1650-1699

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Plays

55 Days

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Howard Brenton's 55 Days is a historical drama set at the culmination of the English Civil War when the future, not only of the King, but of the nation itself is decided. The play was first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 18 October 2012.

The play's action begins in December 1648. The Army has occupied London. Parliament votes not to put the imprisoned King on trial, so the Army moves against Westminster in the first and only military coup in English history. What follows over the next fifty-five days, as Oliver Cromwell seeks to compromise with a king who will do no such thing, is nothing less than the forging of a new nation.

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by Howard Davies, with Mark Gatiss as King Charles, Douglas Henshall as Oliver Cromwell, Gerald Kyd as John Lilburne and Simon Kunz as Lord Fairfax. The production was generally well received by the critics, with The Guardian applauding its 'fervent dramatic power' and the Evening Standard noting that 'It could have been a dour history lesson. Instead it engages with the present, raising some pungent questions about the kind of democracy we have in Britain today.'

In an article describing the play's genesis (published at http://nickhernbooksblog.com/2012/10/25/howard-brenton-a-forgotten-revolution-the-historical-context-to-55-days/), Brenton wrote: 'Recently I met a Frenchman in London and we fell to talking about the high drama of the climax of the French Revolution: the struggle between Danton and Robespierre. "In this country you don’t remember you also had a revolution," he said, adding, rather waspishly, "and you don’t realise you still live with the consequences". He was right. The heroic, horrific story of our revolution, the Civil War that began in 1642 and resulted in the execution of King Charles I in 1649, is not part of our national consciousness.'

All For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

All for Love, or The World Well Lost is John Dryden's epic adaptation of the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra into a neo-classical quintet with supporting voices. The play, which the 1678 quarto titlepage claims is ‘Written in Imitation of Shakespeare’s Stile’, draws heavily on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; it does away, however, with the salaciousness of Shakespeare’s text, and reduces his temporal and geographical range to that of one time and place as per Aristotelian dramatic unities. The play was arguably intended to be seen in direct relation to the contemporary Antony and Cleopatra: A Tragedy (1677), written by politician and playwright Charles Sedley. Dryden’s application of neo-classical conventions and contemporary dramatic practice gives the classic love story a structural beauty and an austere power.

After Cleopatra’s desertion of Antony at the battle of Actium, not only his wife Octavia but also his general Ventidius and his friend Dolabella strive to win him over to their side. Antony, torn between the claims of duty, friendship, dignity and love, despairs when he hears the rumour of Cleopatra's death, which is not, as in Shakespeare’s version, spread by the queen herself but by her deceitful eunuch.

The first recorded performance was at the Theatre Royal, London by the King’s Company in 1677. The play’s political implications have perhaps been lost over time: absolute monarchy and the illicit love of a ruler were highly topical concerns in a post-Restoration Britain, when King Charles II’s extra-marital amours, most famously with the celebrated actress Nell Gwyn, were the subject of much anxiety.

audio The Bungler

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In 17th Century Sicily, a clever valet named Mascarille tries to help his boss Lélie win the girl of his dreams -- only to find that Lélie is a monumental dunce who ruins every one of his intricate schemes. Undaunted, Mascarille invents progressively wilder plots, only to see his best-laid plans go very awry in Molière's The Bungler. Translated by Richard Wilbur.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Richard Easton as Mascarille Adam Godley as Lelie Alan Mandell as Trufaldin Dakin Matthews as Ergaste Christopher Neame as Pandolphe Paula Jane Newman as Celie Darren Richardson as Andres John Sloan as Léandre Norman Snow as Anselme Kate Steele as Hippolyte. This recording contains an interview with Mechele Leon, Associate Professor of Classical and Contemporary French Theatre at the University of Kansas. Directed by Dakin Matthews. Recorded at The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood.

Featuring: Richard Easton, Adam Godley, Alan Mandell, Dakin Matthews, Christopher Neame, Paula Jane Newman, Darren Richardson, John Sloan, Norman Snow, Kate Steele

The Clearing

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing is an original play about the effects of Oliver Cromwell’s military campaign in Ireland. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, in November 1993.

The play is set in Ireland in 1652. Oliver Cromwell has passed the Act for the Settlement of Ireland, decreeing that all Catholic landowners must relocate to the province of Connaught, a blighted and barren land in the west of the country. Madeleine, an Irish woman married to an English man, Robert Preston, has just given birth to their first child, but their joy is short-lived. Their union becomes the focus of an ever-rising resentment within their small farming community. As the English parliament under Cromwell’s command mount their ‘to Hell or Connaught’ policy, the Prestons’ happy world is torn apart.

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by Lynne Parker, with Adrian Rawlins as Robert Preston and Susan Lynch as Madeleine. The play went on to win a Time Out Theatre Award and the John Whiting Award.

The play was revived by Shared Experience in 2002 on a tour starting in Birmingham on 7 March and including a month-long engagement from 23 April to 25 May at London's Tricycle Theatre. The production was directed by Polly Teale and designed by Angela Davies. The cast was Amelda Brown, Pip Donaghy, Aislin McGuckin, Mairead McKinley and Joseph Millson.

The Country Wife

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A satirical comedy focused on the vices and hypocrisies of Restoration London, The Country Wife has been admired as a farce, condemned as immoral or frivolous, and praised as a sharp and sophisticated drama.

Wycherley satirises female hypocrisy, true and false masculinity and human folly through three neatly linked plots. In the first, the rakish Horner pretends to be sexually impotent in order to trick his way into the intimate company of married ladies; he is confident that their fear of scandal is the only thing keeping them from debauchery.

In the second plot, Mr and Mrs Pinchwife come to London from the country; Mrs Pinchwife wants to enjoy all the pleasures of the town, including being loved by Horner, and her husband’s covetousness plays right into her hands.In the third plot, Horner’s friend Harcourt successfully woos Pinchwife’s sister, Alithea, away from her proposed husband Sparkish.

Wycherley’s racy prose dialogue creates an energetic and complex comedy of sex that combines cynicism, satire and farce. The Country Wife was first performed in 1675 by the King’s Company at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Dara

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tanya Ronder's adaptation of Shahid Nadeem's play Dara is a domestic drama of global consequence, set in 17th-century Mughal India. It was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 27 January 2015 (previews from 20 January).

Nadeem’s original play was first performed by Ajoka Theatre at Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, Pakistan, in January 2010, and later in Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, and Amritsar, Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur and Hyderabad in India.

The play's action begins in 1659, in Mughal India. The imperial court is a place of opulence and excess, with music, drugs, eunuchs and harems. Two brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb, whose mother’s death inspired the Taj Mahal, are heirs to this Muslim empire. Now they fight ferociously for succession. Dara, the crown prince, has the love of the people, and of his emperor father; but the younger Aurangzeb holds a different vision for India’s future. Islam inspires poetry in Dara, puritanical rigour in Aurangzeb. Can Jahanara, their beloved sister, assuage Aurangzeb’s resolve to seize the Peacock Throne and purge the empire?

In an author's note in the published script, Ronder writes: 'My brief was to take Shahid Nadeem’s play and adapt it for a National Theatre audience. We set out, myself and director Nadia Fall, to unpack the events cited in the original play, to educate ourselves, and to recreate the story in a way that didn’t put our audience at arm’s length, able to write the drama off as a story that was not theirs. The tale of Dara and Aurangzeb is one which a Pakistani or an Indian audience would have preexisting knowledge and some ownership of. A story, albeit differently told across borders, which children all over the Indian subcontinent will have heard at school or at home, (perhaps akin to our connection in Britain to Henry VIII or Elizabeth I), but that very few of us in the West know about. ... The result is a more recognisable shape of play; it has expanded to five acts, it starts before the original begins and ends several decades later. I have added in a trial scene to give Dara the voice I think we need to hear, and added various characters and storylines, all taken from or inspired by historical facts – Itbar and Afia, Murad, Mian Mir, Hira Bai and Aurangzeb’s relationship with her – and also incorporated a childhood for the brothers and sisters of this Mughal court. All in an attempt to round the story out, to make it a fairer fight between the brothers and to hopefully give our audience the psychological and emotional complexity they are used to.'

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Nadia Fall and designed by Katrina Lindsay. It was performed by Zubin Varla (as Dara), Gurjeet Singh, Scott Karim, Ronak Patani, Emilio Doorgasingh, Anjana Vasan, Sargon Yelda (as Aurangzeb), Rudi Dharmalingam, Esh Alladi, Nicholas Khan, Mariam Haque, Gary Wood, Vincent Ebrahim, Nathalie Armin, Anneika Rose, Anjli Mohindra, Liya Tassisa, Indira Joshi, Chook Sibtain, Simon Nagra, Emilio Doorgasingh, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Ranjit Krishnamma.

Don Juan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s classic play retells the myth of Don Juan, the infamous womaniser with few morals and a scorn for religion.

Casanova Don Juan exasperates his sensible servant, Sganarelle, with his compromising behaviour. His recent escapade involves the beautiful Elvire, who he has abducted from a convent under the false pretence that they will be married. However, a new woman quickly turns his head and he sets sail in order to woo her with Sganarelle in tow. When their ship capsizes, a peasant rescues them and Don Juan quickly grabs the opportunity to seduce two peasant girls. It is here that Don Juan learns that Elvire’s brothers plans to kill him over his treatment of their sister. So he and Sganarelle decide to disguise themselves as they head back into the city. On the way our anti-hero unwittingly saves the life of one of Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos, from a crew of bandits. When he and his servant come across the tomb of a Governor that Don Juan previously killed, a statue comes to life. Sganarelle believes that this is Heaven’s way of signalling its wrath with Don Juan, but he remains unconcerned and even feigns spirituality. But this is one step too far for Heaven, who promptly swallows Don Juan up into the pit of Hell leaving Sganarelle alone and penniless.

Riding high from the success of Tartuffe a year before, Molière wrote Don Juan in a matter of weeks in order to fill a gap in his schedule. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1665 with Molière playing the part of Sganarelle.

The Learned Ladies

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Learned Ladies is one of Molière’s most popular comedies. Written in five acts the play is a satire on academic pretention and female education.

Henriette and Clitandre are in love and planning to marry. Henriette’s beloved father, Chrysale, and his brother, Ariste are in favour of the marriage but it’s her female relatives that are proving harder to convince. Her bossy mother, Philaminte would prefer her to marry the scholar Trissotin, a lofty yet mediocre poet with pretentions to literary greatness. Philaminte, along with Henriette’s sister, Armanda and Chrysale’s sister, Bélise, are in thrall to Trissotin. They are the ‘learned ladies’ of the title and display a rampant snobbery towards anyone they deem uneducated. Flattered by the sycophantic Trissotin they fawn over him, but Ariste has a plan to show the whole family his true colours.

Written in rhyming couplets, The Learned Ladies was Molière’s penultimate play premiering at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1672.

Love For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Love for Love is an acute and comical examination of gender identity, dissecting humours and affectations with the wit, energy and complexity of a farce of manners.

Mrs Foresight, who is married to an impotent, superstitious, old hypochondriac, is consumed by unsatisfied needs; her aging sister, Mrs Frail, who has sown her wild oats, is looking for a wealthy husband. The men are only too eager to satisfy the women. Sailor Ben has returned from the sea, his heart set upon finding a partner; Tattle, a rake, pursues the rich and lovely Angelica, but is more than happy to seduce Miss Prue on the side; while Valentine, the preferred suitor of the play’s heroine Angelica, has financially ruined himself among women of the town and has a bastard child to support. The plot of this socially satiric Restoration comedy turns upon the devices used by Angelica to find, in a corrupt society, true love in marriage.

Love for Love was written by 1694 and first performed in 1695, in an indoor tennis court.

Marriage A-La Mode

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Half comic and half serious, Marriage A-la-Mode is a spirited study of the trials and passions of love and marriage, and generally considered John Dryden’s finest comedy.

The play is set in the Sicilian court, and consists of a comic plot written in prose, and a tragic plot written in verse. The comic plot wittily explores the fluttering courtly mode of romance. Two fashionable couples, lifted straight from London drawing rooms into the Sicilian court, play at switching partners in the ‘modern style’, flirting with the boundaries of marriage and betrothal. The tragic scenes belong to Leonidas and Palmyra, who have grown up in obscurity but find their love threatened when their true parentage is discovered. This serious plot, by contrast, offers a timeless understanding of love and marriage as deeply intertwined, and of love as springing from country innocence and honour, and not from the social intriguing of shallow courtiers. With a blend of satire and true romance, Dryden leads the play to the conclusion that the most stylish and modish kind of marriage is what is simple, honourable and true.

M arriage A-la-Mode was presented to King Charles II at Windsor in the summer of 1671; the king was, reputedly, a great fan of the comedy, a factor which contributed to its great success onstage at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. After the theatre was destroyed by fire in early 1672, the play moved temporarily to the Duke’s Company’s old theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.