1971-1980

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Plays

An Afternoon at the Festival

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An Afternoon at the Festival is an elegantly-structured and reflective meditation on failure.

Leo Brent is an egotistical, successful and middle-aged film-maker. While he is waiting for the four o’clock showing of his new and last film, he spends the morning with a prostitute, Anita: more to find somewhere to sit down than to sleep with her. Back at the house where the film was set, the star — Leo’s ex-wife Dana — is drinking Chablis with his brother, Howard. The play splices these two disconsolate conversations with scenes from Leo’s new film, set in the Victorian era, about the abrasive and eventually violent relationship between a boy and his stepmother. The suggestion, only voiced by Dana, that Leo’s talent is running out sits at the heart of this subtle play.

An Afternoon at the Festival was first presented by Yorkshire Television in 1973.

Alphabetical Order

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A provincial newspaper office in the 1970s – and it’s another day of chaos in the cuttings library. Files all over the floor, phones left ringing. And where is Lucy, the librarian . . . ? Her life (when she finally arrives), and the lives of the journalists who take refuge in her muddled retreat, turn out to be as confused as the library itself. Into this comfortable little world steps Lesley, Lucy’s new assistant. She’s young, bright, and she wants system and order. She wants things to change.

Writing about the play, The Times said: ‘The best of Frayn’s plays. He has found a way of writing broad comedy about ordinary and sympathetic people without resorting to artificial conflict or character distortion’.

Alphabetical Order was first produced at Hampstead Theatre on 11 March 1975 before transferring to the West End and winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. It was revived at Hampstead Theatre on 16 April 2009.

American Buffalo

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Donny runs a junkshop with the help of his young, enthusiastic new employee, Bobby. When a customer comes in on the hunt for an antique coin, Donny sees a business opportunity. Between them, Donny and Bobby plot to rob their wealthy neighbour of his valuable coin collection. Donny’s friend, Walter, however, suspects that all is not as it seems. American Buffalo asks its audience: how do you know who you can trust?

First performed at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, in 1975, American Buffalo transferred to Broadway in 1977, before playing the Cottesloe auditorium at the National Theatre, London, in 1978. It was revived at the Duke of York Theatre, London, in 1984, with Al Pacino as Teach.

audio American Buffalo

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

David Mamet’s gift for storytelling and forging poetry from both the plain-spoken and profane turns an ill-conceived scheme to steal a rare coin into a triumph of dramatic art. In a junk shop, three men of different generations plan their heist. But their fates, like the nickel’s worn image of the beleaguered buffalo, may have been sealed long ago. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production starring Rich Hutchman as Donny DuBrow, Josh Stamberg as Walter Cole (Teacher), and Maurice Williams as Bobby. Directed by Brian Kite and recorded before an audience by L.A. Theatre Works. Featuring: Rich Hutchman, Josh Stamberg, Maurice Williams

And A Nightingale Sang . . .

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A family try their best to get on with their lives as the bombs fall around them in Taylor’s warm and sincere play, which follows their loves, fears and joys through World War Two.

And A Nightingale Sang . . . opens just before the beginning of the war on a house in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne filled with well-meant and bustling domestic chaos. The scenes are partly related by Helen, who is stoical and self-deprecating and walks with a limp. Her grandfather Andie is recruiting mourners to attend the burial of his dog; her devout Catholic mother is fretting about the health of the local priest; her father is serenading an unwilling audience with the popular songs that light up the whole play. Joyce, Helen’s younger, prettier sister is dithering over whether to accept a marriage proposal from Eric, who is being deployed to France. Helen, depended on for guidance by the whole family, has never had any attention from men – until she meets Norman, who shows her that she can waltz and fall in love. But for all the family, nothing can be the same after the war.

And A Nightingale Sang . . . was first staged in 1977 by Live Theatre in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and was presented in this version at the Queen’s Theatre, London, in 1979.

The Arcata Promise

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Arcata Promise is a study of the grotesque self-pity of an unstable actor, a merciless account of individual self-delusion and failure.

Once a successful actor, Gunge now lives in a grimy basement, arguing with a disembodied Voice and fantasising about violence. Glimpses of him prowling the stage as Richard II are intercut with memories of his relationship with Laura, a young woman who believed his promise of eternal devotion, but became gradually disillusioned as his alcoholism and hostility emerged. The sudden appearance of Tony, a valet, in Gunge’s squalid residence fractures Gunge’s reality and psyche even further, bringing Mercer’s story of tortured attraction to a destructive conclusion.

The Arcata Promise was first presented by Yorkshire Television in 1974.

The Bankrupt

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

David Mercer’s play is a bleakly comic study of the introspective amnesia of Ellis Cripper, who has emerged from his recent dishonourable bankruptcy into a personal crisis, with no idea of how to construct his life.

He dreams of summoning a series of historical figures, who propose a series of abstract and general answers to his existential crisis, but neither their adages nor the analyses of doctors and psychiatrists are satisfactory. The play flickers between these conjurations, and Ellis’s visit to his father, his sister and her husband, who try to offer their own structures of Ellis’s existence. But Ellis would rather talk to worms, invoke Hamlet, and write down his dreams.

The Bankrupt is a darkly effective play about a man’s struggle for significance. It was first presented by BBC Television on BBC1, in 1972.

Bartholmew Fair

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Jonson’s exuberant comedy uses the carnival energy of Bartholmew Fair, an actual fair held in a disreputable suburb of London, to dramatize, satirize and celebrate the appetites and comic frailties of the human body.

The depiction of the Fair, teeming with sleazy but energetic life, is one of the great creations of English drama. There are crowds listening to a ballad-singer while a cutpurse plies his trade; sellers of toys and gingerbread raking in customers; drunken quarrels, arrests, and beatings. The climax is a puppet show in which a classic love story is reduced to raucous obscenity. At the centre is the gigantic pig-seller Ursla, whose tent, full of smoke, flame and frying carcasses, also doubles as a privy and a brothel.

There are also a number of respectable (and not so respectable) Londoners drawn to the Fair. Those who come to judge it end up in trouble. Those who come to enjoy it, and get something out of it, do not always get what they expect. Jonson’s gift for elaborate plotting draws all of his vivid characters together in a complex, beautifully structured mercantile cacophony.

Bartholmew Fair is said to have been first performed in 1613 at the Hope playhouse.

Betrayal

Grove Atlantic
Type: Text

'There is hardly a line into which desire, pain, alarm, sorrow, rage or some kind of blend of feelings has not been compressed, like volatile gas in a cylinder less stable than it looks... Pinter's narrative method takes "what's next?" out of the spectator's and replaces it with the rather deeper "how?" and "why?" Why did love pass? How did these people cope with the lies, the evasions, the sudden dangers, panic and the contradictory feelings behind their own deftly engineered masks? The play's subject is not sex, not even adultery, but the politics of betrayal and the damage it inflicts on all involved.' The Times

First staged at the National Theatre in 1978, Betrayal was revived at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 1991. Twenty years after its first showing, it returned to the National in 1998.

The Bewitched

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Bewitched is an astounding carousel of the grotesque and the lyrical, the baroque and the intimate, the horrific and the comic; Barnes’s vast play tells the story of Spain’s ill-fated King Carlos II in a luminous and visceral style.

In the seventeenth century, Spain’s political stability hinged on the continuation of the sovereign bloodline. Unfortunately Carlos, the son conceived by the elderly King Philip IV in the opening scene, has epilepsy, distorted limbs, impaired speech and mental confusion, the tragic result of centuries of royal inbreeding; in Carlos, the famous Hapsburg jaw had become so prominent that he could not chew. The play traces the grim attempts of his court to engineer the conception of an heir, involving a desperate exorcism and the burning of heretics as an aphrodisiac. Barnes offers a searing examination of the belief that certain persons are entitled to hold power, and a tragic account of a life of suffering, charged with pain and cold poetry.

The Bewitched was first presented in 1974 at the Aldwych Theatre, London.