NHB Classic Plays



Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Thyestes is a translation of Seneca's Roman tragedy, with its bloody revenge plot that provided the blueprint for Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. It was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, on 7 June 1994.

Thyestes and his brother Atreus are fierce rivals and joint rulers of Mycenae until Thyestes has an affair with Atreus’ wife and is banished along with his two young sons. Atreus vows revenge and pretends to forgive Thyestes in order to lure in his nephews. Once the boys are within his grasp, they are killed and served up in a stew for their father to feast upon. The play also highlights the plight of Tantalus, the brothers’ grandfather, who was sent to his eternal punishment in Tartarus for sacrificing his son and serving him up to the Gods at a banquet. The child in question, Pelops, was later revived and fathered both Atreus and Thyestes, doomed to repeat the sins of their fathers.

The Royal Court premiere was directed by James Macdonald and designed by Jeremy Herbert, with a cast including Sebastian Harcombe, Rhys Ifans, James Kennedy, Kevin McMonagle and Ewan Stewart.

The York Mystery Plays

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Mike Poulton's version of the medieval play cycle known as The York Mystery Plays (a cycle that was first performed in the city of York in the 1300s) was commissioned for a production in York Minster in 2000 as part of the city's Millennium celebrations. This revised text was first performed at York Minster on 26 May 2016.

The cycle comprises 48 mystery plays or 'pageants' covering sacred history from the Creation of Heaven and Earth to the Last Judgment.

In an Author's Note in the published script, Poulton writes: 'The scope and completeness of the York cycle is astonishing. The subtlety and variety of the verse and characterisation are accessible and actable. Today the vocabulary may have changed but the old rhythms are detectable still in the Yorkshire dialect. On setting to work it became clear to me that the text is the work of playwrights rather than authors – people who understood how a play works, and knew how to write clear and deliverable lines, as well as when to stand back from the script and leave everything to the director and the actors. So my approach to the text was to retain as much of the original as I thought would be accessible to today’s audience. As far as possible I kept the original words, rhythms, and speech patterns. Where I had to modernise I attempted to show the spirit that lies under the lines rather than produce a prosaic translation of the lines themselves. And most of all I tried to offer each character in the play the personality and individuality I found in the original text. So I hope my version has the right mix of humour, joy, pathos, and grandeur that make the original York Mysteries one of the great achievements of European literature.'

The original 2000 York Minster production was directed by Gregory Doran with Ray Stevenson in the role of Jesus.

The 2016 production was directed by Phillip Breen with Becky Hope-Palmer, and designed by Max Jones with Ruth Hall. The part of Jesus was played by Philip McGinley.

Nick Hern Books is one of the UK’s leading specialist performing arts publishers, with a vast collection of plays, screenplays and theatre books in their catalogue. They also license most of their plays for amateur performance.