Contemporary Dramatists

Plays

Absolute Beginners

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Absolute Beginners is a stage adaptation of Colin MacInnes’s seminal novel of adolescence, set in London in 1958. It is a play alive with the excitement of the beginning of the teenager, of a time when youth culture was emerging for the first time, and of a city buzzing with slang, jazz and flaring racial tensions.

The play follows a young freelance photographer, who has been offered a job by a television producer taking pictures of anything to do with teenage life, telling it as it is. He needs to make five hundred pounds so he can impress Suzette, the love of his life with an appetite for the finer things. But time’s running out, she’s engaged to a flash older man, the producer decides that teenage life is a little too challenging for his audiences, and the racist thugs who have been menacing his friends finally attack. Absolute Beginners is a vibrant portrait of Britain emerging from the post-war years as a multi-cultural nation, and of a teenager working out what it means to be young.

Absolute Beginners was first performed in 2007 at the Lyric Theatre, London.

Accounts

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A rural counterpart to the urban Rents, according to author Michael Wilcox, Accounts touches on the same themes of homosexuality, money, and survival that the former play introduces. As teenage brothers Andy and Donald Mawson cope with the death of their father, learning how to run a farm with their widowed mother, Mary, the play primarily concerns the family’s processes of discovery – both in being independent land owners for the first time, and in terms of the brothers’ development during adolescence.

A bildungsroman, of sorts, Accounts details the daily routine of the family within their first year on the farm, and specifically demonstrates how Andy and Donald must mature quickly to take responsibility for its financial performance. With this mental maturity comes bodily maturity, as well; the audience becomes privy to Andy and Donald’s awakening sexuality, and in the case of Donald, emerging homosexuality. As a result, Accounts is a ‘coming out’ experience in the Scottish countryside, in the same way that Rents was in Edinburgh, for the play’s characters, the audience, and Wilcox, himself.

Accounts premiered at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre Club in May of 1981, with performances at the Fringe Festival following shortly after. The play made its way over to the US in 1983, and was shown in New York City’s Hudson Guild Theater.

After Haggerty

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Gathering together the political and social concerns of an era, After Haggerty addresses with breadth and complexity the politics of theatre and personal liberation at a time when social certainties were being rapidly destabilised.

Bernard Link, a socialist middle-aged theatre critic, has leased a flat in London from Mr Haggerty without having met him. Claire, who is sharp, brittle and American, storms into the flat expecting to find the father of her child, but finds Bernard instead. He is having the flat done up by a couple of jobbing decorators, including an out-of-work homosexual actor. The unhappy cohabitation of this mixture of people is punctuated by excepts from Bernard’s pan-European lectures on Marxist theatre, cryptic telegrams from Haggerty in Paris, and the off-stage squalling of Claire and Haggerty’s baby, Raskolnikov. Then Bernard’s father visits, his reactionary, bigoted views clashing with what suddenly feels like a household.

After Haggerty was first presented in 1970 at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

An Afternoon at the Festival

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An Afternoon at the Festival is an elegantly-structured and reflective meditation on failure.

Leo Brent is an egotistical, successful and middle-aged film-maker. While he is waiting for the four o’clock showing of his new and last film, he spends the morning with a prostitute, Anita: more to find somewhere to sit down than to sleep with her. Back at the house where the film was set, the star — Leo’s ex-wife Dana — is drinking Chablis with his brother, Howard. The play splices these two disconsolate conversations with scenes from Leo’s new film, set in the Victorian era, about the abrasive and eventually violent relationship between a boy and his stepmother. The suggestion, only voiced by Dana, that Leo’s talent is running out sits at the heart of this subtle play.

An Afternoon at the Festival was first presented by Yorkshire Television in 1973.

Alice Trilogy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Alice Trilogy is a haunting triptych of disappointment and gnawing sadness. Three acts, closer to monologues than conversations, show three ages in the life of Alice, an unhappy housewife.

1980, in the afternoon murk of her attic, with whiskey in her coffee, is she losing her grip on reality?

1995, she has summoned a lost love to meet her by the gasworks wall.

2005, at the airport, a tragedy presses to the surface of her internal monologue.

Alice is a mesmerising creation, existing only half in her domestic married life, and half in a dream-like world of alter-egos and strange detachment.

Alice Trilogy premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2005.

All of You Mine

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

All of you Mine is a mysterious drama set in a mining community, near 'any one of fourteen ex-pit villages around Doncaster, South Yorkshire, whose pits were closed either as a planned programme, or as a direct result of the 1984 miners' strike.'

Twelve years on from the mining accident which precipitated the closure of the mine and the breaking of the strike, a memorial is being erected to the five men who died. The Cade family lost and gained much from that accident: daughter Verna, now 37, lost the father of her son, while her older brother Danum gained the site for the garden centre which he still runs prosperously at the play's opening. Meanwhile, at the head of the family stands their half-blind mother Cissy, who sees more, and knows more, than she is willing to share freely.

This mysterious family drama, which slowly builds to the revelation that the disaster may not have been so accidental, was described at the time as an eloquent lament for an eclipsed mining community. It premiered at the Bush theatre, London, in 1997.

American Buffalo

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Donny runs a junkshop with the help of his young, enthusiastic new employee, Bobby. When a customer comes in on the hunt for an antique coin, Donny sees a business opportunity. Between them, Donny and Bobby plot to rob their wealthy neighbour of his valuable coin collection. Donny’s friend, Walter, however, suspects that all is not as it seems. American Buffalo asks its audience: how do you know who you can trust?

First performed at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, in 1975, American Buffalo transferred to Broadway in 1977, before playing the Cottesloe auditorium at the National Theatre, London, in 1978. It was revived at the Duke of York Theatre, London, in 1984, with Al Pacino as Teach.

Ancient Lights

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ancient Lights brings three old friends and their partners and children together for Christmas, whose private lives and public lies furnish a contemporary commentary on identity and integrity.

Tom Cavallero, Hollywood actor, and his girlfriend Iona find that Northumberland in a blizzard isn’t the English pastoral they were expecting. Kitty is tortured by liberal guilt and worries about her journalist husband who is abroad covering a civil war. Bea, the public relations powerhouse, is mourning her perfectly organised Christmas, while her new lover, Tad, is more interested in morbid research for his new novel. The atmosphere is forced and self-conscious, because Iona is filming their every move for her documentary about ‘the real Tom.’ But no one, including Tom, is really sure who that is anymore, and it turns out that even in private film stars have to keep acting.

Stephenson’s funny and pointed play premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 2000.

The Angry Roads  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

 The Angry Roads considers how young people today grow up in a world that their parents never knew. In a flat a teenage boy is sorting through play things from his childhood; he is sorting through his past in search of the truth about an accident that destroyed his family. The Angry Roads was commissioned by Big Brum Theatre Company and premiered in 2015.

April in Paris

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

April in Paris is a delicately wrought comedy filled with raucous indelicate dialogue. Al and Bet are a married couple, living a monochrome life. Left half-broke by Al's continuing unemployment, the couple bicker about everything from having no hot water, to Al's uninspired black-and-white paintings to Bet's obsession with magazine competitions.

When Bet finally wins one – the prize being a trip for two to Paris – there is the glimmer of romantic hope for a complete reversal of fortunes. Instead, it is in the slow gains, the addition of colour and the learning to be nice to one another again that gives this play its surprising, uplifting dénouement.

April in Paris was first performed by Hull Truck theatre Company in 1992, with the author and his wife playing Al and Bet respectively.

The Contemporary Dramatists series celebrates the work of individual playwrights, bringing together a number of plays from their oeuvre into omnibus editions. Each volume features a chronology of the writer’s work and an introduction to the pays featured. In many cases these editions of the plays represent the definitive post-production versions, incorporating all rehearsal changes and other amendments to the edition first published to coincide with the play’s premiere.

The series is truly international, containing the work of leading British, Irish, American, German, French and Italian playwrights.