Political theatre

Plays

Children of the Sun (Trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Maxim Gorky's play Children of the Sun is a Chekhovian family drama, written while its author was briefly imprisoned in Saint Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905. It was initially banned, but the imperial authorities allowed it to premiere on 24 October 1905 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2000.

The play's title refers to Russia's privileged intelligentsia, epitomised by Protasov, who is high-minded and idealistic but out of touch with the reality of life, especially for the working classes. The play is set during one of the cholera epidemics of the previous century, but was universally understood to relate to contemporary events, and has come to be seen as a prophetic echo of the coming revolution.

Chimerica

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A powerful play about international relations and the shifting balance of power between East and West, Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica is both a political examination and an engaging personal drama.

Tiananmen Square, 1989. As tanks roll through Beijing and soldiers hammer on his hotel door, Joe – a young American photojournalist – captures a piece of history with his camera: the moment when a lone man steps in front of the tanks.

New York, 2012. Joe is covering the presidential election, marred by debate over cheap labour and the outsourcing of American jobs to Chinese factories. When a cryptic message left in a Beijing newspaper suggests that the so-called 'tank man' is still alive and living in America, Joe is driven to discover the truth about the unknown hero he photographed.

The play asks urgent questions about the emergence of China as a global superpower, the impact and legacy of authoritarian government, and the decline of Western supremacy. It also explores the personal price paid by those who pursue the truth, whatever the cost.

Chimerica premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2013 in a co-production with theatre company Headlong. It was an immediate critical success, receiving a clutch of five-star reviews. It subsequently transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End in June 2013 and was awarded the Evening Standard, Critics' Circle and Olivier Awards for Best New Play as well as the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The Collector  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Henry Naylor's The Collector is a play about life in occupied Iraq after the 2003 invasion by the US-led coalition, as a team of prison guards become brutalised by war. The play is part of Henry Naylor's Arabian Nightmares trilogy, which also includes Echoes and Angel.

The Collector was first performed at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh, on 30 July 2014, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, winning a Fringe First award.

The story is told by three storytellers who, according to a note in the published script, 'speak directly to the audience, through the "fourth wall"’. There is Zoya, an Iraqi woman; Colonel ‘Kasper’ Kasprowicz, an American reservist in his forties, in charge of Mazrat Prison; and Foster, an American interrogator, female, twenty-four. Under Saddam, Mazrat was a notorious torture house where more than 10,000 people died; now it is under Allied command, and Nassir works there, translating for the American interrogators. He's local, pro-Western, determined to bring liberal values to his country and is about to get married to Zoya, his sweetheart. But when he is recognised by Faisal, a new prisoner and psychotic supporter of the old regime, Nassir's life becomes a living hell.

The premiere production was directed by Henry Naylor and performed by Ritu Arya (as Zoya), William Reay (as Kasper) and Lesley Harcourt (as Foster).

The show transferred to the Arcola Theatre, London, in November 2014, restaged by director Michael Cabot, and with lighting design by Ross Bibby.

Kathryn Barker Productions under the auspices of Kathryn Cabot launched their own tour of the show in autumn 2016, with the following cast: Shireen Farkhoy (as Zoya), William Reay (as Kasper) and Olivia Beardsley (as Foster).

Columbinus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A play sparked by the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, probes the psychological warfare of alienation, hostility and social pressure that goes on in high schools across America. Columbinus weaves together excerpts from discussions with parents, survivors and community leaders in Littleton as well as diaries and home video footage to bring to light the dark recesses of American adolescence.

Comment Is Free  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

James Fritz's play Comment is Free is about a journalist caught up in a devastating media storm. The published version of the play was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 5 October 2016. An earlier version was performed in a staged reading as part of Old Vic New Voices in June 2015, directed by Kate Hewitt and produced by Martha Rose Wilson.

The play is presented as a text featuring hundreds of voices. According to an author's note, 'It should feel noisy – things should overlap, and not everything needs to be heard.' The action centres around a columnist and political commentator, Alistair Cooper, who is constantly in the news because of his inflammatory opinions. Alistair's voice is heard only through his answerphone message, but the play allows us to infer details of his public persona from the array of hostile voices ranged against him, including one voice that threatens to 'murder you and your wife slowly and then drown your daughter'. Alistair's wife, Hilary, insists that her husband's public persona is a 'panto version', very different from the 'real guy at home' who, she says, is 'a wonderful husband'. When Hilary's brother, Ben, warns her that Alistair's public image is getting out of hand, and that people are getting 'very upset', she dismisses his concerns. But then Alistair is found dead, the police come calling, and public opinion rapidly shifts in unpredictable ways.

The BBC Radio 4 production was directed and produced by Becky Ripley and performed by Rachael Stirling, Tobias Menzies, Alice Kirk, Alison Belbin and Jolyon Jenkins. The news was read by Neil Nunes, Susan Rae, Zeb Soanes and Ritula Shah, with Jonathan Dimbleby hosting Any Questions. ‘The Noise’ was voiced by Natasha Cowley, Luke MacGregor, Clare Perkins and Gavi Singh Chera, alongside hundreds of crowdsourced contributors from across the country.

The production went on to win both the Tinniswood and Imison Awards for Audio Drama.

The Contingency Plan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A double bill of plays from the frontline of climate change - an epic portrait of an England of the near future, in the grip of unprecedented and catastrophic floods.

On the Beach is set in an England in the grip of unprecedented flooding, glaciologist Will Paxton returns from months in Antarctica to tell his parents that he will take up a role within Government. Thirty years ago, his father silenced his own radical thinking on climate change. Yet behind the reunion with his father lies years of secrecy and bitterness. As the truth surfaces, the family is torn apart, and Will’s parents must face the rising tide alone. The dialectic between Will and his father is explored with an urgent intensity which reflects the state of national emergency in which England finds itself. Waters blends the personal with the political turning this large-scale play into a compelling human drama.

In Resilience, England faces an uncertain future as catastrophic flooding on an unprecedented scale is predicted to hit its battered shores. The Tory Government that has just come to power wants radical answers to the imminent floods. Their newly appointed expert Will Paxton (who features prominently in the first part of the double bill, On the Beach) posits an extreme scenario. He declares England, potentially from coastline to capital, to be in total peril. Tory Minister for Climate Change, Chris is blind to the realities being placed before him, much to the chagrin of Will and his colleague, Colin, the Government’s Scientific Advisor. Resilience shows that Will’s fight to implement a proper policy, built from scientific research, derives in part from the old familial wounds aired in On the Beach.

Resilience and On the Beach premiered as a double bill at the Bush Theatre in London in 2009.

Impressive in scale and chilling as a prediction of our immediate future, the two plays are complementary but can also stand alone.

Cordon

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

A group of Special Police in Belgrade incite a riot at a peaceful protest, maliciously beating a student. A harsh indictment of the brutality and corruption of the Milosevic regime. Banned throughout Yugoslavia.

The Cut

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Cut is the story of Paul, the dystopia he lives in, and a streamlined system of oppression with a monstrous, throbbing pain at its core.

In a government office, surrounded by administrative forms and directives, Paul administers the Cut. He isn’t used to doing it to someone so keen, but John is impatient, he’s fantasised about it, about emptiness, about being… free. Disarmed by John’s enthusiasm for the incredible pain of the Cut, Paul’s bureaucratic armour cracks to reveal a man tortured by his profession and by society’s disgust. Paul’s conversations with his wife - who doesn’t know what he does but only that he can’t stop crying - and finally with his son are sparse and serrated, as he struggles with his conscience and with his horror.

Ravenhill’s dark unspeakable symbol gives this story of oppression an indefinable and irresistible force.

The Cut premiered in 2006 at the Donmar Warehouse, London.

Daughters of the Revolution

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Daughters of the Revolution is one part of a two-play cycle under the collective title Continental Divide, set against the background of a bitterly fought American governor’s election in an unspecified Pacific-coast state. Daughters of the Revolution centres on characters in the Democrat camp, while the other part, Mothers Against, examines the election from the Republican perspective.

Across the two plays, Edgar explores what has happened to the revolutionary fervour that took hold of both the Right and the Left in the 1960s, and how it has been carried over into the politics of the twenty-first century.

Both plays were jointly commissioned and produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Daughters of the Revolution was first performed in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on 1 March 2003 before transferring to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, with performances from 6 November 2003.

Daughters of the Revolution is an expansive epic theatre play about the diaspora of 1960s student radicals. Michael Bern is a Community College professor about to land a big promotion due to his connections with the Democratic candidate for governor, Rebecca McKeene. As a birthday present his partner, Abby, has tracked down his old FBI file relating to his days as a political activist in the 1970s. This leads him on a mission to find the informer who betrayed his revolutionary cell in 1972. Along the way he meets an ex-Black Panther, an old Marxist turned fervent right-winger, and discovers that his old friend Rebecca may have a dirty little political secret of her own.

The premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival was directed by Tony Taccone and designed by William Bloodgood, with a cast including Terry Layman as Michael Bern.

The play received its UK premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 6 March 2004, with the original American cast directed by Tony Taccone. It subsequently played at the Barbican, London, as part of their BITE Festival, with performances from 20 March 2004.

A Day At The Racists

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Day at the Racists is a brave piece of political theatre. It both attempts to understand why people might be drawn to the BNP and diagnoses a deeper cause of that attraction: the political abandonment and betrayal of the working class by New Labour.

Pete Case used to be a leading Labour Party organiser in the local car factories. Now he struggles to get by as a decorator as immigrant workers undercut his best mate's firm; his son Mark can't get a job or onto the housing list; and nobody, from his Labour MP to his granddaughter's teacher, seems to care. Then Pete finds unexpected hope: Gina is young, mixed race and standing for Parliament on a platform of helping the local community. She is standing for the British National Party. As Pete's rage and despair gradually overcome his longstanding loathing of the BNP, he is drawn into the world of Gina's campaign and finds himself entangled in a nightmare of political machinations that pit his closest relationships – son, best mate, lover – against his longest-held beliefs and newfound aims. The play’s timely premiere was at the Finborough Theatre in 2010.

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).