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.

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