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.

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

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).