Modern Classics

Plays

Educating Rita (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Educating Rita is a play for two actors about a working-class woman’s hunger for education, knowledge and culture, and her friendship with a weary, alcoholic, failed poet-cum-lecturer.

Susan is a hairdresser who feels that there must be more to life than having children, so she renames herself 'Rita' after her favourite fictional character and applies for an Open University course in English Literature. Set entirely in the scholarly clutter of Dr Frank Bryant’s office, the play follows Rita’s efforts to escape her old life, and her blossoming into a literary connoisseur under Frank’s sporadic direction. Terribly funny and terribly sad, the play is both a comic masterwork and a poignant examination of education, class and disillusionment.

Educating Rita premiered at the Warehouse Theatre, London, in 1980. It was subsequently made into a highly successful film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. This revised version was first performed in 2002 at the Liverpool Playhouse.

Entertaining Mr Sloane

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Sharp, alarming and hilarious, Entertaining Mr Sloane is a subversive black comedy of unscrupulous sexual manipulation.

In three deft acts, Orton tells the mischievously provocative story of Mr Sloane, a sly and handsome young man who works his way into the household of Kath, her brother Ed, and their father. Kath wants something between a lover and a substitute baby, while Ed wants someone to drive his car dressed in a tight t-shirt and leather cap. But though the charismatic youth thinks that he holds all the cards with both brother and sister vying for his attention, the play soon becomes a shameless and unnerving tangle of sex, blackmail, bribery and violence.

Entertaining Mr Sloane was Orton’s first full-length play. It was first staged in 1964.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Who knocked 'Mad Padraic's' cat over on a lonely road on the island of Inishmore and was it an accident? He'll want to know when he gets back from a stint of torture and chip-shop bombing in Northern Ireland: he loves his cat more than life itself.

Presented here in its Modern Classics edition, and featuring an introduction from leading Irish journalist and critic Fintan O'Toole, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a brilliant satire on terrorism, a powerful corrective to the beautification of violence in contemporary culture, and a hilarious farce.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore premiered at the RSC's The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, in April 2001.

Life of Galileo (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals.

John Willett's translation is included here, along with the much shorter version translated in Brecht's lifetime by Charles Laughton as an appendix (see 'From the Book'). Also included are Brecht's own copious notes on the play.

The Lonesome West

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Valene and Coleman, two brothers living alone in their father's house after his recent death, find it impossible to exist without massive and violent disputes over the most mundane and innocent of topics. Only father Welsh, the local young priest, is prepared to try to reconcile the two before their petty squabblings spiral into vicious and bloody carnage.

The Lonesome West was first presented as a Druid Theatre Company and Royal Court Theatre co-production in the summer of 1997.

A Man for All Seasons

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In this tense play of conscience, faith and power, Bolt brings to the stage one of history’s most adamantine and principled figures.

Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, enters into a fierce political and moral conflict with King Henry VIII when he refuses to support the King’s decision to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. More’s decision to endorse the divine right of the Pope over and above that of the King leads to his tragic martyrdom.

A Man for All Seasons depicts the confrontation between Church and State, theology and politics, absolute power and individual freedom. Throughout the play Sir Thomas More's eloquence and endurance, his purity, saintliness and tenacity in the face of ever-growing threats to his beliefs and family, earn him status as one of modern drama's greatest tragic heroes.

The play was first staged in 1960 at the Globe Theatre in London.

The Messingkauf Dialogues

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written between 1939 and 1942 The Messingkauf Dialogues are among the most concise, witty and light-hearted of all Brecht’s theoretical discussions of theatre. In Brecht’s words they constitute a ‘four-sided conversation about a new way of making theatre’ and provide the blueprint for Brecht’s radical aesthetic of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Actor who seeks admiration; the Actress interested in politics; the Dramaturg (or literary advisor) hoping for a new lease of life for theatre; these three argue with the Philosopher who wants to exploit their talent for imitation for his own purposes. The result is a lively and sharp debate about the place of art in society.

This text is translated by John Willett.

Mr Puntila and His Man Matti

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in 1940 during Brecht’s brief exile in Finland, Puntila is one of his greatest creations – to be ranked as a character alongside Galileo and Mother Courage. A hard-drinking Finnish landowner, Puntila suffers from a divided personality – when drunk he is human and humane; when sober, surly and self-centred.

Oscillating unsteadily between these two poles, Puntila plays havoc with his workmen, his women, his daughter’s marital arrangements and the loyalty of his sardonic chauffeur, Matti.

Mr Puntila and his Man Matti contains some of the best comedy Brecht wrote for the theatre. It was first staged in Zurich in 1948 and a year later was the first production of the newly formed Berliner Ensemble.

This translation by John Willett is accompanied by Brecht’s own notes and relevant texts, as well as an extensive introduction and commentary by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, editors of Brecht’s collected plays in English.

Our Day Out

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Our Day Out is an account of a school trip for students from a remedial class: hilarious, chaotic and lively, but tinged with the suggestion that the disadvantaged children have little else to look forward to.

Mrs Kay’s ‘Progress Class’ are unleashed for a day’s coach trip to Conway Castle in Wales, stopping off at the café, the zoo, the beach and the funfair, the children taking advantage of the numerous opportunities to bicker, fool around, steal and get lost. Russell presents an exuberant celebration of the joys and agonies of growing up and being footloose, fourteen and free from school. But this is more than a romp – Our Day Out points up the depressing present and empty future for these comprehensive-school children from the backstreets of Liverpool, for whom a day out is as much as they can expect.

This tender comedy was originally written for television and transmitted as a BBC ‘Play for Today’ in 1976. It was later adapted for the stage and first performed in 1983 at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.

When Methuen Drama first published Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey in paperback in January 1959, we were the first publishers to produce paperback editions of plays. Since that time the Modern Classics series has grown to encompass many of the plays that today form part of the modern dramatic canon: Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Churchill’s Top Girls, Coward’s Hay Fever, Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Russell’s Blood Brothers, and many more besides. Play editions include a chronology of the writer’s life and work and in many cases an introduction to the play.

For anyone wanting a guide to the best plays of modern repertoire, The Modern Classics series is a great platform from which to begin a journey of exploration.