Naturalistic/realistic drama

Plays

2nd May 1997

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jack Thorne's play 2nd May 1997 is a drama set over the course of the 1997 UK General Election in which the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair won a landslide victory over the Conservatives. The play presents three separate personal stories from different points on the political spectrum as the scale of Labour's victory becomes clear. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 8 September 2009 in a co-production with nabokov theatre company, in association with Watford Palace Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester.

The action takes place in three bedrooms over the course of the night following the election, and the morning after. In Part One, set just before midnight, Tory MP Robert prepares to attend the electoral count. With defeat looming large, he fears becoming a forgotten man, while his wife Marie counts the cost of her sacrifice to politics. In Part Two, set in the early hours of the morning, Lib Dem footsoldier Ian has brought home party-crasher Sarah from an election get-together, but they’re about to connect in a way neither of them expected. Lastly, in Part Three, teenage best friends Jake and Will wake up to a new political reality, with a new set of Cabinet ministers to memorise before their A-level Politics class. Jake dreams of Number 10 and a life in politics, while Will dreams of Jake.

In his introduction to Jack Thorne Plays: One (Nick Hern Books, 2014), Thorne writes: '2nd May 1997 was and is my attempt to write a political play without the politics. ... I wanted to tell the story of that election from all sides. I was also frustrated by my inability to write a play about anyone else but me, so doing a triptych – inspired by David Eldridge’s Under the Blue Sky – felt like an opportunity to force myself outside of my comfort zone. Three political parties, three love stories, one night.'

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by George Perrin and designed by Hannah Clark. It was performed by James Barrett, Geoffrey Beevers, Linda Broughton, Jamie Samuel, Hugh Skinner and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The production then embarked on a regional UK tour.

3 Sisters on Hope Street

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

3 Sisters on Hope Street is a re-imagining of Chekhov’s classic play Three Sisters, set amongst the Jewish community in wartime Liverpool and written by playwright Diane Samuels and actor/writer Tracy-Ann Oberman.

Liverpool, 1946. A year after the sudden death of their father, sisters Gertie, May and Rita Lasky share their once grand home on Hope Street with their asthmatic brother Arnold, Auntie Beil (who still keeps her packed suitcase under the spare bed) and an old family friend Dr Nate Weinberg (who claims, hand on heart, to be on the wagon). As the sisters regularly welcome GIs and pilots from the nearby American base, each continues her own search for meaning amidst the shattered remains of their city, in a rapidly changing world.

3 Sisters on Hope Street was first performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 2008 before transferring to Hampstead Theatre in London.

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.

After the Dance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s After the Dance – an attack on the hedonistic lifestyle of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 30s – signalled a more serious direction in his writing after the relative frivolity of the hugely successful French Without Tears. It was first produced at the St James’s Theatre, London, on 21 June l939.

The play's action takes place in the drawing-room of the Scott-Fowlers’ flat in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London. David Scott-Fowler is a successful writer who revels in his hard-drinking and hard-partying lifestyle. He and his wife Joan are still clinging to their Twenties heydays, and are joined in their plush flat by parasitic lodger, John. However, not everyone is convinced by their constant jollities. David’s cousin Peter and his earnest wife Helen remain unimpressed by their almost wilful evasion of their responsibilities. Helen’s attempt to reform David sparks a relationship between the two that turns to love. As a result, Joan, unable to wrestle her husband back, throws herself off the balcony during one of their parties. In the final act, John persuades David, now a broken man, that his relationship with Helen will not survive the heartbreak of losing Joan. But David has no intention of learning from past mistakes and would rather drink himself to death than face the reality of his home life and the looming threat of global war

The premiere production was directed by Michael Macowan, with Martin Walker as John Reid, Hubert Gregg as Peter Scott-Fowler, Gordon Court as Williams, Catherine Lacey as Joan Scott-Fowler, Anne Firth as Helen Banner, Robert Kempson as Dr George Banner, Viola Lyel as Julia Browne, Leonard Coppins as Cyril Carter, Robert Harris as David Scott-Fowler, Millicent Wolf as Moya Lexington, Osmund Willson as Lawrence Walters, Henry Caine as Arthur Power and Lois Heatherley as Miss Potter.

The production opened in June 1939 to euphoric reviews, but only a month later the European crisis was darkening the national mood and audiences began to dwindle. The play was pulled in August after only sixty performances.

The play subsequently sank into obscurity until a BBC TV revival in 1994. It was revived by the Oxford Stage Company at Salisbury Playhouse in October 2002, and subsequently at the National Theatre, London, in June 2010 in a production directed by Thea Sharrock with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Nancy Carroll and Adrian Scarborough.

#aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei is about the detainment and interrogation of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei by the Chinese authorities in 2011. The play, which is based on Ai Weiwei’s own account in Barnaby Martin’s book Hanging Man (first published March 2013), was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 11 April 2013.

On 3 April 2011, as he was boarding a flight to Taipei, Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Airport. Advised merely that his travel ‘could damage state security’, he was escorted to a van by officials, after which he disappeared for eighty-one days. The play depicts the story of his detention and the relationships he develops with his captors. It is a portrait of the artist in extreme conditions and also an affirmation of the centrality of art and freedom of speech in civilised society.

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by James Macdonald with Benedict Wong in the title role.

One of the performances at Hampstead Theatre – the one on Friday 19 April – was live-streamed over the internet for a worldwide audience to watch for free. Ai Weiwei, in a comment posted on Hampstead Theatre's website on 10 April 2013 (accessible here: http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/news/2013/04/aiww-the-arrest-of-ai-weiwei-to-be-live-streamed-across-the-world/), said: ‘China is a society that forbids any flow of the information and freedom of speech. This is on record, so everybody should know this. I am delighted that #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei will be livestreamed to the world. It will bring the play’s themes of art and society, freedom of speech and openness, the individual and the state to a new, broad and receptive global audience. Without freedom of speech there is no modern world – just a barbaric one. I’d like to thank my close friend Larry Warsh and Hampstead Theatre for supporting the story by allowing it to be heard on a much bigger scale – and for free, which is true to its spirit. I would really like to be there on opening night but unfortunately my passport still hasn’t been returned to me.’

Albert Speer

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Albert Speer is a panoramic adaptation of Gitta Sereny’s biography of the man whose devotion to Hitler blinded him to the worst crime of the twentieth century. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 25 May 2000.

Plucked from obscurity to be Hitler’s chief architect and Minister of War, Albert Speer became the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany and the closest Hitler had to a friend. Having narrowly escaped hanging at Nuremberg, Speer emerged from twenty years at Spandau gaol, as he thought, a changed man. But even as he publishes his bestselling accounts of the Third Reich, the extent of his complicity in Nazi crimes returns to haunt him – and his long-suffering family.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Trevor Nunn and designed by Ian MacNeil, with a cast of 28 actors playing more than 65 parts, including Alex Jennings as Albert Speer and Roger Allam as Hitler.

Albion  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Bartlett's play Albion is a tragicomic drama about national identity, family, mourning and the disappointment of personal dreams. It was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 17 October 2017 (previews from 10 October).

The play is set in a garden (known as Albion) attached to a country house in Oxfordshire. The house has been bought by successful businesswoman Audrey Walters, who intends to restore the garden, now in ruins, to its former glory, and to use it to memorialise the son she recently lost in a foreign war. In the course of the play, Audrey alienates her daughter Zara, her son’s lover Anna, her oldest friend Katherine, and the entire village.

The premiere production was directed by Rupert Goold and designed by Miriam Buether. It was performed by Nigel Betts, Edyta Budnik, Wil Coban, Christopher Fairbank, Victoria Hamilton (as Audrey), Charlotte Hope, Margot Leicester, Vinette Robinson, Nicholas Rowe, Helen Schlesinger and Luke Thallon.

All But Gone  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Love is the rarest of things...it's the rarest trick...and we feel entitled to it, don't we?

Owen may live in the present but his mind remains lodged firmly in the past. As he's forced into a relationship with a teenager with emotional behavioural problems he blurs aspects of his current life with the memories of what might have been and the opportunities and relationships that could have changed his world. Riddled with regret over the man he loved and the chance to flee rural Wales he's unable to detach himself from past mistakes.

An exciting new play by an established Welsh writer inspired by experiences working at an emotional behavioral difficulty education unit. All But Gone explores a man's relationship with his past as two world collide and his fractured mind merges the life he once knew with the lonely world in which he exists. 

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).

All the Little Lights

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jane Upton's play All the Little Lights is a drama about the sexual exploitation of young girls who have fallen through the system. It was produced by Fifth Word and Nottingham Playhouse, and first performed at Nottingham Playhouse, on 20 October 2015, later touring the UK in 2017. The play was the joint winner of the George Devine Award for most promising playwright in 2016.

The play is set 'somewhere on the outskirts of an urban sprawl, high up overlooking houses, next to a railway line.' Joanne (age 16) is throwing an impromptu birthday party for her friend Lisa (15), who has recently been taken into foster care and has reluctantly agreed to come along. Joanne has brought her new sidekick, Amy (12), promising to introduce her to TJ, an older man from the local chip shop. As the three young women camp out near the railway line, they talk about anything but the traumatic experiences Joanne and Lisa have been through. They also play games, from a version of chicken when they hear the trains approaching, to imagining who lives in the ‘little lights’ that they can see in the distance. But the horror of what has happened to them in the past, and what might yet happen to Amy, gradually emerges.

The original production was directed by Laura Ford and designed by Max Dorey. It was performed by Esther-Grace Button as Amy, Sarah Hoare as Lisa and Tessie Orange-Turner as Joanne.

A movement in late 19th-century drama that aimed to replace the artificial romantic style with accurate depictions of ordinary people in plausible situations. In attempting to create a perfect illusion of reality, playwrights and directors rejected dramatic conventions that had existed since the beginnings of drama. Euripides had taken a tentative step towards realism in the 5th century BC but in later European theatre ordinary people speaking colloquially had only appeared in comedy or farce; even in such plays no attempt was made to create realistic sets or scenery. The 19th-century realist movement revolutionized contemporary theatre in every aspect, from scenery, to styles of acting, from dialogue to make-up. The first moves towards modern realism were made in 16th-century Italy with the introduction of perspective scenery. By the mid 19th century realistic gas lamps had exposed the unnatural appearance of canvas backdrops; the realistic box set with three walls and furnishings was subsequently popularized by the US director and playwright David Belasco. The Victorians also pioneered mechanical devices that were capable of producing convincing scenic illusions and sensational effects, such as fires and train crashes. In the 18th century David Garrick initiated the use of historically accurate costumes and sets, a trend that was followed by directors including Sir Henry Irving and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Despite these developments, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the drama began to emulate the serious treatment of contemporary themes achieved in the novel. The move away from melodrama and stilted dialogue to “the plain truthful language of reality” was led by Henrik Ibsen, who is often called the father of modern realism. Ibsen also broke with convention by taking the everyday lives of his middle-class audience as subject matter for serious drama. In this he was followed by the Russians Chekhov and Gorki: while the former explored the ennui of outwardly uneventful middle-class lives, the latter depicted the drudgery and suffering of the poorest classes. The first serious steps to codify realism in acting were made by Konstantin Stanislavsky for productions at the Moscow Art Theatre. Before his production of Gorki’s The Lower Depths (1902), Stanislavsky sent his actors into the Moscow slums to prepare for their roles as beggars. This technique was later developed and systematized by Lee Strasberg as the method. Other playwrights to contribute to the realist movement included T. W. Robertson, Henry Arthur Jones, Harley Granville-Barker, and George Bernard Shaw in Britain, Eugene O’Neill in America, Victorien Sardou and Augustin Eugène Scribe in France, and Gerhart Hauptmann in Germany.

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