Political theatre

Plays

Fen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Against the flat, bleak landscape of the Fenlands, men and women are cramped into bitterness by grinding labour and economic oppression.

Fen is composed of brief, fiercely resonant scenes, carving with powerful humanity the desolate lives of the village’s men and women. Three girls sing of being hairdressers or housewives when they grow up. Angela makes her stepdaughter drink water from the kettle. The representative of a City corporation purrs and placates her way to buying a farm that has been in the same family for generations. Ninety-year-old Ivy dreams aloud of union struggles. But the hard spine of the play is Val, a thirty-year-old who finds herself caught between her children and her lover – happy in brief moments, yet tormented past hope.

First performed in 1983 at the University of Essex Theatre, Fen is a flinty, eerie play, haunted by the ghosts of starving field workers and claustrophobic in its condemnation of agrarian and social exploitation.

Frangipani

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

The powerless are given voice in this play by Chhon Sina (Cambodia), reminding us that poverty can easily lead to abuse and exploitation.

Fuck the Polar Bears

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tanya Ronder's Fuck the Polar Bears is a satirical domestic comedy about aspirational consumerism and environmentalist double standards. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 11 September 2015.

The play's action takes place in the 'central hallway/open living area of an ostentatious house in North London' belonging to Gordon and Serena, two 'down-to-earth people come to money late'. Gordon, Communications Director at a big energy company, frets about the loss of his daughter Rachel’s toy polar bear while working on schemes that will wreck the planet’s animal life. But, despite his claims that he is unaffected by stress, Gordon is troubled on several fronts. At work, he’s been offered the post of Chief Executive with a licence from the government to pursue fracking operations. At home, Serena bluntly tells him she doesn’t like their life. Meanwhile, Gordon's housepainter brother Clarence acts as a rebuke to his conscience, and domestic objects mysteriously go haywire. On top of that, the Icelandic au pair, Blundhilde, turns out to be a militant conservationist. Gordon and Serena ultimately start to wonder whether there is an alternative to their life of conspicuous consumption and discuss the future that awaits their daughter.

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by Caroline Byrne and designed by Chiara Stephenson, with Andrew Whipp as Gordon, Susan Stanley as Serena, Salóme R. Gunnarsdóttir as Blundhilde, Jon Foster as Clarence and Bella Padden/Eléa Vicas as Rachel.

Fuente Ovejuna

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Lope de Vega's play Fuente Ovejuna is a recognised masterpiece by a major writer of the Spanish Golden Age, depicting one of the most memorable acts of resistance in world drama. First published in Madrid in 1619, the play is believed to have been written between 1612 and 1614. It is based upon an actual historical incident that took place in the village of Fuente Ovejuna (now called Fuente Obejuna) in Castile in 1476.

This translation by Laurence Boswell was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2009.

The play's action follows the historical incident closely. A military Commander, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, under the command of the Order of Calatrava, mistreats the villagers of Fuente Ovejuna, who revolt against their tyrannical overlord and murder him. When a magistrate sent by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella arrives at the village to investigate, the villagers, even under the pain of torture, respond only by saying 'Fuente Ovejuna did it'. In the face of this claim to collective responsibility, the village is pardoned and placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Crown.

Gagarin Way

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Gagarin Way, by Dunfermline playwright Gregory Burke, is a cruel, funny first play about a human heist gone horribly wrong.

Winner of the Meyer/Whitworth Award 2002, Winner of the Critics' Circle Award 2002 and winner of the Scotsman Fringe First of the Firsts Award 2001, Gregory Burke's 'sensational debut play' (Daily Telegraph) was premiered at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and the Royal National Theatre, London, in 2001, transferred to the Arts Theatre, London, in 2002 and was revived for a tour of Scotland later that year.

The Genius

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A nuclear physicist runs away from the horrifying consequences of his research in this flinty, electric modern parallel to Brecht’s Life of Galileo.

Brenton’s genius is Leo Lehrer, a brilliant and magnetic American, in academic exile at a rainy English Midlands university because he refused to work for the Pentagon. His inability to confront the moral and ethical implications of his discoveries leave him unable to work, or do anything except get high and sleep with his friend’s wife in the snow.

Then he meets Gilly, a first year mathematics student, who can do the equations he has been trying to hide from: she has worked them out for herself. Together they struggle to deny science’s imperative for progress, and stare in horror at the momentous power which they have articulated.

The Genius was first performed in 1983 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

The Great Wave  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

On a Japanese beach, teenage sisters Hanako and Reiko are caught up in a storm. Reiko survives while Hanako is lost to the sea. Their mother, however, can't shake the feeling her missing daughter is still alive, and soon family tragedy takes on a global political dimension. 

Green Man Flashing

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Digging under the skin of contemporary South Africa, Green Man Flashing explores themes of sexual harassment, political loyalty and finally, accountability to truth, which has made it one of the most talked about plays in recent years to be staged in South Africa.

Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) was a social theorist who is often credited as being the first female sociologist. In Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing, Shelagh Stephenson depicts the great writer in a period of convalescence, living as an invalid by the sea in Tynemouth.

Shut off from her usual society, Harriet is visited by women of the locale; Impie, a recent widow who is using her new-found marital freedom to paint murals on the ceilings of her family home; Beulah, the daughter of a woman who’d been sold into slavery and escaped; and Jane, the housemaid, whose unfeted and unexpected gifts lift her out of domestic servitude and could help Harriet out of illness.
Harriet Martineau is a play about female self-reliance in a time of patriarchal dominance. Written by Shelagh Stephenson, it premiered at Live Theatre, Newcastle, in winter 2016.

Hope

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jack Thorne's play Hope is about the pressures on a local council to carry out funding cuts imposed by the government. It was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 26 November 2014.

The play's action is set in the present day (winter 2014), predominantly in and around a council office in a working-class town where the Labour council is faced with having to cut £22 million from its budget. Hilary, the pragmatic council leader, proposes cuts across the board, with the intention of sharing the misery. Mark, her deputy, is a thwarted idealist who fights for the library, the museum and street lighting. But a more urgent problem arises over the closure of a day centre for adults with learning difficulties. Gina, Mark’s ex-partner who runs the centre, organises a petition that becomes national news and embarrasses both the local authority and the Labour party. In a dramatically rebellious gesture designed to get themselves out of this policy hole, the council finally takes the rare step of refusing to sign off the budget at all.

The Royal Court premiere was directed by John Tiffany and designed by Tom Scutt. It was performed by Rudi Dharmlalingam, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Jo Eastwood, Christine Entwisle, Tom Georgeson, Stella Gonet, Paul Higgins, Tommy Knight and Nisha Nayar.

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).