Plays

The Balancing Act

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Could there be one thing that holds the world together: amidst all the chaos, of war, poverty, illness and ecological breakdown, could one spot anchor it all?

Viv thinks so, and cowers beneath the floorboards of a soon-to-be-demolished tower block to protect the notion. Nelson tries to convince her otherwise, but fails, then lives his life in penance. The demolition expert who demolished the tower block (and unwittingly killed Viv) believes it, and wittingly kills his wife to protect the notion too.

The Balancing Act, is a hilarious and unsettling black comedy that shows what happens when people let the world be run by superstition, obsession and confusion.

Born in the Gardens

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Not much has changed in the days since Maud’s husband, Victor, died, except for the addition of the casket in the music room. She and her son Maurice are still pottering around the house, watching television and enjoying their eccentric hobbies.

Everything becomes much less comfortable, however, when her other children arrive for the funeral. Quirky, dark, and hilarious, Born in the Gardens combines a commentary on Thatcherite politics with an examination of a family in transition.

Born in the Gardens was written by Peter Nichols for the bicentennial anniversary of the Theatre Royal, now the Bristol Old Vic, in 1979, and then transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. After a television adaptation in 1986, it was revived by the Peter Hall Company in 2008.

audio The Brothers Karamazov

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Dostoyevsky’s titanic masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov is here adapted into a spellbinding full-cast drama by playwright David Fishelson.

The passionate Karamazov brothers spring to life, led by their rogue of a father, who entertains himself by drinking, womanizing, and pitting his three sons against each other. The men have plenty to fight over, including the alluring Grushenka.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring John de Lancie, Sharon Gless, Arye Gross, Harry Hamlin, Kaitlin Hopkins, Joseph Mascolo, Richard Hoyt Miller, John Randolph, John Rubinstein, Tom Virtue, Ping Wu

Featuring: Brothers: John de Lancie, Sharon Gless, Arye Gross, Harry Hamlin, Kaitlin Hopkins, Joseph Mascolo, Richard Hoyt Miller, John Randolph, John Rubinstein, Tom Virtue, Ping Wu Idiot: Edward Asner, Kate Asner, Angela Bettis, Arye Gross, John Kapelos, Robert Machray, Jon Matthews, Johanna McKay, Paul Mercier, Laurel Moglen, Michael Rivkin, Peggy Roeder, Douglas Weston

audio The Cherry Orchard

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Chekhov’s masterful last play, The Cherry Orchard, is a work of timeless, bittersweet beauty about the fading fortunes of an aristocratic Russian family and their struggle to maintain their status in a changing world. Alternately touching and farcical, this subtle, intelligent play stars the incomparable Marsha Mason. Translated and adapted by Frank Dwyer and Nicholas Saunders.

Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Directed by Rosalind Ayres
Producing Director: Susan Albert Loewenberg
Marsha Mason as Madame Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya
Hector Elizondo as Leonid Andreyevich Gayev
Michael Cristofer as Yermolay Alekseyevich Lopakhin
Jennifer Tilly as Dunyasha (Avdotya Fyodorovna)
Joey Slotnick as Semyon Panteleyevich Yepikhodov
Christy Keefe as Anya Ranyevskaya
Amy Pletz as Varya Ranyevskaya
Jordan Baker as Charlotta Ivanovna
Jeffrey Jones as Boris Borisovich Semyonov-Pischick
Charles Durning as Feers
Tim DeKay as Pyotr Sergeyevich Trofimov
John Chardiet as Passer-By

Sound Effects Artist/Stage Manager: Jane Slater
Assistant Stage Manager: Cary Thompson
Radio Producer: Raymond Guarna
Associate Producer: Susan Raab

The Cherry Orchard (adapt. Murphy)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Chekhov’s tragicomedy of inertia and loss – perhaps his most popular play – an aristocratic family cling to their sheltered lives in a picturesque estate while the forces of social change beat on the walls outside.

Completely bankrupt, Lyubov Ranyevskaya returns with her daughter Anya from Paris to her childhood home, to the beautiful cherry orchard outside the house and to her grief. The estate is paralysed by debt, but she and her billiard-playing brother refuse to save their finances by having the vast orchard cut down to build holiday cottages. Hopelessly paralysed, incapable of decisive action, they put the estate up for auction, and find their world is brought crashing down by powerful forces rooted deep in history and in the society around them

Chekhov maintained that the play was a cheerful and frivolous comedy, but audiences have found its tragedy irresistible. The comedy is poignant; the tone is ambiguous, both farcical and piercing. While remaining faithful to the original, Tom Murphy’s adaptation reimagines the events of this classic play in a language that resonates with wit, clarity and verve. It was first performed in 2004 at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

video The Cherry Orchard (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

Recorded through National Theatre Live on 30th June, 2011.

Ranyevskaya returns more or less bankrupt after ten years abroad. Luxuriating in her fading moneyed world and regardless of the increasingly hostile forces outside, she and her brother snub the lucrative scheme of Lopakhin, a peasant turned entrepreneur, to save the family estate. In so doing, they put up their lives to auction and seal the fate of the beloved orchard.

Set at the very start of the twentieth century, Andrew Upton’s new version of Chekhov’s classic captures a poignant moment in Russia's history as the country rolls inexorably towards 1917.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

CAST
Dunyasha: Emily Taaffe
Lopakhin: Conleth Hill
Yepihodov: Pip Carter
Anya: Charity Wakefield
Ranyevskaya: Zoe Wanamaker
Varya: Claudie Blakley
Gaev: James Laurenson
Charlotta: Sarah Woodward
Simyonov-Pishchik: Tim McMullan
Yasha: Gerald Kyd
Firs: Kenneth Cranham
Peya Trofimov: Mark Bonnar
A Passer-by: Craige Els
The Station Master: Paul Dodds
Ensemble: Mark Fleischmann
Ensemble: Colin Haigh
Ensemble: Jessica Regan
Ensemble: Tim Samuels
Ensemble: Stephanie Thomas
Ensemble: Joseph Thompson
Ensemble: Rosie Thomson
Ensemble: Ellie Turner

CREATIVES
Director: Howard Davies
Author: Andrew Upton
Designer: Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Music: Dominic Muldowney
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Choreographer: Lynne Page

audio The Credeaux Canvas

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Ah, to be young, gifted, and broke! Three struggling artists swindle an art collector in Keith Bunin’s critically acclaimed play. Exploring a complex labyrinth of love, friendship and true intimacy with moon-washed delicacy, Bunin’s deft dialogue drives this beautifully constructed play to its soul-shattering climax.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance starring Hilary Swank, Chad Lowe, Shirley Knight and Jeremy Sisto.

Featuring: Hilary Swank, Chad Lowe, Shirley Knight, Jeremy Sisto

Creditors (trans. Greig)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Anxiously awaiting the return of his new wife, Adolph finds solace in the words of a stranger. But comfort soon turns to destruction as old wounds are opened, insecurities are laid bare and former debts are settled.

Regarded as Strindberg's most mature work, Creditors is a darkly comic tale of obsession, honour and revenge. David Greig's version premiered at the Donmar Warehouse, London, in September 2008.

Dreams of Violence  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Stella Feehily's play Dreams of Violence is a tragicomedy about love, death and responsibility. It was first performed at Soho Theatre, London, on 9 July 2009, in a co-production with Out of Joint.

The play is set in London in September 2008. For forty-something Hildy, political activism comes easier than dealing with the disorder of her family life: her druggie son, Jamie; her philandering soon-to-be-ex husband, Ben; her father, Jack, misbehaving in a hugely expensive retirement home. Then there's Shirley, Hildy's charismatic mother – a former pop star with a fondness for booze – who sets up camp in Hildy's spare room to belittle her from close range. By day, Hildy leads the City's cleaners in revolt against the bankers. But by night, she dreams of unsettling acts of violence.

The Out of Joint/Soho Theatre production was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and designed by Lucy Osborne. It was performed by Jamie Baughan, Nigel Cooke, Giles Cooper, Thusitha Jayasundera, Ciaran McIntyre, Catherine Russell (as Hildy), Mossie Smith and Paula Wilcox.

audio Each Day Dies With Sleep

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Written by José Rivera, recent Academy Award Nominee for The Motorcycles Diaries, Each Day Dies with Sleep is the story of a young woman’s struggle to find an identity apart from the two men in her life – her father and her husband. Written in Rivera’s typical satiric and super realistic style, this fantastical tragic-comedy leaps from coast to coast, and from one outrageous moment to the next.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Laura Ceron, Noe Cuellar and Frankie Davila.

Featuring: Laura Ceron, Noe Cuellar, Frankie Davila

Enlightenment

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Enlightenment is a powerful study of the mechanisms of grief, identity and absence.

When Adam disappears overseas, all his mother Lia and step-father Nick have is an email saying that he was thinking of going to Jakarta. The first act is the story of their grief, and their search for meaning or confirmation from a silent world. A vague medium and an invasive television producer do nothing to alleviate their harrowing uncertainty, and their hope that every time the phone rings, it might be Adam calling.

Then a young man appears at the airport, looking uncannily like Adam, with his passport and amnesia in tow. As this version of Adam comes to live with Lia and Nick, the play, at first a delicate study of the psychology of loss, unravels into something dark and raw.

Enlightenment premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 2005.

Have I None

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A woman sitting alone hears a constant knocking at the door, but no one is there. Her husband returns and tells her of an extraordinary meeting with an old woman found roaming in a ruined part of the city. Then a stranger comes to the door, like a visitor from an earlier, lost world. What follows is tragic and absurdly funny until both seem to melt into a strange hallucinatory vision of the future.

In his introduction, Edward Bond writes: 'All human existence is fiction. In the end natural reality does not impose its own necessities on us . . . Fiction is our reality because ultimately it determines our existence in society. The power of ideology is that it uses the humanising forces – our appetites, passions, needs – that bind us to the reality of nature, to bind us to its psychotic fictions. We free ourselves from these fictions only by using the same force.'

Have I None was first presented by Big Brum on 2 November 2000 at Castle Vale Artsite, Birmingham.

Home (Storey)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As five apparently unrelated characters meet in a seemingly insignificant garden, the autumnal sun shines overhead and everybody waits for rain.

What they discuss is superficially anything that can pass the time. What is portrayed is the very essence of England, Englishness, class, unfulfilled ambition, loves lost and homes that no longer exist.

Home is a beautiful, compassionate, tragic and darkly funny study of the human mind and a once-great nation coming to terms with its new place in the world. It was described by the Guardian as ‘A sad Wordsworthian elegy about the solitude and dislocation of madness and possibly about the decline of Britain itself . . . part of the play’s appeal is that Storey leaves us to draw our own conclusions . . . a play that contains within itself the still, sad music of humanity.’

Home was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 17 June 1970.

The Hothouse

Grove Atlantic
Type: Text

The Hothouse was first produced in 1980 at the Hampstead Theatre, London, though Harold Pinter wrote the play in 1958 just before commencing work on The Caretaker.

The Hothouse is one of Pinter’s best plays: one that deals with the worm-eaten corruption of bureaucracy, the secrecy of government and the disjunction between language and experience.’ Michael Billington

Joyriders

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Joyriders is the moving, tragicomic story of four teenagers taking part in a Youth Training Programme in Belfast, 1986, surrounded by the violence of The Troubles. When unemployment seems their most likely prospect, it is difficult for them not to be cynical about a training scheme which seems little more than a cheap way to keep them off the streets. Some of them sometimes dare to wish for greater things, but others find that growing up surrounded by violence and crime does not leave much room for hope.

The play, with its refreshing focus on working-class young people, was inspired by Reid’s visits to Youth Training Programmes and the Divis Community Centre in Belfast in the 1980s; the songs were written and first performed by residents of Divis Flats. It opened in 1986 at the Tricycle Theatre in London. The sequel Clowns revisits the characters eight years later.

audio Just Between Ourselves

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The first of Ayckbourn’s darkly comic masterpieces involves a relentlessly cheerful handyman in a disastrously fractured marriage. Two couples develop an unlikely friendship in this painfully funny portrait of British suburban life.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring:

Gia Carides as Pam

Kenneth Danziger as Dennis

Judy Geeson as Vera

Miriam Margolyes as Marjorie

Alfred Molina as Neil

Directed by Waris Hussein. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Gia Carides, Kenneth Danziger, Judy Geeson, Miriam Margolyes, Alfred Molina

Kill the Old Torture Their Young

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Kill the Old Torture their Young is an urban tragicomedy of alienation, as what could have been a hymn to a beautiful Scottish city becomes a muffled cry of rage against alienation and disconnection.

A documentary maker returns to the place of his birth. His task is to film his impressions. An old man remembers a time when eagles flew overhead. A TV executive reaches breaking point in the city he loves. A struggling actor seeks fame in a city that doesn't seem to want him. A young woman ends her artistic dreams in a city that eludes her. A receptionist tries to break the mould of her life in the city where she's always lived. A rock star sings to himself in a city he's forgotten the name of. Each of them has a story to tell, but the question is whether anyone will listen.

Kill The Old Torture Their Young was first performed in 1998 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Life of Riley

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

‘As perceptive as ever… Ayckbourn has once again achieved a satisfyingly rich, tragi-comic complexity.’ Daily Telegraph

Life of Riley was first performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in September 2010.

The Makropulos Case

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Makropulos Case (1922) [is] a tragic-comic fantasy about ageing and human mortality. There are many inspirations for this marvellous play: the Russian zoologist Professor Mechnikov’s tehories about the ageing process as a self-intoxication of the organis; Shaw’s Back to Methusaleh; the immortal monsters of Frankenstein and Dracula; the French philosopher Henri Bergson, and his explorations of free will and temporality.’ So say the translators of The Makropulos Case, Peter Majer and Cathy Porter, in their introduction to the anthology in which this translation was first published.

The Makropulos Case is an enduring story of the invention of a potion that will give its consumer eternal life. In typical Čapek style though, the elixir proves to be the undoing of those surrounding it, as the prospect of unlimited life reduces them to greed, secrecy and litigation.

The Makropolus Case was first performed in Prague in 1922.

Marriage A-La Mode

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Half comic and half serious, Marriage A-la-Mode is a spirited study of the trials and passions of love and marriage, and generally considered John Dryden’s finest comedy.

The play is set in the Sicilian court, and consists of a comic plot written in prose, and a tragic plot written in verse. The comic plot wittily explores the fluttering courtly mode of romance. Two fashionable couples, lifted straight from London drawing rooms into the Sicilian court, play at switching partners in the ‘modern style’, flirting with the boundaries of marriage and betrothal. The tragic scenes belong to Leonidas and Palmyra, who have grown up in obscurity but find their love threatened when their true parentage is discovered. This serious plot, by contrast, offers a timeless understanding of love and marriage as deeply intertwined, and of love as springing from country innocence and honour, and not from the social intriguing of shallow courtiers. With a blend of satire and true romance, Dryden leads the play to the conclusion that the most stylish and modish kind of marriage is what is simple, honourable and true.

M arriage A-la-Mode was presented to King Charles II at Windsor in the summer of 1671; the king was, reputedly, a great fan of the comedy, a factor which contributed to its great success onstage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. After the theatre was destroyed by fire in early 1672, the play moved temporarily to the Duke’s Company’s old theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Noir

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

George is on the hunt for the man who is seducing his wife Ruth, a lecturer in film noir at the university.

Alison, an adult chat-line operator, tells her psychiatrist a dream that she was shot in the woods by her father, Howard, whom the Pentecostal preacher Reverend Lang suspects of stealing £20,000 from the church accounts.

When Morris, Ruth's seducer, turns up as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, things take a sinister turn for the worse.

Noir is a dark comedy of desire, dreams and coincidental disappearances. It was co-produced by Live Theatre and Northern Stage Ensemble and premiered at Newcastle Playhouse in May 2002.

Pity

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Two bombs in one day is a foul coincidence
Don't forget the lightning strike

A normal day. A person stands in the market square watching the world go by.
What happens next verges on the ridiculous.

There's ice cream. Sunshine. Shops. Some dogs. A wedding. Bombs. Candles. Blood. Lightning. Sandwiches. Snipers. Looting. Gunshots. Babies. Actors. Azaleas. Famine. Fountains. Statues. Atrocities. And tanks. (Probably).

Rory Mullarkey's new play asks whether things really are getting worse. And if we care.

The Stock Da'wa

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Stock Da’wa is a taut and blackly comic three-person play about truth, fundamentalism and mothers.

Paul, Joan and Mr Wilson are standing in the kitchen. Paul has just returned with a bag and a bloodied nose to his hometown of Stock after an absence of seventeen years. As a boy he was practically adopted by Joan after becoming friends with her son Oliver. She lives with Mr Wilson, a gay retired English teacher who taught the boys when they were young. Paul is now married, and converted to Islam. As the secrets of the past are exhumed, the reunion atmosphere is strained enough without there being something distinctly odd about the bag Paul is carrying.

The Stock Da’wa was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre, London, in 2011.

The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Tempest has long been regarded as Shakespeare’s swan-song. Critical readers from Coleridge onward have interpreted Prospero’s epilogue, ending ‘Let your indulgence set me free’, as Shakespeare’s own farewell to the stage; however, this interpretation has since been queried by more recent chronologies that suggest the playwright went on to compose Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen after The Tempest.

In its first publication (in the First Folio of 1623), The Tempest appears in the ‘Comedies’ section. In modern criticism, it is more likely to see The Tempest described as a ‘late play’ (written towards the end of what we perceive to be Shakespeare’s writing career, c. 1607-13) or a ‘romance’ – a group of plays set in an unspecified time and/or place, whose loose plots revolve round familial reunion and fantastical happenings.

Prospero, a magus and the usurped Duke of Milan, and his spirit-servant Ariel, conjure a storm that casts Prospero’s treacherous brother (the current Duke of Milan), the King of Naples and their courtiers onto an unnamed island. The king’s son, Ferdinand, now alone on the island, meets Prospero and falls in love with his daughter, Miranda. Meanwhile, Caliban, the deformed offspring of the island-witch Sycorax, encounters Naples’ jester Trinculo and butler Stephano, who desire to overthrow Prospero and become kings of the island themselves. All parties are eventually reunited, and Prospero forgives his brother and reclaims his dukedom. Miranda and Ferdinand are married, and Ariel is set free, whilst Caliban is castigated for his actions.

The first recorded performance of the play is in November 1611 before King James I at Whitehall. A year previously, in 1610, word had reached England of the shipwreck of an exploratory vessel, the Sea Venture, in the Bermudas. One survivor, William Strachey, wrote a lengthy letter home narrating their encounter of the ‘dreaded I[s]land . . . given over to Devils and wicked Spirits’. His account has been seen as a major influence of The Tempest, along with the essay ‘Of the Caniballes’ by sixteenth-century French humanist Michel de Montaigne, whose Essais (translated into English by John Florio in 1603) have been perceived as a significant influence upon Shakespeare’s Jacobean oeuvre.

The play’s dramatic opening (with the stage direction ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard’), its abundance of music and its lavish masque suggest that The Tempest was written for the indoor theatre at Blackfriars, which Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, had taken over in 1608. Unlike the ‘wooden O’ of outdoor amphitheatre venues such as the Globe on Bankside, Blackfriars offered a much darker, more intimate space, suited not to the large battles of Elizabethan plays such as we see in the Henriad, but to the psychological drama and fantastical set-pieces of ‘romances’ such as The Winter’s Tale.

The trajectory of responses to The Tempest has moved from a Restoration emphasis of the centrality of the patriarchy, to Romantic enthusiasm for the individual creative genius represented by Prospero, to post-colonial readings of the enslaved native Caliban, to feminist re-appropriations of the play’s only living female character, Miranda.

video The Tempest (Donmar)

Donmar Warehouse
Type: Video

The final instalment in the Donmar Warehouse’s all-female Shakespeare Trilogy sees Harriet Walter take on the role of Prospero in this evocation of the eternal struggle for freedom, morality and justice.

Directed for both stage and screen by Phyllida Lloyd. Set on an isle ‘full of noises’, this magical production features a glowing score by Joan Armatrading. Critics celebrated the original staging as ‘A glorious reminder that genuine diversity offers astonishing creative benefits’.

The Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy began in 2012 with an all-female production of Julius Caesar led by Dame Harriet Walter. Set in a women’s prison, the production asked the question, ‘Who owns Shakespeare?’ Two further productions followed: Henry IV in 2014 and The Tempest in 2016, all featuring a diverse company of women. The Trilogy enthralled theatre audiences in London and New York and was shared with women and girls in prisons and schools across the UK. The film versions were shot live in a specially built temporary theatre in King’s Cross in 2016.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

For more videos about the trilogy, visit this page.

video The Tempest (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Twelve years ago, Prospero, formerly the Duke of Milan, was usurped by Alonso, King of Naples, and Alonso's brother, Sebastian and cast adrift with his three-year-old daughter, Miranda. They now live on an island. Desiring revenge, Prospero uses his powerful magic to cause a great storm which shipwrecks his enemies. Stage director: Jeremy Herrin. Screen director: Ian Russell. Featuring: James Garnon, Jessie Buckley, Roger Allam, Jason Baughan, Sam Cox, Pip Donaghy, Trevor Fox, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Will Mannering, Joshua James, Colin Morgan, Sarah Sweeney, Amanda Wilkin, Matthew Raymond.

Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A story of motherhood set in a totalitarian society where children must be perfect specimens if they are to be allowed to live. Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes is caught between laughter and despair: a passionate, comic, alarming play.

In future Britain, the population is divided into five segregated classes: only those in the upper strata of society are permitted to reproduce, and Dot and Pete are arrested for an illegal pregnancy. Lucinda and Ralph haven’t been able to conceive; luckily for them they can afford to buy a Government baby, artificially conceived and guaranteed to be beautiful and healthy. But scans reveal that the foetus has nine toes instead of ten. In a world where babies are bought and sold and advertised, everyone is surprised to find that Lucinda doesn’t want her money back.

Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes was first performed in 1989 at the Library Theatre, Manchester.

audio Three Sisters

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

A full-cast performance of Chekhov’s masterpiece starring Jennifer Westfeldt, Tessa Thompson, Sarah Zimmerman and Jon Hamm.

Meet Olga, Masha, and Irina, warm and cultured young sisters who were reared in the exciting hubbub of Moscow, but have been living in the dull, gossipy backwaters of Russia for far too long. With their father’s passing, and the ordinary grip of day-to-day life slowly suffocating them, the urge to return to the city with its rich and exciting life rises to a fever pitch. First performed in 1901, Three Sisters beautifully mixes humor and heartbreak and is a perennial favorite of actors and audiences alike. The great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is one of the most influential figures in modern literature, whose classic works include Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard (also available from L.A. Theatre Works). An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Jennifer Westfeldt as Masha Tessa Thompson as Irina Sarah Zimmerman as Olga Jon Hamm as Vershinin Josh Clark as Solyony and Rode Josh Cooke as Kulygin Dan Donohue as Tuzenbach Pamela Dunlap as Anfisa Marc Halsey as Fedotik Rebecca Mozo as Natasha Robert Pine as Chebutykin and Ferapont Reid Scott as Andrei Translated by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Featuring: Josh Clark, Josh Cooke, Dan Donohue, Pamela Dunlap, Marc Halsey, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Mozo, Robert Pine, Reid Scott, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Westfeldt, Sarah Zimmerman

Troilus and Cressida

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In staging the famous story of the Trojan war and the doomed relationship of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare stages the demystification of the classical heroes and the deflation of their chivalric ideals. The play is generically indeterminable, combining history, comedy and tragedy into a sceptical analysis of war-politics, potent sexuality and disillusionment.

Troilus and Cressida was written around 1601-2, in the aftermath of the abortive rising of the Earl of Essex. The play’s earliest extant text is the 1609 Quarto, whose preliminary pages exist in two states; this text is based on the 1623 First Folio, supplemented and corrected from the 1609 Quarto.

The city of Troy has been besieged by the Greek army for seven years. The Trojan prince Troilus is preoccupied by his love for Cressida; Cressida’s uncle Pandarus is assisting him. In the Greek camp outside the city walls, the commander Agamemnon complains about his army’s listlessness; Ulysses blames the renowned warrior Achilles, who spends all day in his tent with Patroclus instead of fighting. Hector sends a challenge to single combat, and Ulysses suggests choosing Achilles’ rival Ajax.

The Trojans debate whether keeping Helen (who eloped with the Trojan prince Paris from her husband the Greek Menelaus) is worth the lives that have been lost, but Troilus persuades his brother Hector that it is the honourable thing to do. Pandarus has arranged for Troilus and Cressida to meet privately, attended by himself. But Cressida’s father Calchus, who defected to the Greeks, arranges an exchange: Cressida will come to the Greek camp and the Greeks will release their Trojan prisoner Antenor.

After the lovers’ farewells, Cressida is escorted out of Troy by the Greek Diomedes. The Trojans arrive at the Greek camp for the combat between Hector and Ajax, but it is interrupted because they are cousins. Achilles swears to meet Hector in battle the next day. Having accompanied Hector, Troilus sees Cressida being familiar with Diomedes, and furiously vows to kill the Greek. In battle the next day, Troilus fights with Ajax, Patroclus is killed, and Achilles treacherously kills Hector.

video Troilus and Cressida (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Filmed live in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in November 2018

“Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery: nothing else holds fashion”

Troilus and Cressida swear they will always be true to one another. But in the seventh year of the siege of Troy their innocence is tested, and exposed to the savage corrupting influence of war, with tragic consequences.

Virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie collaborates with RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran to create a satirical futuristic vision of a world resounding with the rhythm of battle.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

CAST
Priam: Ewart James Walters
Hector: Daniel Hawksford
Andromache: Gabby Wong
Paris: Geoffrey Lumb
Helen: Daisy Badger
Troilus: Gavin Fowler
Cassandra: Charlotte Arrowsmith
Helenus: Mikhail Sen
Polyxena: Esther McAuley
Aeneas: Amanda Harris
Pandarus: Oliver Ford Davies
Cressida: Amber James
Clachas: Helen Grady
Alexandra: Leigh Quinn
Paris' servant: Nicole Agada
Agamemnon: Suzanne Bertish
Menelaus: Andrew Langtree
Ulysses: Adjoa Andoh
Nestor: Jim Hooper
Achilles: Andy Apollo
Patroclus: James Cooney
Ajax: Theo Ogundipe
Diomed: Daniel Burke
Thersites: Sheila Reid

CREATIVES
Stage Director: Gregory Doran
Designer: Niki Turner
Incidental Music: Evelyn Glennie
TV Director: Robin Lough

Ulster American

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Would you mind if I asked you a troubling question?

Jay is the Oscar-winning actor taking the lead in a new play that connects with his Irish roots. Leigh is the ambitious director who will do anything to get noticed. Ruth is the Northern Irish playwright whose voice must be heard.

The stage is set for great success, but when the three meet to discuss the play's challenges and provocations, a line is crossed and the heated discussion quickly escalates to a violent climax. Exploring consent, abuses of power and the confusions of cultural identity, Ulster American is confrontational, brutally funny and not for the faint of heart.

David Ireland's recent plays include Cyprus Avenue which won the James Tait Black Award 2017 and Best Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017.

Uncle Vanya (Trans. Hare)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Russia, late summer at the close of the nineteenth century. Vanya and his niece Sonya have worked for years to manage the country estate. Into this ordered and regular household come two new visitors, Sonya's father, an irritable professor, and his young wife Elena who, in the space of a few months, cause chaos, one by their selfishness, and the other by their sexual allure. Between them, they manage to have most of the inhabitants questioning their purpose in life, their happiness and, at times, their sanity.

David Hare's version of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya opened at Theatre Royal Bath in July 2019. 

The Wake

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Vera O'Toole is alone, adrift and living dangerously in New York where she survives as a call-girl. But she has a sustaining thought, a dream. She is not alone, she feels, because she has a family in Ireland; she belongs; indeed, some day she may even become worthy of that family.

Now, as the story begins, she returns home to Ireland to pay her respects to her dead and beloved grandmother and to discover her dream, her sustaining thought, turning into a nightmare.

The Wake was described by the Mail on Sunday as 'Extraordinarily good . . . the power of the piece comes from Murphy's refreshing and almost defiant unpredictability, his refusal to impose a single limiting theme on this tragic-comedy . . . it somehow touches on everything and everyone Irish'.

The Wake was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in January 1998.

The Winter's Tale (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Composed between 1609 and 1611, towards the end of Shakespeare’s career, The Winter’s Tale was recorded by Elizabethan playgoer and astrologer, Simon Forman, as having been performed at the Globe in 1611. The play is not seen in print, however, until the 1623 First Folio.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and his wife, Hermione, are expecting their second child. Leontes’ childhood friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, has come to pay a visit, during which, Leontes grows increasingly suspicious of his old friend and his wife. Polixenes flees, and Hermione is imprisoned, where she gives birth to a daughter; during her trial, Hermione hears of the death of her son, Mamillus, faints and is pronounced dead. The baby princess, Perdita, is taken from Sicilia and left with a shepherd and his son. Sixteen years pass, and Perdita is being wooed by the disguised Prince of Bohemia, Florizel, son of Polixenes. Eloping to Sicily, away from the wrath of Polixenes, Perdita’s true paternity is revealed. A lifelike statue of Hermione is unveiled by her perpetual friend Paulina, and, as if by magic, the queen comes to life to be with her husband and daughter once again.

The Winter’s Tale is variously described as a late play, a problem play, a romance, a pastoral, and a tragicomedy. ‘Tragicomedy’ as a genre was relatively new to the English theatre, following the arrival of Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in England (c.1600), whereas pastoral romance was established, even outdated, by Shakespeare’s time of writing. The play’s first three Acts teeter on the tragic, with the second two encompassing an ending – happy marriages – most commonly seen in Shakespearean comedies. The incorporation of the pastoral romance genre allows the play’s tragic endings to be sublimated into a Golden World setting, and eventually subverted through fantasy and belief in the supernatural.

Shakespeare drew on Robert Greene’s prose work, Pandosto (1588), for the plot of his play, rewriting the deaths of Pandosto (Greene’s Leontes) and Hermione. Scholars have argued that, as with his usage of the resurrected wife trope in Much Ado About Nothing, the impetus for Hermione’s revivification came from Euripides’ Alcestis. In another classical source, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we find the basis for the image of the beloved wife as statue.

Twentieth-century criticism of the play has seen focus shift to the psychological drama behind Leontes’ actions, in particular Freudian discussions of wish-fulfilment and childhood sexuality. The latter became the backdrop for Trevor Nunn’s 1969 RSC production, which saw the play performed in an oversized nursery. A turn back to early modern psychology has led to discussions of Leontes’ ‘affection’ or affectio, the deranged mind. Feminist criticism has explored the trope of the ‘women who won’t die’ in Shakespeare’s late plays, and the unusual protagonism of Perdita in the pastoral setting, where it is more common for the pastoral shepherd to be the focus.

video The Winter's Tale (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 8+

A new version for young audiences by Justin Audibert.

Originally staged as part of the National Theatre’s Shakespeare for younger audiences programme. This archival recording was captured in 2018.

Perdita is a brave, intelligent and much-loved girl, but something is not quite right in her world. Join her on a journey through magic and mayhem as she uncovers her story – the girl who was once lost and then found.

This exciting new version of The Winter's Tale is the perfect introduction to Shakespeare: using colour, song and puppetry to tell this magical tale.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

CAST
Polixenes: Adrian Richards
Leontes: Nana Amoo-Gottfried
Hermione: Tamara Camacho
Perdita: Gabby Wong
Camilla: Shazia Nicholls
Antigonus: Johndeep More
The Officer: Kenton Thomas
Paulina: Stephanie Levi-John
Young Shepherd: Tamara Camacho
Mamillius: Gabby Wong
Old Shepherd: Johndeep More
Florizel: Kenton Thomas

All other characters are played by members of the Company

CREATIVES
Director: Justin Audibert
Adaptor: Justin Audibert
Designer: Lucy Sierra
Composer and Music Director: Jonathan Girling
Lighting Designer: Paul Knott
Sound Designer: Mike Winship
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Puppet Designer: Samule Wyer

The Witch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A lurid and sensational tragicomedy, Thomas Middleton portrays a court mired in sexual intrigue and deception, and the gruesome witch who keeps them well supplied with love charms and poisons.

At the start of the play, Sebastian returns from abroad to find his fiancée Isabella married that day to Antonio. (Antonio’s courtesan Florida is also upset about the marriage.) Antonio determines to prevent the marriage being consummated so he can claim Isabella back, and asks the witch Hecate to make Antonio impotent. Meanwhile, the Duchess is plotting revenge against her husband the Duke, incensed by his use of her father’s skull as a drinking cup. The courtier Almachildes asks Hecate for a charm to make the Duchess’s woman Amoretta fall in love with him. And Francisca, Antonio’s sister, is panicking about her illegitimate pregnancy. These multiple intrigues pave the way for a tangled combination of bed tricks, misfiring love charms and murders.

The story is twisting and highly complex – possibly because the play’s emphasis is not on plot, but upon topical satire, referencing the contemporary witchcraft scandal of Frances Howard, Robert Carr and Sir Thomas Overbury.

The court tragedy is counterweighted by the lusty, ghastly antics of Hecate, her son Firestone and her familiars. Cooking dead children, practising voodoo, having sex with her cat-spirit and cooking up foul potions, Hecate is the black, potent heart of Middleton’s play.

The Witch, which survives in manuscript form and was not printed until 1778, is thought to have been written between 1613-1616 and performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars.

A genre that blends elements of tragedy and comedy. Tragicomedies tend to fall into two main categories; those in which a potentially tragic series of events is resolved happily and those in which the comedy has dark or bitter overtones. Although the form can be traced back to Euripides and Plautus, tragicomedy first emerged as a recognizable genre in the Renaissance. In Spain, Fernando de Rojas’s frequently staged dialogue novel La Celestina (1499) was subtitled the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, while in 16th-century Italy the term was applied to several plays by Giovanni Giraldi. A number of Shakespeare’s works – most notably, perhaps, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and Cymbeline– are regularly described as tragicomedies. Many pastoral works of the 16th and 17th centuries are essentially romantic tragicomedies. The first French tragicomedy, Robert Garnier’s Bradamante, was published in 1582. Alexandre Hardy (c. 1575–c. 1632) developed the genre in the early 17th century, influencing his countrymen Molière and Corneille, whose Le Cid (1637) has been called the perfect tragicomedy. He was also imitated by the Jacobean and Caroline dramatists in England. The last example of a romantic tragicomedy in English is probably Dryden’s Secret Love, or the Maiden Queen (1667). Although it has disappeared as a distinct genre, tragicomedy has arguably become the dominant mode of serious dramatic writing in the 20th century. The works of Chekhov, O’Casey, Brecht, Beckett, and Pinter could all be described as tragicomic.

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