Surrealist drama

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Plays

Arlington

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Enda Walsh's play Arlington (subtitled 'A Love Story') is a story of love and oppression set in a dystopian world of entrapment, isolation and surveillance. It was first performed at Leisureland, Salthill, Galway, on 11 July 2016, as part of the 2016 Galway International Arts Festival.

The play is set in a 'realistic waiting room – of no fixed time or place'. Isla, a young woman, is trapped here, waiting for her number to be called on a prominent LED number display screen. Her only human contact is with a Young Man who sits in an adjacent control room operating the cameras that keep her under constant surveillance and listening to the stories she invents about the outside world. Both characters are victims of a tyrannical system, as is the Young Woman who, in a long, wordless, central section, dances her way to her own death. The play, however, concludes on a note that suggests that the human spirit can withstand oppression.

The Galway premiere was directed by Walsh with choreography by Emma Martin, music by Teho Teardo and designs by Jamie Vartan. It was performed by Charlie Murphy as Isla, Hugh O’Conor as the Young Man and Oona Doherty as the Young Woman, with additional voicework by Eanna Breathnach, Olwen Fouéré, Helen Norton and Stephen Rea.

The Artist Man and the Mother Woman

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Geoffrey Buncher is an art teacher. Until now his only meaningful relationship has been with his mother, Edie, who doesn't want her 'wee man growing up too fast'. But when one day he reads in the newspaper that he's working in one of the top ten sexiest professions, he decides to advertise in the local papers for a wife.

Straying outside of his comfortable existence, where his mother continues to buy her middle-aged son's Ribena, Geoffrey enters a frightening world of adulthood and female companionship that he struggles to adjust to. Attraction manifests itself in warped and disturbing ways and leads to a terrifying conclusion.

Written in Morna Pearson's trademark 'lurid, post-modern Doric' (Scotsman), and with hints of Joe Orton and Harold Pinter, The Artist Man and the Mother Woman is a wickedly funny, deceptively simple, surreal portrait of a spectacularly dysfunctional relationship.

The world premiere was staged by the Traverse Theatre Company, Edinburgh on 30 October 2012, in a production directed by Orla O'Loughlin.

Ballyturk

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk is a play of lyrical intensity and physical comedy, in which the lives of two men unravel over the course of ninety minutes. It was first performed at the Black Box Theatre, Galway, as part of the Galway International Arts Festival on 14 July 2014 in a production by Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival. The production subsequently toured to the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Cork Opera House, and the National Theatre, London.

The play's action takes place in a 'very large room' containing furniture pushed up against the walls. Two men, simply identified as 1 and 2, pass the time in speeded-up, silent-comedy rituals and speculating about daily life in an imagined Irish town called Ballyturk. But when a third character, 3, turns up, he not only breaks up the partnership but invites one of the duo into the outer world, and inevitable extinction.

The premiere production was directed by Enda Walsh and designed by Jamie Vartan. It was performed by Cillian Murphy, Mikel Murfi, Stephen Rea, Orla Ní Ghríofa and Aisling Walsh, with the voices of Eanna Breathnach, Niall Buggy, Denise Gough and Pauline McLynn.

Blowjob

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A brutal portrait of Northern English life in the early 1970s, Blowjob is an insightful and raw piece about the nature of alienation and violence. The play plunges into the despair of industrial workers, skinheads and a mentally ill girl named Moira as they struggle to live in their isolated community.

Described by director David Hare as a ‘classic fringe play’, Blowjob juxtaposes Wilson’s unique sense of humour with political outrage and astute social commentary. The Times praised it for having ‘an authentic sense of horror; an intermingling of physical outrage and savage farce.’

Blowjob was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1971, in a production directed by David Hare.

Blue Heart

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Caryl Churchill's Blue Heart consists of two related short plays, Heart's Desire and Blue Kettle, both examining strained family – and especially filial – relationships. It was first performed at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, on 14 August 1997 in a touring co-production by Out of Joint and the Royal Court Theatre.

In Heart’s Desire, Brian and his wife Alice, together with Brian's sister Maisie, are waiting for the arrival of their daughter Susy, who is returning home after some years spent in Australia. A simple domestic scenario is replayed over and over with widely differing developments – some heartbreaking, some wildly comical or surreal.

In Blue Kettle, a middle-aged man, Derek, and his girlfriend, Enid, are involved in a con trick, making a series of elderly women believe that Derek is the son they once gave up for adoption. But as the situation develops, the play's dialogue undergoes a radical distortion with characters using the words 'blue' and 'kettle', apparently at random, and to an extent that grows increasingly disruptive.

The Out of Joint/Royal Court touring production was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and designed by Julian McGowan, with a cast including Gabrielle Blunt, Jacqueline Defferary, Karina Fernandez, Barnard Gallagher, Valerie Lilley, Mary Macleod, Eve Pearce, Jason Watkins and Anna Wing. Following the performances at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, it opened at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 19 August 1997, and at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs (at the Duke of York's) on 17 September.

Cuckold Ubu

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Alfred Jarry’s Cuckold Ubu (Ubu Cocu) is the second in his cycle of Ubu plays about Pa Ubu, the grotesquely comical character first encountered in King Ubu (Ubu Roi).

This version is translated by Kenneth McLeish, who in his introduction to the published text calls the play 'the darkest and most surreal of the [Ubu] plays.' It is relatively short compared to its predecessor King Ubu, and is incomplete: Jarry never produced a definitive version of the play. He is believed to have begun its composition in 1897, a year after the premiere of King Ubu, and it was performed in various versions during his lifetime. It is written in the same style as King Ubu, with a characteristic combination of surrealism, ribaldry and biting satire.

The action of the play is summarised by McLeish as follows: 'Pa Ubu takes up residence in the home of Peardrop, a breeder of polyhedra, and he and his Barmpots tyrannise the neighbourhood, despite the efforts of Pa Ubu’s Conscience and Peardrop to stop them. There is war, led on Peardrop’s side by Memnon (the singing Egyptian statue with whom Ma Ubu is cuckolding Pa Ubu) and by the banker Swankipants, and eventually a crocodile appears in true Punch-and-Judy style to chase off all the others. (We don’t know whether it does or not: the play as it survives is incomplete.)'

Darwin's Flood

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Darwin’s Flood asks the big questions about life and death with a little help from some of history’s greatest and most controversial philosophers and thinkers. On the night of his death, Charles Darwin is visited by the Belfast-accented Jesus Christ on a bicycle, Nietzsche in a time-travelling wheelbarrow and bondage fetishist Mary Magdalene via helicopter as he comes to grips with his worst nightmare – God exists and evolution doesn’t.

Hailed by the Evening Standard as ‘an explosive and wittily anachronistic collision of historical perspectives on evolution’, it is one of Wilson’s most surreal and provocative plays.

Darwin’s Flood was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 6 May 1994.

Early Morning

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

At the beginning of the savage and satirical Early Morning, Bond asserts that, ‘The events of this play are true.’ The events of the play are starkly at odds with history as we know it: they show a world in which Queen Victoria is a lesbian, her sons Prince George and Prince Arthur are conjoined twins, and Disraeli is plotting her death. A man is put on trial for eating someone who pushed in front of him in a queue; Victoria arranges for Florence Nightingale to be married to George and then rapes her; Heaven turns out to be an eternity of cannibalism.

Bond’s iconoclastic rewriting of the Victorian monarchy peels apart humanity’s cruelty and consumption in a play that is by turns comic, shocking and macabre.

Early Morning was first performed privately in 1968. Banned by the Lord Chamberlain until the abolition of theatre censorship in 1968, it was revived as a full production at the Royal Court in 1969.

Feathers in the Snow

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Beneath a sky full of stars a decision is made. This decision sets off an astonishing chain of events. And a journey involving a talking leopard, a greedy king, a magical bird, a tidal wave, a sea witch, a lost soldier, a devious dolphin, a war . . . and a trail of feathers in the snow.

This family play by acclaimed playwright and children’s author Philip Ridley is an epic story of magic and migration. Covering over five hundred years – and with scope for a huge cast – Feathers in the Snow explores how stories give meaning to random events . . . and our constant need to find somewhere we call ‘home’.

Feathers in the Snow received its first performance at Southwark Playhouse, London on 5 December 2012.

Gas Station Angel

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Bron meets Ace six days after his house falls into the sea. Their families may share a past of fairies, angels, axe-murderers and chickens, but what do Bron and Ace need with the past when they've got imagination and a tinted-glass, blue Marina 1800 TC ready to drive into the heart of Saturday night?

Set in a shrinking land Gas Station Angel premiered at Newcastle Playhouse in May 1998 in a tour by Fiction Factory, prior to its first performance, directed by the playwright, at The Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, in June 1998.

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term as early as 1917 to characterize such works as his Breasts of Tiresias and Cocteau’s Parade. In 1924, however, another French poet, André Breton, split from dada because of its nihilistic ‘merciless iconoclasm’ and proclaimed surrealism as the best hope for the human spirit. Based on experiments inspired by Freud in the transcription of subconscious imagery, Breton defined surrealism as the ‘transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality’, while others dismissed it as ‘dada’s sawed-off son’. The surrealist programme channelled dada’s anarchic method of chance into the syntax of dreams; surrealist drama shifted fluidly among planes of reality, transcending the logical with the ‘marvellous’. Such works as Louis Aragon’s The Mirror-Wardrobe One Fine Evening (1924) or Artaud’s Jet of Blood (1927) suggest the range of surrealism’s hallucinatory possibilities. When Breton allied the ‘surrealist revolution’ with communism and renounced theatre as bourgeois, disagreement over surrealism’s role in society dissolved the founding group, alienating Artaud and other dramatists, such as Vitrac. The surrealist movement left more artefacts in visual art and cinema than in drama, but it cleared the way for postwar avant-garde writers as different as Ionesco, Genet and Arrabal. In addition, dramatists unaffiliated with the movement, e.g. Poland’s Witkiewicz and Spain’s Valleinclán, created work classifiable as surreal. Dream-structure also infiltrated conventional theatre (e.g. the dream-ballet in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!).

from Carolyn Talarr, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).