Political theatre

Plays

Spring Awakening

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Spring Awakening is a classic but still startling play, addressing adolescent sexuality at a time when sexual oppression and ignorance made puberty a confusing and terrifying mystery.

Notorious for its supposed pornographic content, the play addresses homosexuality, abuse, abortion, rape, suicide and sadism, with an acute and semi-lyrical directness astonishing for its time. A group of teenagers struggle with fear and curiosity about their growing sexual feelings, while the adults raise a wall of disgust and misinformation.

It is a mosaic of scenes, the mood shifting between comedy and alarm, the characters tense and fiercely etched: a seminal and vastly influential treatment of adolescence, education and generational conflict.

Edward Bond’s scrupulous translation first brought the play to English audiences when it premiered at the National Theatre in 1974; it is now considered to be the definitive English translation.

Stone

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Stone is a one act parable of oppression, a politically-charged journey through a spare and allegorical landscape. It tells the story of a man who sets out into the world with seven coins saved up for him by his parents. The man meets a stonemason who robs him, returns the money, and gives him a stone to carry and promises to pay him if he carries it to the stonemason’s house. As the man walks he meets a tramp, a dancing girl, a policeman and a judge, and the stone gets bigger and heavier all the time. Sewn into forceful images and angular poetry, Stone is a simple but fervent discussion of injustice and freedom.

Stone was first presented in 1976 at the ICA, London.

The Straits

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Rosia Bay, Gibraltar, 1982. Doink, Jock and Darren have the longest, hottest summer ahead; yomping, watching pirate copies of Rambo and fighting the local lads over a lucrative fleet of octopus that have just hit the Rock. With Darren's fit older sister Tracy to sell the bounty, their dominance of Rosia Bay seems assured.

But for the sons and daughters of the British Forces, another war beginning in the South Atlantic will soon bring a dark heart to their world.

The Straits – the tale of an extraordinary summer in the lives of four teenagers – was produced by Paines Plough Theatre Company and premiered at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in August 2003.

Stuff Happens

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Stuff happens... And it's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

The famous response of Donald Rumsfeld, American Secretary of Defense, to the looting of Baghdad, at a press conference on 11 April 2003, provides the title for a new play, specially written for the Olivier Theatre, about the extraordinary process leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

How does the world settle its differences, now there is only one superpower? What happens to leaders risking their credibility with sceptical publics? From events which have dominated international headlines for the last two years David Hare has fashioned both a historical narrative and a human drama about the frustrations of power and the limits of diplomacy.

Stuff Happens premiered at the National Theatre, London, in 2004 season and has subsequently been performed around the world. In April 2006, it was given its New York premiere at the Public Theater in this new, slightly updated text.

Summer Begins

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Summer Begins follows four young people in and out of love, adrift in suburbia. Dave has asked Gina to marry him over the poppadums in their local Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, Dave isn’t really her dream come true – not much else is either. She works at a supermarket checkout, and doesn’t have any other options. Sherry’s doing better, with a graduate job, but sees her life shrinking to nothing more than work day after day. She’s started seeing Lee, who ought to be all set up since his dad won the lottery, but he’s lost and unmotivated, and lonely.

Eldridge’s skilful command of dialogue adds touches of poignancy to the domestic squabbling, showing with sympathetic humour and quiet melancholy how a changing country can leave young people without direction, struggling to take responsibility.

Summer Begins was first performed in 1997 at the Royal National Theatre Studio, London.

Summer Rain  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Addresses a question that is often posed on the Iraqi street: who is real and who is a clone? Taking place in a house between a wife and her multiple husbands it calls upon the nascent science of human cloning in order to broach the subject of post-dictatorship politics in Iraq.  

Temple

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Steve Waters' play Temple is a fictionalised account of the occupation of the area outside St Paul's Cathedral in London by the protest movement Occupy London in October 2011, and the subsequent enforced eviction of the protesters. It dramatises the different, often conflicting attitudes towards the protest by the Cathedral authorities, the wider Church of England and the City of London. It was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 27 May 2015 (previews from 21 May).

The play's action is set in the Cathedral's Chapter House on 28 October 2011. The Cathedral, after a week’s closure because of the protestors, is about to re-open. The Dean is anxious to resume worship, but he is beset on all sides by problems. The Canon Chancellor, sympathetic to the Occupy movement, noisily resigns; the Virger feels the building is unready; and the Bishop of London still holds out hope of reaching some accord with the protesters. Above all, the Dean must decide whether or not to support the City of London in its plan to evict the protesters – if necessary by force.

The Donmar Warehouse premiere was directed by Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley, with Simon Russell Beale as the Dean, Rebecca Humphries as his PA, Paul Higgins as the Canon Chancellor, Anna Calder-Marshall as the Virger, Malcolm Sinclair as the Bishop of London and Shereen Martin as the City Lawyer.

Testing the Echo

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Testing the Echo is a play that explores contemporary national identity in multicultural Britain, and examines the efficacy of the British citizenship test. It was first performed by Out of Joint Theatre Company at Salisbury Playhouse, on 17 January 2008, followed by a UK tour.

The citizenship test (or Life in the UK Test) became a requirement for anyone seeking British citizenship or settlement in the UK under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, 2002.

In the play, Emma is a dedicated ESOL teacher (English for Speakers of Other Languages), teaching British citizenship to people from all over the world. At the same time, Tetyana, Mahmood and Chong have their own, very different reasons for wanting to pass the citizenship test. As the Home Office worries about the questions on the test, Emma faces a challenge to her deepest-held beliefs. The play explores the notion of Britishness and asks whether it can really be defined by a simple test of multiple choice.

The Out of Joint production was directed by Matthew Dunster and designed by Paul Wills. The cast was Teresa Banham, Kirsty Bushell, Sushil Chudasama, Farzana Dua Elahe, Ian Dunn, Robert Gwilym, Syrus Lowe and Sirine Saba.

That Summer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

That Summer is set in the late summer of 1984, at a time when miners were striking all over Britain as their unions and the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher, fought a battle that would change the industrial outlook of Britain forever.

In Edgar's play, a middle-class couple, Howard and Cressida, have decided to provide some support to the miners, by welcoming two girls from the mining community, daughters of striking miners, to join them in their holiday home near the Welsh coast. By placing these children of the working class amongst the interested, but unvested middle class, Edgar shows how an ideological battle can be fought not just intellectually, but experienced as a mere inexorable fact of life.

In a note on the play, Edgar writes 'That Summer is set against the background of the 1984-5 miners' strike. The play is a work of fiction and its characters are invented. But it nonetheless owes much to many Rhondda miners and their families'.

That Summer was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 1987.

Thirteenth Night

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Thirteenth Night is a dream play rewriting Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a Labour government, an denunciation of creeping tyranny and socialism’s dilution.

In the prologue, the socialist idealist Jack Beaty is hit over the head. He dreams of a world in which his speeches against bloated forms of government and American interposition can summon riots against the American embassy, and three women in an underground car park demand a new politics. He is driven by the taut, clawing invective of Jenny Gaze to commit murder, and ascend to the top of a brutal and tyrannical, and ostensibly socialist, government. Ominous and witty, Brenton recasts Macbeth to discover a contemporary path to tyranny.

Thirteenth Night was first presented in 1981 at the Warehouse, London.

A term denoting theatre used for political purposes, usually as part of a campaign or movement, sometimes as part of the work of a political party. At its loosest, it can have a wide application ranging from community theatre to consciousness-raising by groups with a specific identity such as women’s, black or gay companies. Its usage is often imprecise, overlapping with other terms like alternative, guerilla or radical theatre. Each country has its own tradition of political theatre. In the twentieth century the peaks of activity in the industrialized world coincided with two periods of social and political upheaval, the first and major one triggered by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath, and the second coming in the 1960s and 1970s. Common themes emerged – for peace against war, for democracy and justice against exploitation and tyranny – and common forms too, e.g. Agitprop. Most of this theatre was socialist- or communist-inspired, and often involved professionals working with amateurs in nontraditional venues. By its nature much of the work is ephemeral, but it has also had an important effect on the theatre world through inspirational practitioners like Piscator, Brecht, Littlewood and Boal.

from Colin Chambers, The Continuum Companion to Twenieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).