Plays by David Edgar


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar’s play Pentecost is part of his trilogy of post-Cold War plays, together with The Shape of the Table (1990) and The Prisoner’s Dilemma (2001). It was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 12 October 1994.

The play is set in a church in an unnamed eastern European state not long after the fall of communism. A valuable fresco has been discovered in the church, hidden behind a large revolutionary mural, and international and local art historians meet to argue over who should claim ownership. Art curator Gabriella Pecs sees the fresco as a boost to the self-esteem of her nation, whereas the young Minister for Culture, Mikhail Czaba, plans on turning the church into a tourist hotspot, potentially yielding a fortune for the government. When a multinational group of armed asylum-seekers raid and occupy the church, taking the experts hostage, they soon realise that their human prisoners may be of far less value to them than the fresco itself. The fate of the painting becomes a metaphor for the future of the emergent nations of Eastern Europe as well as a focal point for conflicting attitudes towards art.

The Royal Shakespeare Company production was directed by Michael Attenborough and designed by Robert Jones. The cast was Charles Kay, Jan Ravens, Claire Carrie, Simon Cook, Nigel Cooke, Roy Ward, Steven Elliott, Glenn Hugill, Linal Haft, Judith Sweeney, Linford Brown, Nigel Clauzel, Quill Roberts, Katharine Rogers, Sean O'Callaghan, Natalie Izgol, Rebecca Underwood, Catherine Kanter, Sasha Behar and Thusitha Jayasundera.

The production transferred to the Young Vic, London, with performances from 31 May 1995.

Pentecost won the 1995 Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

Playing with Fire

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Playing with Fire is a drama about racial tensions in modern, multicultural Britain, set mostly in a fictional town in West Yorkshire. It was first performed in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 21 September 2005.

When the defiantly northern Wyverdale District Council fails to satisfy a government audit, a New Labour fixer, Alex Clifton, is despatched from the capital to formulate a robust recovery plan. But resources spent on websites, ‘faith festivals’ and council leaflets in Bengali seem beside the point to the Labour old guard, struggling as they are to provide basic services to an alienated and divided electorate. What's more, the reforms seem only to fan the flames of racial tension, and when riots break out, everyone starts looking for someone to blame.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Michael Attenborough and designed by Lez Brotherston, with a cast including Emma Fielding, David Troughton and Oliver Ford Davies.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar’s The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a play about political negotiation and the difficulty of reconciling opposing nationalist forces. It is the third play in Edgar's post-Cold War trilogy, which also includes The Shape of the Table (1990) and Pentecost (1994). It was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 11 July 2001.

Beginning in early 1989 and spanning some twelve years, the play follows a team of peace negotiators attempting to resolve an ethnic conflict occurring within a fictional former Soviet republic. Inside Kavkhazia lies a largely Muslim province, Drozhdevnya, that wants independence. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the two ethnic groups have fought bitterly for control over the country. As the two sides fight on the ground, attempts are made by a Finnish peace-broker to hammer out an accord that will guarantee a democratic, multi-ethnic state. Just when it looks as if a deal has been reached, however, one side swerves and the whole cyclical process starts all over again.

The Royal Shakespeare Company premiere was directed by Michael Attenborough and designed by Es Devlin. The cast was Douglas Rao, Diana Kent, David Wilmot, Joseph Mydell, Penny Downie, Larry Lamb, Trevor Cooper, Alex Zorbas, Zoe Waites, George Clarke, Joshua Dale, Alan David, Robert Bowman, Robert Jezek and Hattie Morahan.

The production transferred to the Pit Theatre, Barbican, London, with performances from 24 January 2002.

Saigon Rose

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

After a one-night stand with an old flame from America, Vicky loses interest in Clive. Hurt by the betrayal, Clive sleeps with Mo, a waitress from a local café. She in turn is modelling for Clay, the draft-dodging American photographer whose visits up and down the country find him in both Vicky’s and Mo’s beds. The chain of infidelity and promiscuity is uncovered when all four contract the ‘Saigon Rose’, the slang term used by American GIs during the Vietnam War for gonorrhoea.

As the infection spreads, the modern ‘American’ values represented by Clay are also transmitted, corrupting the relationships which connect these four characters. Although sparked by the arrival of the foreign photographer, David Edgar’s portrayal of the clashes in personal, sexual and political mores hints at the underlying fragility of this Scottish society.

Saigon Rose was first presented at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in July 1976. It was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1979.

The Shape of the Table

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Shape of the Table tracks the collapse of an Eastern Bloc government at the end of 1989. As the old regime retreats, former political prisoners join banned writers around the negotiating table...

The play is part of David Edgar's post-Cold War trilogy of plays, which also includes Pentecost and The Prisoner's Dilemma.

Witty and informative, this play is both an intensely topical account of what actually went on in the corridors of power and a timeless analysis of revolution in action. In particular the play explores not only the challenge of seizing power, but also the difficulty of relinquishing it.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It is 1975 and Frances and Rosie, friends since their teenage years, when they discovered the revolution of feminism together, are nonetheless drifting apart. At the same time, Denise and Tricia, part of the new crop of girls-becoming-women, are still in school, and suffering still with the confusion of their femininity as others did years before.

Each woman must carve for herself a new way of life, away from the choiceless careening of girlhood to bridehood, but for none will it be an easy journey, as optimism of the sixties turns stale and harsh by the middle of the next decade.

Written in collaboration with Susan Todd, Teendreams was first presented by Monstrous Regiment at the Van Dyck Theatre, Bristol, in 1979. It was the theatre company's sixth production, and their first to be part-authored by a man.

Testing the Echo

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Testing the Echo is a play that explores contemporary national identity in multicultural Britain, and examines the efficacy of the British citizenship test. It was first performed by Out of Joint Theatre Company at Salisbury Playhouse, on 17 January 2008, followed by a UK tour.

The citizenship test (or Life in the UK Test) became a requirement for anyone seeking British citizenship or settlement in the UK under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, 2002.

In the play, Emma is a dedicated ESOL teacher (English for Speakers of Other Languages), teaching British citizenship to people from all over the world. At the same time, Tetyana, Mahmood and Chong have their own, very different reasons for wanting to pass the citizenship test. As the Home Office worries about the questions on the test, Emma faces a challenge to her deepest-held beliefs. The play explores the notion of Britishness and asks whether it can really be defined by a simple test of multiple choice.

The Out of Joint production was directed by Matthew Dunster and designed by Paul Wills. The cast was Teresa Banham, Kirsty Bushell, Sushil Chudasama, Farzana Dua Elahe, Ian Dunn, Robert Gwilym, Syrus Lowe and Sirine Saba.

That Summer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

That Summer is set in the late summer of 1984, at a time when miners were striking all over Britain as their unions and the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher, fought a battle that would change the industrial outlook of Britain forever.

In Edgar's play, a middle-class couple, Howard and Cressida, have decided to provide some support to the miners, by welcoming two girls from the mining community, daughters of striking miners, to join them in their holiday home near the Welsh coast. By placing these children of the working class amongst the interested, but unvested middle class, Edgar shows how an ideological battle can be fought not just intellectually, but experienced as a mere inexorable fact of life.

In a note on the play, Edgar writes 'That Summer is set against the background of the 1984-5 miners' strike. The play is a work of fiction and its characters are invented. But it nonetheless owes much to many Rhondda miners and their families'.

That Summer was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 1987.

A Time to Keep

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A Time to Keep is large-cast community play written for the Dorchester Community Players by David Edgar and Stephanie Dale. It was first performed at The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester, on 16 November 2007.

Set in Dorset in the summer of 1804, against the backdrop of the threatened Napoleonic invasion of Britain, A Time to Keep inhabits terrain somewhere between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, with its ambitious middle-classes, its garrison of eligible officers, and its impoverished low-lifes. Driving the plot is an unlikely but passionate romance between Mary, a well-born but feisty young woman, and Isaac, the youngest son of a family of notorious smugglers.

The play has a cast list of over 115 names (almost all of them real, historical people), reflecting the nature of a community play. As the authors write in an introduction to the published script, 'The Dorchester Community Plays Association insists that everyone who wants a part in one of its plays gets one. ... Our first draft had a cast of 92; our second draft went down to 84. It’s a tribute to Dorchester’s four previous community plays that we were inundated with volunteers for this one.'

The original production was directed by Jon Oram and designed by Ariane Gastambide.

Trying It On  

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Trying It On is an autobiographical play, written to be performed by its author. It was first performed at Warwick Arts Centre on 7 June 2018, at the beginning of a tour which included dates at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre; the Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham; the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Other Place Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon; and the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London. It was commissioned by Warwick Arts Centre and produced by China Plate theatre studio.

The play is performed on a set designed to look like a study, full of clutter, with a stage manager’s table to the side. David addresses the audience directly, reflecting on the journey he's taken from the twenty-year-old of 1968, experiencing worldwide student revolt and being immersed in radical politics, to the seventy-year-old of today. He wants to know if those two Davids share the same beliefs, and if not, whether it is the world that’s changed, or him. He conducts straw polls to find out the audience's position on certain topics. He presents video testimony from several authors and political commentators. And as his delves deeper into his own history, and the apparently deepening rift between generations today, the Stage Manager, a young woman called Danni, steps in to challenge his perspective.

The premiere production was directed by Christopher Haydon and designed by Frankie Bradshaw, with David Edgar performing as himself, and Danielle Phillips as the Stage Manager.

Picture of David Edgar

David Edgar is a British playwright and journalist, whose works are known for their strong political content. Edgar began to write in the wake of the student rebellions of 1968. His reputation was established when Destiny (1976), which examines racist and fascist elements in British culture, was performed in a production by the RSC.

His other works include Wreckers (1977), Mary Barnes (1977), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1978), Maydays (1983), That Summer (1987), The Shape of the Table (1990), The Prisoner's Dilemma (2002), Albert Speer (1999), Continental Divide (2003), Playing With Fire (2005), and Testing the Echo (2008). Edgar has also been involved with community theatre projects, most notably A Time to Keep (2007), co-written with Stephanie Dale for community actors in Dorchester.