World Classics

Plays

The Antigone of Sophocles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his book The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, John Willett writes of The Antigone of Sophocles: 'Perhaps two-thirds of the play follows the Hölderlin version, but even here Brecht has largely reshaped the verse so that although much of the sense, many of the images, and even the words themselves are the same as Hölderlin's the cadence is different. Almost indistinguishable in style, his new passages are woven into this. Considerable changes result. A prologue set in Berlin of 1945 shows two sisters whose brother has deserted from the German army and is found hanged: should they risk being seen by the SS cutting his body down? In the play itself Creon becomes a brutal aggressor who has attacked Argos for the sake of its iron ore; Polyneikes deserts in protest against this war which has killed his brother; and Antigone is partly moved by a like disapproval of her uncle's policy.'

The Antigone of Sophocles was conceived as a new experiment in the epic theatre, and is linguistically an extraordinary composition. It was first produced in February 1948.

Armstrong's Last Goodnight

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Armstrong’s Last Goodnight opens on the border of Scotland and England in the year 1530, where a group of officials are meeting to hammer out a peace agreement between their two countries. The final bone of contention is the continued cattle raids carried out on English landowners by Scots living on the border. The commissioners dispatch Sir David Lindsay to end the raids by placating the main offender, John Armstrong of Gilnockie.

First presented by the National Theatre in 1964, Armstrong’s Last Goodnight demonstrates John Arden’s mastery of epic theatre as he employs song, verse, and wit to tell the tale of a man who confronts authority and goes head to head with the consequences of doing so.

Baal

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The classic wandering-poet archetype of the Expressionist movement receives a dark makeover in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal. Brecht’s first full-length play portrays the seductions and manipulations of a dissolute poet with an inexplicable appeal to women. Baal descends from a civilised dining room to a hut in the woods, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

First performed in Leipzig in 1923, Baal represents an early, almost pre-political stage in Brecht’s career, and shows the playwright experimenting with elements that would become his trademarks, such as the use of song. Even as a young writer, however, Brecht provoked controversy: Baal was immediately shut down by order of the city council of Leipzig.

The Beggar or The Dead Dog

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

In The Beggar, a beggar dares to speak the truth to an emperor when the emperor descends to complain about the smell. It was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

The Catch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

As a young university student in Munich, Bertolt Brecht was only a few years away from early success as a playwright when he wrote five one-acts. Of these plays, only one was performed in his lifetime, and none were published until after his death. They provide a retrospective look at Brecht before his evolution into the founder of epic theatre, demonstrating some of the tendencies that would mark his later work.

When a fisherman’s wife is woken up by her drunk husband and his friends, anger and resentments explode. The Catch was neither produced nor published during the author’s lifetime.

Cavalcade

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘It is a magnificent play in which the note of national pride pervading every scene and every sentence must make each one of us face the future with courage and high hopes’ The Daily Mail, 1931. Such was the reception for Coward’s spectacular pageant when it first appeared at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. Telling the story of a great swathe of history, from the Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the coming of the Jazz Age, Coward’s great coup de théâtre was to channel these historical moments through the prism of the lives of one Mayfair family.

Although there have been some revivals, no subsequent production of Cavalcade has ever matched the premiere for its scale. As Sheridan Morley writes in his introduction, ‘Cavalcade was a prodigious feat of sheer stage-management . . . a grandiose stage epic in three acts and twenty-two scenes that was to cost an almost unprecedented thirty-thousand pre-war pounds and to keep a cast and backstage crew of three hundred people employed at Drury Lane for more than a year, playing to a total box office take of well over three hundred thousand pounds. Cavalcade was the kind of show of which a latterday Cameron Mackintosh or Andfrew Lloyd Webber would be proud.’

Charles B. Cochran's 1931 Revue

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A sketch for a revue must be quick, sharp, funny (or sentimental) and to the point, with a good, really good black-out line. Whether the performers are naked or wearing crinolines is quite beside the point; the same rule applies'.

Thus did Noël Coward describe the ingredients for a successful revue sketch; in the 1920s and 1930s he mastered and defined the art of the revue – short and often topical or satirical sketches, many of which were a lead-in to a song. He started producing sketches for some of the most famous revues of the period.

Charles B. Cochran's Revue was first presented by Charles B. Cochran at the London Pavilion, on 19 March 1931. It ran for just 27 performances. Although advertised as having 'Music by Noël Coward and others', it in fact had only five Coward numbers and only one of them could be considered as a semi-sketch.

Come into the Garden Maud: from Suite in Three Keys

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Come into the Garden Maud is the final play in the trilogy, Suite in Three Keys, in which each play is set in the same Swiss hotel suite. It was written by Coward in 1966, and represents the last of his output for the stage before he died.

Anna-Mary Conklin and her husband Verner are an exceedingly wealthy American couple and the stars of Come into the Garden Maud. While Anna-Mary, a social-aspirant, is nervously throwing a dinner-party offstage to entertain a prince she wants to impress, Verner – who cares little for the niceties of society life – gets along very well with the aristocratic, but down-to-earth, Maud Caragnani – very well indeed.

Conversation Piece

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in the decades after the French Revolution, Conversation Piece tells the story of Paul, Duc de Chaucigny-Varennes, who has come to Brighton to escape the terrors in France. In his company is Melanie, a dance hall singer whom Paul passes off as his ward and the offspring of his murdered friend. He hopes to marry her off to a member of Brightonian high society; she, however, has other plans and, with the help of her suitor Edward, tries to outmanoeuvre Lady Julia Charteris, in the hope of getting her heart’s desires.

Writing about the original production, the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It was a big occasion before ever the curtain rose . . . It became a great one as soon as Yvonne Printemps appeared . . . Mr Coward shares her triumph. Or, rather, since he is author, composer, producer and chief male actor in this brilliant show, he enjoys a separate triumph all to himself.'

Conversation Piece, a musical comedy, was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1934.

Creditors (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Creditors describes the marriage of Tekla, a successful author, and her second husband Adolf. Adolf has become depressed about the state of his marriage and seeks the advice of his new friend Gustav, who recommends a novel scheme to solve Adolf's woes. However, this Gustav is not the neutral counsellor Adolf seems to think he is; and his vested interest in Adolf and Tekla's marriage is the source of the great power of this play.

In his introduction, translator Michael Meyer writes: 'Creditors has gradually come to be regarded, both in Scnainavia and elsewhere, as one of Strindberg's most powerful plays . . . Tekla is one of Strindberg's subtlest creations: approaching middle-age and fearful of it, her vulgarity concealed by a veneer of gentility'.

Originally refused by Strindberg's Swedish publishers on the grounds that it was too intimate a portrait of Strindberg's own marriage, Creditors was first published in Danish in 1889 before being printed in Swedish the following year.

Spanning the international stage, the World Classics series brings together the plays of writers from around the world who have achieved a lasting influence. From Anouilh to Oscar Wilde, Bertolt Brecht to Arthur Miller, Ibsen to Noel Coward, the series presents the rich tapestry of the very best of world drama. Each volume features a contronology of the writer's life and work, an introduction and a selection of their plays.