians known as the Annalistes shifted attention away from dominant figures to social, cultural, and demographic processes. The Deconstructionists, influenced by Jacques Derrida, called into question the efficacy of any metanarrative of history and rejected the positivist confidence that historical data could be objectively discovered and reported.

Many contemporary historical dramas exploit the strategies of new history. In addition to Marxist histories, social histories dramatise group actions rather than those of individuals, and oppositional histories depict events from the outlook of the oppressed, the losers, or the disenfranchised. Feminist drama borrows from other historical approaches to reposition women and gender issues in the historical account. Conventional narratives are challenged by Deconstructionist histories that use pastiche techniques and emphasize micronarratives.

Traditional historical methods were not abandoned but reconfigured. For example, Joan Littlewood in satirizing World War I in Oh What a Lovely War! (1963) intermixed music hall techniques with projected charts, clippings, and graphics, the latter used earlier by the Living Newspaper docudramas of the Federal Theatre project to dramatise recent events.

Historical drama had always carried messages, but in contemporary theatre, history serves even more blatantly to support specific agendas. For example, Charles Wood’s pacifist play Dingo (1967) used expressionist and music hall techniques to deconstruct World War II in North Africa from the viewpoint of common soldiers, a technique of social history. David Hare’s Fanshen (1975) is a Marxist micro-history recreating the collective process at work in a Chinese village. Caryl Churchill combined social, Marxist, and feminist history in a number of plays. Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976) dramatises the English Civil War in terms of the frustrated objectives of Levelers, Diggers, and Ranters, with multiple actors playing a single character to deemphasize the individual’s role in shaping historical events.

This more complex view of history has reawakened contemporary playwrights, particularly in the British theatre, to the rich possibilities of the history play.

Richard H. Palmer, Ph.D., Professor of Theatre, The College of William and Mary