Musical theatre


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.

The Monster in The Hall

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Duck Macatarsney cares for her biker dad, Duke, whose MS is getting worse. Duke is a spliff-smoking (for medicinal reasons you understand), bike-riding, heavy-metal- and horror-movie-loving, pizza-eating widower who has brought up Duck since the death of her mum in a crash. The two of them are just about surviving when one morning the Duke wakes up blind and the Duck hears Social Services are coming to take her away.

The Monster in the Hall follows Duck as she tries to protect her world from the terrifying prospect of change.

The Monster in the Hall premiered at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, in autumn 2010, and was staged at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 2011 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

audio Monticello

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A timely and hauntingly beautiful new opera with libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winner Leroy Aarons and score by accomplished composer Glenn Paxton. Scandal erupts in the White House - and in the national press - when Thomas Jefferson's longtime love affair with his slave mistress Sally Hemings is revealed.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Shana Blake Hill, Annette Daniels, Cynthia Jansen, Christopher Schuman, Haqumai Sharpe and Michael Paul Smith. Composed by Leroy Aarons, libretto by Glenn Paxton.

Featuring: Shana Blake Hill, Annette Daniels, Cynthia Jansen, Christopher Schuman, Haqumai Sharpe, Michael Paul Smith

A Mouthful of Birds

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A Mouthful of Birds is a collaboratively written theatre piece by Caryl Churchill and David Lan, combining text and dance to explore the nature of madness, possession and violence. It was inspired by Euripides’ Bacchae. The play was first performed in association with Joint Stock Theatre Company at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 27 November 1986 and opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 27 November 1986.

The play consists of 32 short vignettes relating to the theme of madness and possession. Lena is a mother who hears voices commanding her to drown her baby. A new spirit guide is taunting voodoo practitioner Marcia whilst Yvonne is a desperate alcoholic. Meanwhile, businessman Paul falls inexplicably and suddenly in love with a pig. A female prison warder bemoans the appearance of a new prisoner who is killing all her female inmates using magic, while Doreen is suffering from grotesque delusions. Herculine Barbin, played by a women but dressed as a man, delivers a monologue at the start of Act Two, while Dionysos, played by a man in a white petticoat, performs a series of dances that punctuate the action.

A Mouthful of Birds was developed in workshop with Joint Stock Theatre Company over a period of twelve weeks. As Caryl Churchill explains in the Introduction to Plays: Three, 'Ian Spink (choreographer) worked with the company continuously, making some material before any text was written, and some to fit specifically into scenes that were written to have dance in them.'

The Joint Stock production was directed by Ian Spink and Les Waters, and designed by Annie Smart. The cast included Tricia Kelly, Dona Croll, Christian Burgess, Vivienne Rochester, Philippe Giraudeau, Stephen Goff, Marjorie Yates and Amelda Brown.

Mr Puntila and His Man Matti

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in 1940 during Brecht’s brief exile in Finland, Puntila is one of his greatest creations – to be ranked as a character alongside Galileo and Mother Courage. A hard-drinking Finnish landowner, Puntila suffers from a divided personality – when drunk he is human and humane; when sober, surly and self-centred.

Oscillating unsteadily between these two poles, Puntila plays havoc with his workmen, his women, his daughter’s marital arrangements and the loyalty of his sardonic chauffeur, Matti.

Mr Puntila and his Man Matti contains some of the best comedy Brecht wrote for the theatre. It was first staged in Zurich in 1948 and a year later was the first production of the newly formed Berliner Ensemble.

This translation by John Willett is accompanied by Brecht’s own notes and relevant texts, as well as an extensive introduction and commentary by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, editors of Brecht’s collected plays in English.

The Muddy Choir  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

It's November 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres is lurching towards its bloody conclusion. Young soldiers Will, Robbie and Jumbo are thrust into a landscape starkly different to the playing fields and estates of their Sunderland home. When the trio's singing causes a disturbance up the line, they face unwelcome attention from their commanding officers. Is music their ticket away from the front, as Robbie dreams, or will the passion it brings about prove more dangerous than bullets and gas?

The Muddy Choir is a story about boys growing up and the humanising power of music. The play, which includes period songs, tells the story of three young boys serving with the Durham Light Infantry in 1917.

Marking the centenary of the First World War, Jesse Briton's The Muddy Choir was first performed in a UK tour in 2014 produced by Theatre Centre.


Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Present day. Liverpool. All alone, an old man falls in a basement and loses consciousness.

World War II. Norway. A young sailor with a heart full of hope, longing and courage falls in love.

A Liverpudlian man and a Norwegian woman are pulled together and torn apart by war as the events of one summer cause ripples across an ocean of time.

A play with songs, Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio in September 2015 in a Box of Tricks production and was revived for a UK tour in January 2017.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Based on the 2006 film written and directed by John Carney, Once is a musical with a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who both starred in the original film). The musical was originally developed at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in April 2011; it was first performed at New York Theatre Workshop on 15 November 2011.

The musical is performed with an onstage group of musicians and singers who are already mid-session as the audience enters. The narrative action follows that of the film: when an Irish busker, 'Guy', and a young Czech mother, 'Girl', meet through a shared love of music, their songwriting sparks a deep connection and a tender, longing romance that neither of them could have expected.

The New York Theatre Workshop production was directed by John Tiffany with movement by Steven Hoggett. It was designed by Bob Crowley. The cast included Steve Kazee as Guy and Cristin Milioti as Girl.

The production subsequently transferred to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, New York, on 18 March 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Book.

Once received its European premiere at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, on 22 February 2013, before transferring to the Phoenix Theatre, London, on 9 April 2013 (previews from 16 March). The cast included Declan Bennett as Guy and Zrinka Cvitešić as Girl.

In his Author's Note to the published edition (Nick Hern Books, 2013), Walsh writes 'The story of Once existed in movie form but needed its own stage style, and also its own specific stage language and pace. Really the key to that was the 'Girl' character, who, on page one, became the driving force, the idiosyncratic swagger of the piece, the person who would change everything'.

On With the Dance

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

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

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

On with the Dance was first presented by Charles B. Cochran at the London Pavilion, on 30 April 1925. It ran for 229 performances.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Young, lost and out of control, a bunch of Catholic schoolgirls go wild for a day in the big city, the singing competition a mere obstacle in the way of sex, sambuca and a night back home with the submarine crew in Mantrap.

Funny, sad and raucously rude, Lee Hall's musical play Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, adapted from Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos, premiered at the Traverse Theatre in August 2015, in a production by the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre.

A stage entertainment or film that tells a story using a mixture of dialogue, songs, and dance routines. Probably the single most impressive contribution made by Broadway to the modern theatre, the musical developed from many sources, including vaudeville, revue, melodrama, and operetta.

The first work to combine these influences to create a recognizably new genre was William Wheatley’s spectacular ballet-melodrama The Black Crook, first produced in New York in 1866. George Edwardes’ In Town, produced at his old Gaiety Theatre, London, in 1892, is usually considered the first British musical. Edwardes developed a highly successful formula that involved the use of a sketchy plot as a framework for memorable songs and expensive production numbers featuring attractive chorus girls.

A stage entertainment or film that tells a story using a mixture of dialogue, songs, and dance routines. In the early 20th century US musicals remained heavily indebted to the tradition of European operetta. After World War I, however, a more energetic and sophisticated, but still essentially lightweight, type of show was pioneered by such writers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, and Rodgers and Hart. In 1928 Jerome Kern’s Show Boat gave a new prominence to plot and demonstrated that the musical could encompass more serious themes.

These developments were taken further in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark production Oklahoma! (1943). The same combination of an exciting plot, memorable songs, vigorous professional dancing, and extravagant costumes and sets characterized their subsequent hits Carousel (1945), and South Pacific (1949). The tradition they had established was continued by Lerner and Loewe in international successes such as My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1960). Other hits of the 1950s and 1960s included West Side Story (1957), Hello Dolly! (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964) and Cabaret (1966).

In the late 1960s and 1970s the tradition of the classic Broadway musical appeared to decline. The only important US writer to continue in the genre was Stephen Sondheim, whose sophisticated and idiosyncratic works won critical praise but lacked popular appeal. The main development of this period was the advent of the rock musical, as represented by Hair (1967) and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (1968), and Jesus Christ Superstar. In the 1970s and late 1980s Lloyd Webber led a revival of the large-scale spectacular musical with a series of shows that proved immensely successful on both sides of the Atlantic: these included Evita (1978), Cats (1981), Phantom of the Opera (1986), and Sunset Boulevard (1992). The blockbuster musicals of this era also include the Cameron Mackintosh productions Les Misérables (1985) and Miss Saigon (1987), both by the French team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. A more recent trend has been the creation of a stage show from an already familiar corpus of hit songs, as with the hugely successful Abba musical Mamma Mia! (2001), or from a well-loved film, as with Mel Brooks’s The Producers (2004) or Billy Elliot (2005).

from Jonathan Law, ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).