Featured Content: Controversial Plays
“Sharp ends hurt. Handle with care!”
Theatre is by nature a place to examine, mimic, parody, delight, and challenge. Throughout history, theatre has pushed the limits and paid the consequences with bans, suits, arrests, censorship, and everything inbetween. This month we celebrate controversial theatre, plays that fostered outrage and praise, pushed theatre and dialogue, and continue to be disputed to this day. At the Sharp End, quoted above, offers an excellent introduction to the theme and five of today’s leading dramatists and their work.
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (1879)
“I think I'm a human being before anything else.”
Now considered standard classroom material, A Doll’s House shocked audiences 140 years ago and continues to resonate today with translations and adaptations proving popular since Victorian times.
Read Simon Stephens’s 2012 translation for the Young Vic for a modern version of the play that stays true to the original, and focus on Ibsen’s perfect pacing and unadorned dialogue in an L.A. Theate Works audio play performance featuring Calista Flockhart as Nora and Tim Dekay as Torvald.
In Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, Toby Zinman discusses notable performances and examines why A Doll’s House continues to resonate today and Ibsen’s motivation for writing about woman in society.
Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind (1891)
“I think I read most of it with my eyes shut”
Considered a classic, Spring Awakening remains a startling play, addressing homosexuality, abuse, abortion, rape, suicide and sadism, with an acute and semi-lyrical directness astonishing for its time.
Edward Bond’s translation includes introductions to the 1974 and 2009 editions, the first addressing the dangers of misused authority in the play and contemporary society, the second addressing the loss of drama.
Saved by Edward Bond (1965)
“Reckon it’s alright?”
From its first private production, the violence and language in Edward Bond’s Saved was met with widespread outrage from reviewers. After Bond refused to alter scenes in response to the censor’s demands, Saved played a fundamental role in the successful campaign to repeal the laws governing censorship of plays.
In Edward Bond: The Playwright Speaks by David Tuaillon, Bond discusses the experience of censorship, “I was outraged when the script of Saved came back from the Lord Chamberlain, literally marked with a blue pencil to show what his Lordship wouldn’t allow! Finally driving censorship out of English theatre made it possible for us to have serious theatre, in the sense that the Greeks had: a theatre which can help us to understand ourselves, and to rule, order, govern our society in better ways, and to make it more free.”
Oleanna by David Mamet (1992)
“Well, there are those who would say it’s a form of aggression.”
Widely considered to be the voice of contemporary American Theatre, David Mamet's use of realistic language, together with minimalist staging, creates a postmodern combination that pushes an audience in conflicting directions.
His most controversial play Oleanna set off a firestorm of controversy after the first productions in the US and UK. David K. Sauer’s David Mamet’s Oleanna offers an excellent introduction to the background and context of the play, followed by analysis, production history, and practical workshop exercises for performance.
Career focus: Writing about theatre
What could be more difficult in writing about theatre than addressing controversial plays? Mark Fisher offers advice and guidance on controversial plays amongst many useful topics in How to Write About Theatre, from finding your voice, to writing the first sentence, and how to put everything together, as well as addressing the questions you didn’t think to consider, like how you should react to David Tennant’s hair and whether or not you’re prepared to receive toilet paper in the post.