Plays

Advice for the Young at Heart

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It’s 2011 and 1958 and London is rioting. Candice is ordered by her gang-leading boyfriend to lure Clint into a honeytrap. Haunted by her grandfather’s mistakes, she stands at a crossroads. Will she do as she’s told, or will she learn to be true to herself before history repeats itself?

A modern tale for riotous times, commissioned and developed by Theatre Centre, Advice for the Young at Heart examines 2011’s unrest against the background of the 1958 race riots, exploring themes of race, family and misguided loyalty. A new play for young people aged 14+.

Advice for the Young at Heart was first performed at Redbridge Drama Centre, London, on 12 September 2013.

After Darwin

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Millie, a director, discusses with her actors, Ian and Tom, how to interpret two famous historical figures from the nineteenth century. It's 1831. The naturalist Charles Darwin is invited to travel with Robert Fitzroy into uncharted waters off the coast of South America aboard 'The Beagle'. Their five year journey is fraught with philosophical and personal tensions. Fitzroy, a staunch Christian, has faith in the unquestionable authority of the Bible; Darwin begins to explore a more radical vision, his theory of natural selection. A meditation on history and human relationships, After Darwin links past and present through these five characters, and raises timeless questions about faith, friendship and how we interpret the past.

After Darwin was first performed in July 1998, at Hampstead Theatre, London.

Afterplay

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

1920s Moscow, a small run-down café. Uncle Vanya's niece, Sonya Serebriakova, now in her forties, is the only customer. Until the arrival of Andrey Prozorov, the put-upon brother from Three Sisters.

Afterplay revisits the lives of two characters from Anton Chekhov's plays. It was first produced, with The Bear (also after Chekhov), at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in March 2002.

After The Rainfall

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Throughout history, the study of ants (myrmecology) has been used as an analogy for human behaviour. This piece uses myrmecology as a prism through which to view the present day. Navigating the arid Egyptian desert, continental Europe, the British Museum and a quiet village green, this piece is a patchwork of multidimensional narratives about the aftermath of the Empire.

curious directive conjure a world where multimedia, movement and sound unpick Britain's relationship to artefacts, mining and the secret life of ants.

An epic, thumping, passionate story asking questions about the relationship between our past, present and into eternity, After the Rainfall was a collaboration between curious directive, Watford Palace Theatre and Escalator East to Edinburgh and was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012.

Against  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

 Go where there's violence.

Silicon Valley. The future. A rocket launches.

Luke is an aerospace billionaire who can talk to anyone. But God is talking to him. He sets out to change the world. Only violence stands in his way.

Christopher Shinn's gripping play received its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre on 12 August 2017 in a production directed by Ian Rickson and featuring Ben Whishaw as Luke.

The Age of Consent

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Age of Consent places in counterpoint two acutely uncomfortable monologues about childhood, responsibility and the shattering of innocence.

One voice is a teenager awaiting his release from a correctional facility after serving his time for the murder of a child. The other is the young mother of a child performer, ruthlessly scheming for fame and fortune, and making sure her daughter will do absolutely whatever it takes.

The characters are united by a sense of denial, as well as the humanity that can exist behind even the most monstrous abuse. Morris’s controversial and powerful play premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, and was condemned and acclaimed for tackling the subject of child killers.

audio Agnes of God

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In this contemporary murder mystery, set within the confines of a convent, Agnes is a devout, innocent young nun accused of infanticide. As a psychiatrist, herself a lapsed Catholic, and the Mother Superior struggle over Agnes' fate, the play plunges deeply into the mystery of faith and the consequence of truth.

Includes an interview with Dr. Kevin Orlin Johnson, author of "Why Do Catholics Do That.”

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Barbara Bain, Emily Bergl and Harriet Harris.

Featuring: Barbara Bain, Emily Bergl, Harriet Harris

Alaska

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Alaska is a tale of prejudice, sex and aggression, a portrait of unabashed racism.

The audience is introduced to Frank as a drug-dealing self-righteous History student. Having dropped out of university, he works at a cinema kiosk, where his colleagues are attracted to his tense and sullen manner. But brought into contact with Mamta, an Asian co-worker, he soon emerges as a hostile white supremacist, supporting his pseudo-intellectual prejudices by twisting history and quoting Biblical mistranslations. The play’s downward spiral of lies and violence unravels Frank’s desperation and obsession, and discusses identity and race in modern Britain.

The play was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in 2007.

Albert's Boy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Graham’s portrait of Einstein’s tortured conscience is delightfully tinged with both homely and black humour, in a play that is nonetheless deeply serious about questions of pacifism and necessity.

It is 1953 and Albert Einstein’s house is empty, his cat is missing, he can’t unify the fields of relativity and particle physics and he can’t escape his guilt. When a family friend, newly released from a POW camp, comes to visit, a warm reunion soon becomes a collision of opposing beliefs on the subjects of evil, the winning of wars and the construction of the atomic bomb. Albert’s Boy is both a fascinating biographical sketch and a passionate duet about the ethics of moral responsibility. The play premiered at the Finborough Theatre in 2005.

Albion  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Bartlett's play Albion is a tragicomic drama about national identity, family, mourning and the disappointment of personal dreams. It was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 17 October 2017 (previews from 10 October).

The play is set in a garden (known as Albion) attached to a country house in Oxfordshire. The house has been bought by successful businesswoman Audrey Walters, who intends to restore the garden, now in ruins, to its former glory, and to use it to memorialise the son she recently lost in a foreign war. In the course of the play, Audrey alienates her daughter Zara, her son’s lover Anna, her oldest friend Katherine, and the entire village.

The premiere production was directed by Rupert Goold and designed by Miriam Buether. It was performed by Nigel Betts, Edyta Budnik, Wil Coban, Christopher Fairbank, Victoria Hamilton (as Audrey), Charlotte Hope, Margot Leicester, Vinette Robinson, Nicholas Rowe, Helen Schlesinger and Luke Thallon.

Contemporary British theatre

British theatre culture is characterised by innovative new writing, naturalistic acting and responsiveness to political change. During the past three decades, upheavals in society have been mirrored by the theatre. The long reign of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which started in May 1979 and ended in November 1990, broke the economic, social and political consensus of postwar Britain, introducing the ideology of monetarism, the practice of privatisation and the rule of the market. In the 1980s, the money distributed by the Arts Council to theatres was repeatedly cut. In 1994, the National Lottery was created by John Major’s Conservative government, and this paid for ambitious theatre building projects. The arrival of Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997 continued these trends, but it was not until the 2000s that, following the Boyden Report, an extra £25 million was pumped into the beleaguered theatre system nationwide. One result was a boom in new writing in the first decade of the new millennium.

The profoundest effect of Thatcherism was commercialisation: during the 1980s and 1990s, theatres became businesses as well as arts organizations. These years also saw the amazing triumph of the commercial West End. Composer and theatre-owner Andrew Lloyd Webber made theatre history in 1991 with six shows running at the same time in London’s Theatreland. In July 1993 his Sunset Boulevard opened with £4 million in advance bookings, and in January 1996 Cats (1981) — with its instantly recognisable yellow-eye logo — became the longest running musical in history. In 1994, he repeated his achievements of 1982 and 1988 by having three musicals running in London and three in New York at the same time. Two years later, Madonna starred in the film version of his Evita. In the 1997 New Year’s honours list, as a farewell gift from the departing Conservatives, he was made a life peer, a high point of a career that made him one of the richest men in Britain. Likewise, Cameron Mackintosh, the other major musical producer, enjoyed continued success with Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil’s Les Miserables (1985), which had been developed by the RSC and is currently the longest-running musical, closely followed by Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera (1986), both making billions in box office worldwide. The decade ended with Schonberg and Boubil’s Miss Saigon (1989) and the arrival of jukebox musicals, led by Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (1989). Since then, other West End long-runners include Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers (1983), Disney’s The Lion King (1997) and Abba’s Mamma Mia! (1999). Agatha Christie’s museum-piece The Mousetrap (1952) was joined by Stephen Mallatratt’s The Woman in Black (1987) and more recently by Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps (2005). By 2012, the Society of London Theatre announced that annual West End ticket sales had topped £500 million.

The broad trends of British theatre in the 1980s included not only the emergence of blockbusting musicals, but also the arrival of epic theatre. A good example is David Edgar’s eight-and-a half-hour adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby for the state-subsidised RSC in 1980. Another is Tony Harrison’s three-part version of The Mysteries (1985) for the National Theatre. Traditionally, a mixture of naturalism and socially progressive realism was, to a greater or lesser extent, the main aesthetic of British theatre. Playwrights sought both to mirror society, and to change it. Controversial new plays by the 1968 generation of radicals were headed by Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain (1980), which was the subject of a private prosecution for obscenity by Mary Whitehouse. Other notable plays were Brenton and David Hare’s satirical Pravda (1985), Jim Cartwright’s debut Road (1986), Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business (1987) and Hare’s The Secret Rapture (1988). Each engaged with the social impact of Thatcherism.

Two other trends were visible: the rise in women playwrights and of black and Asian theatre. Older women such as Caryl Churchill, Pam Gems and Timberlake Wertenbaker were joined by new arrivals such as Sarah Daniels, April de Angelis, Charlotte Keatley, Sharman Macdonald and Andrea Dunbar. Churchill’s Top Girls (1982) and Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should (1987) are now modern classics. Characteristically, these plays represent women’s lives through an innovative approach to structure. Churchill’s Serious Money (1987) and Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good (1988) explore the contemporary by engaging with history. Dunbar was a genuinely working-class writer, and her play Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1982) was also filmed. Daniels’s Masterpieces (1983) is a feminist tract.

Black and Asian companies such as Tara Arts, Tamasha and Talawa, plus playwrights Hanif Kureishi (Outskirts), Mustapha Matura (Playboy of the West Indies) and Winsome Pinnock (Leave Taking), made their presence felt during the 1980s. Another trend involved the creation of small-scale companies, whose highly recognisable aesthetic styles proved widely influential. These were headed by Théâtre de Complicité, which later became Complicite, and whose long line of physical-theatre productions culminated in Mnemonic (1999). Likewise, Shared Experience pioneered outstanding adaptations of classic novels, often scripted by Helen Edmundson, while Cheek by Jowl concentrated on vividly acted revivals of the classics. But, across the decade, the embattled feeling due to cuts in state subsidy had a demoralising effect. By the end of the 1980s, there was talk of a crisis in new writing.

In the 1990s, new writing revived, but political plays gave way to personal ones. Starting with younger playwrights such as Philip Ridley (The Pitchfork Disney) and Anthony Neilson (Penetrator), a new sensibility, called in-yer-face theatre, developed. While the moment of in-yer-face theatre — raw, uncompromising drama that smashed taboos and provoked audiences — was short-lived, spanning the four years between the arrival of Sarah Kane’s notoriously shocking debut Blasted at the Royal Court in January 1995 and her suicide in February 1999, it changed the face of new writing.

The sudden emergence of a large number of new voices — Mark Ravenhill, Jez Butterworth, Martin McDonagh, Patrick Marber, Joe Penhall, David Eldridge, Moira Buffini, Phyllis Nagy, Judy Upton, Rebecca Prichard and Nick Grosso — suggested a renaissance and some critics spoke enthusiastically of a golden age. Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking (1996) publicised the new sensibility, while Butterworth’s Mojo (1995), McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy (1997) and Marber’s Closer (1997) were commercially successful.

From Scotland came David Greig and David Harrower (Knives in Hens); from Ireland arrived Conor McPherson, whose The Weir (1997) was a massive West End success. Elsewhere, Roy Williams and Tanika Gupta moved across the theatrical spectrum from writing plays about their Caribbean and Bengali heritage to penning dramas about contemporary Britain. Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East (1997) was a big hit. In terms of the avant-garde, Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life (1997) was the most experimental and daring play of the decade. It could never be as commercial as Jonathan Harvey’s feelgood Beautiful Thing (1993), Kevin Elyot’s comic My Night with Reg (1994) and Shelagh Stephenson’s resonant The Memory of Water (1996). Bucking the widespread trend against political drama, the Tricycle Theatre produced The Colour of Justice (1999), a tribunal theatre piece based on the Stephen Lawrence enquiry.

In the 1990s, many new writers were interested in the overarching subject of masculinity in crisis, but older playwrights had other concerns: having penned a farce classic — Noises Off (1982) — in the 1980s, Michael Frayn wrote a dazzling science play, Copenhagen (1998), while Stoppard’s Arcadia (1993) and The Invention of Love (1997) explored Englishness, as did Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III (1991) and The Wind in the Willows (1991). David Hare’s Trilogy (1993), Skylight (1995) and Amy’s View (1997) confirmed his status as the National’s in-house political dramatist, while David Edgar’s Pentecost (1994) examined global politics after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. By contrast, Terry Johnson’s Hysteria (1993) and Dead Funny (1994) mixed farce with gender insights. Howard Barker and Edward Bond continued to write their uniquely challenging work.

In the 2000s, as state funding for theatre rose, new writing multiplied in its practitioners and diversified in its subjects — and young writers rediscovered overtly political concerns. In the aftermath of 9/11, the fashion for verbatim theatre was widespread: David Hare’s Stuff Happens (2004) mixed fact and fiction, while My Name Is Rachel Corrie and Talking to Terrorists are but two of many examples. Other political plays were headed by Alistair Beaton’s Feelgood (2001), which satirised Blair’s obsession with spin. Likewise, typical 2000s’ themes were the War on Terror, the Iraq War and the culture of fear, the social problems of poverty and violence, the effects of migration from the EU and beyond, and the disaffection of segregated communities. Joe Penhall’s ethical debate drama Blue/Orange (2000) and Charlotte Jones’s family drama Humble Boy (2001) were often revived.

As far as new arrivals are concerned, Simon Stephens (On the Shore of the Wide World) and Richard Bean were two of the most prolific and powerful new voices to emerge in this decade. Bean’s England People Very Nice (2009) was very provocative and his Goldoni adaptation, One Man, Two Guvnors (2011) was a huge international success, as was Jez Butterworth’s battered pastoral Jerusalem (2009). Similarly, in Scotland, Gregory Burke joined David Greig, David Harrower and Liz Lochhead as a chronicler of the new millennium. His Black Watch (2006) and Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia (2004) were hits for the newly established National Theatre of Scotland. Meanwhile, the most controversial play of the decade, Gurprett Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti (2004), was staged in Birmingham, and concerned religion and abuse.

While new black playwrights such as Kwame Kwei-Armah (Elmina’s Kitchen) and debbie tucker green (Stoning Mary) were staged at the National and Royal Court, The Big Life, a musical about the Windrush generation, moved from the Theatre Royal Stratford East into the West End in 2005. Roy Williams’s Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads (2002) and Tanika Gupta’s Sugar Mummies (2006) were notable successes. The increase in dystopic visions of the future testifies to the imagination of playwrights: examples include Caryl Churchill’s Far Away (2000), her A Number (2002) and Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur (2005). Lucy Prebble’s Enron (2009) summed up the economic crisis; Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2004) and Lee Hall’s The Pitman Painters (2007) explored the past.

A new crop of talents, such as Dennis Kelly, Laura Wade, Mike Bartlett, Tim Crouch, Steve Waters, Bola Agbaje, Chloe Moss, Polly Stenham, Penelope Skinner and James Graham, together ensured that the 2000s were a remarkable decade for new writing. Many were also commercially successful: Peter Gill’s The York Realist (2002), Polly Stenham’s That Face (2007), Laura Wade’s Posh (2010), April De Angelis’s Jumpy (2011) and Nick Payne’s Constellations (2012) all transferred to the West End. As did National Theatre shows such as Nick Stafford’s adaptation of War Horse (2007), with its puppetry, and One Man, Two Guvnors, with its slapstick. Finally, new forms of non-text-based theatre, such as the work of the Shunt and Punchdrunk companies, as well as experiments in site-specific, immersive theatre and one-on-one theatre, made a big impact. By 2012, the effects of Coalition government cuts in funding for the theatre had not as yet been felt.

Aleks Sierz