Political theatre

Plays

Language Rooms  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A dystopian reflection of the vast network of black site/secret prisons established by the Central Intelligence Agency after 9/11 with the aim of confidentially detaining those deemed terrorists and subjecting them to indefinite detention and so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques".  

Limehouse

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Steve Waters' play Limehouse is a dramatisation of the clandestine meeting of the so-called Gang of Four that in 1981 led to a breakaway from the UK Labour Party and ultimately the formation of the Social Democratic party. It was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 8 March 2017 (previews from 2 March).

The play is set in Limehouse, London, in a house belonging to Labour MP David Owen and his wife Debbie, on Sunday 25 January 1981. Disillusioned with his party's leftwing bias, Owen has convened a meeting of supposedly like-minded figures: Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. Torn between ancestral loyalty to Labour and dismay at what they see as its current zealotry, the four are desperate to find a political alternative. Should they split their party, divide their loyalties, and risk betraying everything they believe in? Would they be starting afresh, or destroying forever the tradition that nurtured them? As the day proceeds, the time for decisive action draws ever nearer.

The Donmar Warehouse production was directed by Polly Findlay and designed by Alex Eales. It was performed by Nathalie Armin as Debbie Owen, Tom Goodman-Hill as David Owen, Paul Chahidi as Bill Rodgers, Debra Gillett as Shirley Williams and Roger Allam as Roy Jenkins.

Little Platoons

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A satirical comedy and a family drama, Little Platoons takes the pulse of Coalition Britain and explores what the retreat of the state and the growth of people power really means for its citizens.

When Rachel’s ex threatens to remove their son from London to sort out his education, she joins a local group of parents setting up a ‘free school’. Her new friends, led by the charismatic Nick, want to create an education their children can enjoy not endure. But the vision of the Big Society they seek to create tears their lives apart. Waters’ play opens up the debate around free schools and highlights the double standards that some people apply when it comes to schooling their children. Ultimately, the education project becomes a battleground between those putting themselves before the greater social need, and vice-versa. The play also exposes the complexities behind David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ policy, which aimed to give local communities more power.

Little Platoons premiered at the Bush Theatre in London in 2011 as part of the theatre’s Schools Season.

The Look Across The Eyes

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Cardiff East 'As scene melts into scene, one’s appetite for knowing more and more about these people is constantly whetted, even for the ones one would avoid in real life. Each and every [character] rings true and resonates further. A play which is never less than gripping.' Mail on Sunday

Certain Young Men 'The play is marked by a fast turnover of scenes, lots of brusque, vivid, wryly funny dialogue . articulate, arresting and as freshly performed as anything in town.' The Times

The York Realist: Winner of the London Critics' Circle Award for Best New Play

'As a love story, The York Realist is riveting and heart-rending, performed with fine-tuned naturalism that's quiet and unhurried. Gill is always terrifically perceptive about male tenderness. Overall, the personal and political are subtly united in a study of English masculinity, class and culture. Such outstanding work.' Independent on Sunday

Original Sin 'Hauntingly powerful.' Guardian

Look At Me

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

Uses theatricality to explore behaviour in and out of school.

Lynndie’s Gotta Gun

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Enda Walsh's Lynndie's Gotta Gun is a short play subtitled 'A play for former US soldier Private Lynndie England'. It was written in the light of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal of 2004, following which US Army Reserve Soldier Lynndie England was sentenced to three years in prison for her part in the abuse.

The play presents Lynndie as a children's party clown who attacks an unnamed Man with a variety of weapons including a large fish, a frying pan and a cream cake. The Man says he is looking for his son. Finally, after an ineffectual interrogation, she shoots him dead. When a ten-year-old boy enters, she turns the gun on him.

Lynndie’s Gotta Gun was first performed by Artistas Unidos, a not-for-profit community organisation, at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II in Lisbon on 16 June 2005. The piece formed part of the Confêrenca de Imprensa e Outras Aldrabices, a collection of sketches inspired by the writings of Harold Pinter. The play was directed by Jorge Silva Melo and designed by Rita Lopes Alves and João Calvário. It was performed by Gonçalo Waddingtin and Joana Bárcia.

Mainstream

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It’s that time of the year. A time that Eoin, Mary Anne and Jack all remember. Having grown up together in various care homes for the disabled, they now rely on each other in adulthood for support, friendship and love.

But when young film-maker Eleanor arrives, struggling with hidden issues and agendas of her own, to make a documentary about their lives together, the examination and attention she brings threatens to disrupt the long-term relationships and friendships at the heart of their group.Mainstream is a complex drama about truth, lies and the mainstreaming of Travellers with disabilities.

Major Barbara

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Major Barbara is a play about power, religion and capital: Shaw’s story of a conversion contest between an arms manufacturer and a Salvation Army Major is a provocative dramatization of the relationship between money and morality. As with Mrs Warren’s Profession and Pygmalion, the play exposes the material reality behind the political and moral philosophies of the time.

Andrew Undershaft is an immensely powerful and wealthy arms manufacturer, owner of a company with immense pan-European power. His wife, the imperious Lady Britomart, was outraged by his decision to disinherit his own children and separated from him many years ago, but now finds she must ask Andrew for money to support their three children. Andrew’s consequent visit to his estranged family introduces him to his energetic daughter Barbara, who has recently been made a major in the Salvation Army, and her Greek professor fiancé, Adolphus. Their ideological conflict leads them into a conversion contest: Andrew will visit the Salvation Army shelter, and Barbara will visit the munitions factory.

Major Barbara is a challenging comedy of ideals which subverts ideals and moral expectations, following a three act structure intended to advance understanding by stages as per Shaw’s dialectic method. It was first produced in 1905 at the Royal Court, London, to great acclaim, despite one newspaper criticising Shaw for his ‘withering attack’ on the Salvation Army, a claim that Shaw disputed in his later Preface to the play; nevertheless, it was to be one of the series of his plays produced at the Royal Court (along with John Bull’s Other Island (1904) and Man and Superman, amongst others) that would help establish Shaw as a respected playwright. Its discussion of the morality of armaments was apt at its time of writing, when Britain was allied with Japan in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5; ongoing warfare sealed Major Barbara’s relevance throughout the twentieth century, and it was made into a 1941 film with Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller as Adolphus and Barbara.

Mappa Mundi

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Seventy-year-old Jack is afraid of dying, or perhaps he’s afraid that he hasn’t lived, in this haunting play about memory, guilt and redemption.

While Anna prepares for her wedding, her father Jack is forced to confront the limits of his life. He is given a book on particle physics and suddenly realises how many things he does not know; he weeps when he discovers that the path of his life can be made into a single line on a map.

It is a play constantly in touch with history; Jack collects antique maps and is fascinated by research into the family’s ancestry which connects them to an eighteenth century cartographer and slave owner, though Anna is more interested in the discovery that they may also be descended from a slave. But this line to the past troubles the play, tying Jack to events he’d rather forget.

Mappa Mundi is a quiet and powerful story about trying to accept death, the past and the choices of the people we love. It premiered in 2002 at the Royal National Theatre, London.

Maydays

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

David Edgar's monumental Maydays dissects the saga of post-war political awakenings, as the many dedicated devotees of the ideals of communism become disillusioned, and dissent. In a play that spans five decades, we see socialists of various dedication and origin – from the apparatchik of the Soviet Union down to the radical university lecturer – each finding that the distance between their conscience and their comrades has become too great to traverse.

Written in the early eighties, Maydays was first presented against a backdrop of many prominent members of the Left abdicating and turning Tory. Edgar writes in his introduction that for Maydays, the "starting point was the insight that the unique thing about the conservative revival of the late seventies was that it was led largely by defectors from the left".

Described by the author as being "about as grand a narrative play as it's possible to be this side of Tamburlaine the Great", Maydays offers a rise-and-fall look at the ideals of communism, and its supporters, from the popular post-war rise of the 40s to the stagnant and jargon-laden demise of the 80s.

Maydays premiered at the Barbican, London, in 1983, in a production by the RSC.

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).