Student Editions

Plays

Blood Brothers

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A compelling story of friendship, loyalty and fate, Blood Brothers is one of the longest-running and most successful ever West End musicals, as well as one of the most moving.

Twin brothers are separated at birth because their mother cannot afford to keep them both; one of them is given away to a wealthy woman, the other remains with his mother. They become friends and swear to be blood brothers, all the time unaware of their true fraternity. But as they grow older, the two brothers find they can no longer ignore the class difference that divides them, and the love triangle that has dominated their lives erupts into a quarrel. The staggeringly emotional climax of the play questions whether it was destiny, or the inevitable difference of class, that led to the fatal conflict of two brothers who were once so close. Blood Brothers was first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

Confusions

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This series of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, for four-to-five actors, typifies his particular brand of black comedy on human behaviour. The plays are alternately naturalistic, stylised and farcical, but underlying each is the echoing problem of profound loneliness.

The Mother Figure shows a mother unable to escape from baby talk; in The Drinking Companion an absentee husband attempts seduction without success; in Between Mouthfuls, a waiter oversees a fraught dinner encounter. A garden party gets out of hand in Gosforth's Fete while A Talk in the Park is a revue style curtain call piece for five actors.

Whether the comedies concern marital conflict, infidelity or motherhood; take place on a park bench or at a village fete, the characters are familiar and their cries for help instantly recognisable.

Confusions was first performed in 1976 at the Apollo Theatre, London.

Copenhagen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. They were old friends and close colleagues, and they had revolutionised atomic physics in the 1920s with their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle.

But now the world had changed, and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. The meeting was fraught with danger and embarrassment, and ended in disaster. Why Heisenberg went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to say to Bohr are questions which have exercised historians ever since.

In Michael Frayn’s profound play Heisenberg meets Bohr and his wife Margrethe once again to look for the answers, and to work out, just as they had once worked out the internal functioning of the atom, how we can ever know why we do what we do.

Of the play, the Sunday Times wrote ‘Michael Frayn’s tremendous new play is a piece of history, an intellectual thriller, a psychological investigation and a moral tribunal in full session.’

Copenhagen premiered in May 1998 at the Royal National Theatre, London, and in April 2000 at the Royale Theater, New York.

A Doll’s House (trans. Meyer; Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This Student Edition of A Doll's House provides a wealth of scholarly information, annotation and background to aid the study of Ibsen's seminal play.

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Michael Meyer, and was first performed in 1964 at the Playhouse, Oxford.

Educating Rita (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This Student Edition of Educating Rita provides a wealth of scholarly information, annotation and background to aid the study of Russell's much-loved play.

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. This Methuen Drama Student Edition includes extensive notes for students and teachers of the play.

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.

Elektra (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elektra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Elektra.

Just like Sophocles, Euripides was inspired by Aeschylus's great tragic cycle, the Oresteia. Unlike Sophocles (whose focus was a battered and vilified victim of circumstance, fully justified in seeking revenge), Euripides paints a character with a more confused mindset, one who cannot be fully trusted, not even by her returning twin and brother-in-arms. Euripides allows no easy judgement, forcing his audience to pick over the bones of a moral dilemma, as bloody as it is tragic.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht's series of 24 interconnected playlets describe what life was like in German households in the 1930s. They dramatize with clinical precision the suspicion and anxiety experienced by ordinary people, particularly Jewish citizens, as the power of Hitler grew. A growing distrust of their friends and colleagues and even of their own children affects everyone from factory worker to physicist, housewife to judge. ‘We know the results, what we are looking for is the beginnings’, Max Frisch said of the play in 1947, emphasising its significance in exposing the roots of Nazi terror. Brecht’s picture of the breakdown of normal relationships under the Nazis is not only of historical interest, but emotionally transfixing.

Written in exile in Denmark, the play was inspired in part by Brecht’s recent trip to Moscow where he had been researching tasks for the anti-Nazi effort. Eight scenes of the play were first performed in Paris in 1938 entitled 99%, while all the scenes have since been produced in a variety of different combinations.

This version is translated by John Willett.

Ghosts (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Mrs Alving, the widow of the King’s Chamberlain, is opening an orphanage on her estate, dedicated to the memory of her late husband. Her son, Oswald, has returned for the ceremony, intent on staying the winter. Regina, Mrs. Alving’s maid, primps coquettishly before her returned young master, while the carpenter Engstrand, Regina’s father, puts the finishing touches to the building.

But when old family friend Pastor Manders arrives to deliver prayers at the opening ceremony, a torrent of secrets is unleashed that leaves the household devastated and the memory of the late Chamberlain in tatters.

The ‘ghosts’ of the title haunt the play, be they the remembrance of filial and wifely duty, the scourge of inherited illness or the dissolution of received morality and the ethics of the status quo.

Ghosts met with critical and moral opprobrium when first published in Norway in 1881, and failed to gain a performance until a regional tour of Sweden in the autumn of 1883. Since then its reputation has been galvanised. It is now seen as one of the greatest works in Ibsen’s oeuvre, and indeed the whole of modern drama.

This translation by Michael Meyer was first performed in 1968 in a production for the BBC.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Student Edition)

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.

Methuen Drama Student Editions are expertly annotated texts from the modern and classic repertoires. As well as the complete text of the play itself, each volume contains:

• a chronology of the playwright’s life and work

• a summary of the plot

• an introduction to the context of the play

• commentary on themes, characters, language and style

• a review of the play in performance

• notes on individual words and phrases in the text

• a list of suggested reading

• questions for further study.