Postmodern theatre

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Plays

Boy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In this vivid and troubled story of an isolated young man, playwright Leo Butler casts a sharp eye over the city and picks someone for us to follow.

A bleak portrait of modern London and a scathing critique of the economic forces that destroy communities and promote isolation, Boy provoked considerable debate upon its first production. Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian that “there are distinct echoes of Georg Büchner’s fragmented drama Woyzeck in the portrayal of the hero as a victim of social circumstance”, while writing in the Telegraph Laura Shilling observed that “its power to disturb is all the more troubling because it offers neither accusation nor redemption. You find yourself wondering about the morality of turning hopelessness into a beautifully crafted theatrical experience. But what would be a more virtuous alternative?"

Boy received its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 5 April 2016.

Cloud Nine

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Churchill’s wickedly comic and compassionate study of sexual politics glimpses the relationships of a family and their lovers, with an interval of twenty-five years of their lives, and around a hundred years of history.

Highlighting the parallels of sexual and colonial oppression, the first act is set in a British colony in Africa in Victorian times. Clive is the traditional colonial patriarch, proud of his perfectly domesticated wife and black servant (‘played by a man’ and ‘played by a white’ respectively), and striving conscientiously to ensure his son and daughter play with gender appropriate toys. But furtive adultery and secret homosexuality threaten to subvert the moral order of the household.

The second act finds some of the same characters living in 1979, twenty-five years older and played by different actors, finding new liberations in bisexuality and polyamory, but finding new anxieties about gender and fulfilment. The intricacies of these relationships and the play’s doubling create a complex and moving account of the multiplicity of individual sexualities.

Cloud Nine was first performed in 1979 at the Dartington College of Arts, before touring and transferring to London.

The Encounter

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Encounter is a play by international theatre company Complicite and its artistic director Simon McBurney, inspired by the novel Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It was first performed at the Edinburgh International Festival on 8 August 2015, and received its London premiere at the Barbican in February 2016 before embarking on a world tour.

The play is performed by a single actor working with sound technicians to create a range of voices and aural effects conveyed to the audience via headphones. It tells the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, found himself lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. It was an encounter that was to change his life, as he began to explore, through the indigenous culture in which he was immersed, the limits of human consciousness. The play traces McIntyre’s journey and experiences through a constantly shifting sound world created live on stage in front of the audience.

A 'Note on the Text' in the published script explains that 'During the introduction the audience are asked to put on a set of headphones, which they then wear for the duration of the performance. Everything they hear is through these headphones. The actor uses a range of microphones that can be modified to create the voice of Loren McIntyre and other characters. The actor also creates a variety of live foley sound effects onstage, and uses loop pedals to create exterior soundscapes and the interior worlds of the characters. The performer also plays some sound and audio recordings live through their mobile phone, iPod, and various speakers. All sounds created or played onstage are picked up and relayed to the audience’s headphones through a variety of onstage microphones, one of which is binaural. Other sound is played and mixed live by two operators who in part improvise in reaction to the performer onstage.'

The Complicite production was directed and performed by Simon McBurney, co-directed by Kirsty Housley and designed by Michael Levine, with sound design by Gareth Fry with Pete Malkin.

Fen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Against the flat, bleak landscape of the Fenlands, men and women are cramped into bitterness by grinding labour and economic oppression.

Fen is composed of brief, fiercely resonant scenes, carving with powerful humanity the desolate lives of the village’s men and women. Three girls sing of being hairdressers or housewives when they grow up. Angela makes her stepdaughter drink water from the kettle. The representative of a City corporation purrs and placates her way to buying a farm that has been in the same family for generations. Ninety-year-old Ivy dreams aloud of union struggles. But the hard spine of the play is Val, a thirty-year-old who finds herself caught between her children and her lover – happy in brief moments, yet tormented past hope.

First performed in 1983 at the University of Essex Theatre, Fen is a flinty, eerie play, haunted by the ghosts of starving field workers and claustrophobic in its condemnation of agrarian and social exploitation.

In the Company of Men

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the Company of Men makes a vivid and coruscating attack on the values encapsulated by boardroom power games, as power skirmishes turn to violence. The play opens with Leonard demanding a position on the board of his adoptive father’s arms manufacturing company. His ageing father is exhausted, as the company has just narrowly avoided being taken over by a rival. When his father refuses him the position, Leonard begins to go behind his father’s back in order to acquire another company and usurp power by more aggressive means. Bond’s uncompromising style summons an intriguing and ruthless world described by the RSC as a ‘vast meditation on the twenty-first century’.

In the Company of Men was first produced in Britain in 1996 in the Pit Theatre, London.

Jackets: or The Secret Hand

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Jackets sets out a resonant and poetic counterpoint between two scenes of martyrdom, a powerful dyadic commentary on the politics of sacrifice.Part One is set in eighteenth-century Japan and Part Two is set in modern Europe. The head of a boy is needed so it will appear that the prince has been killed, but the head needs to be convincing and must look like an upper-class boy. A dead solider is needed to increase the morale of the soldiers who are fighting rioters, and he needs to look like an officer so that the conspiracy will work. The play produces detailed and human portraits, the force of its argument emerging from their vividly drawn responses and the potent interaction between its two parts.

Derived from ‘The Village School’ scene of Sugawaraby Takeda Zumo, Jackets premiered in 1989 at Lancaster University.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Churchill uses the events of the millenial movement during the English Civil War, when the revolutionary belief in the second coming of Christ reached fever pitch, to stage a volatile discussion of idealism, pragmatism and justice.

In a series of compact, concentrated scenes, Churchill dramatises the fervent conflicts of a time when hierarchies and conventions had been shaken. The Putney Debates pitted Cromwell against the nonconformist Diggers and Levellers, the Ranters triumphed in the non-existence of sin and preachers warned of the end of days.

Churchill suggests that, as in the original performance, parts are swapped and the same character is played by different actors. Light Shining in Buckinghamshire refracts, unbalances and shifts ideological positions producing profound and timeless debate well as historical insight.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire opened in 1976 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

A Number

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill’s A Number is set in a world in which human cloning is a reality. It explores the ethics of cloning, the fragility of personal identity and the conflicting claims of nature and nurture. It was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 23 September 2002.

The play begins with Bernard (B2), a thirty-five-year-old man, confronting his father, Salter, after making a startling discovery: he is not, as he'd thought, an only child, but just one of a number of clones. Salter explains that, after the death of his son Bernard (B1), he agreed to a cloning experiment to bring his son back, but that (unbeknownst to him) the doctors had unethically made several more clones. Salter decides that they should sue the doctors. But in the next scene, the original Bernard (B1) appears, very much alive. He has learned about the clones, and is furious at his father for doing it. Salter then admits that the clones were meant to give him another chance at raising Bernard, without any of his many parental mistakes. But Bernard (B1) is unwilling to live in a world that contains cloned versions of himself, and his determination to eradicate them leads to tragedy.

The play is written to be performed by two actors: one playing Salter, the other his sons.

In the original Royal Court production, directed by Stephen Daldry and designed by Ian MacNeil, Salter was played by Michael Gambon and his sons by Daniel Craig.

A Number received its American premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in December 2004, directed by James Macdonald, with Sam Shepard as Salter and Dallas Roberts as his sons.

It was revived in the UK at the Sheffield Crucible in October 2006, directed by Jonathan Munby and starring real-life father and son, Timothy and Samuel West. This production later played at The Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in 2010 and at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town in 2011.

A television movie adaptation by the BBC and HBO Films starring Tom Wilkinson and Rhys Ifans was first broadcast in September 2008.

Owners

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Owners is a play about property – about possessing, and being possessed.

Clegg the butcher tries to think of ways to kill his wife Marion, who became a successful property developer after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Marion’s assistant Worsely keeps trying to kill himself, but can’t manage it. He is helping Marion acquire a building where the pregnant Lisa and the impossibly apathetic Alec live. Capitalist drive and hermetic passivity are contrasted as babies, sex and flats are swapped and traded.

A combination of morbid absurdity and blunt, oblique storytelling gives this bitterly comic play moral and political force in its examination of the possessiveness of patriarchy and capitalism.

Owners was first presented in 1972 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London.

Pomona

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ollie’s sister is missing. Searching Manchester in desperation, she finds all roads lead to Pomona – an abandoned concrete island at the heart of the city. Here at the centre of everything, journeys end and nightmares are born.

A sinister and surreal thriller from Alistair McDowall, Pomona received its professional premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre, London, on 12 November 2014 in a critically acclaimed production that brought widespread praise for the theatre and the playwright. Of that first production, The Independent wrote that the play was ‘Brilliantly creepy and compelling, [it] darts back and forth in time and disorientingly blurs the divide between horror games and a much more nightmarish reality . . . The piece remains forever slippery about recognising evil, challenging us with the moral ambiguities of its Mobius strip nature.’