Sam Holcroft


Plays by Sam Holcroft


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's play Cockroach depicts a world infected by violence, exploring Darwin's theory of evolution and the apparent male propensity for war. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 23 October 2008, in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland.

The play is set in a classroom in a seemingly normal modern-day comprehensive school. While Beth, the teacher, instructs the unruly pupils in the principles of natural selection, the boys are being called up to fight in some unspecified conflict that rages on in the world outside. Beth believes that only education will set her pupils free, but, despite her best efforts, the tide of conflict is soon lapping at the school gates. One by one, pupils and teacher are pulled under as their hopes and dreams float away from them. In a central recurring image, the girls clean the torn and bloodied uniforms of dead soldiers.

The premiere production was directed by Vicky Featherstone and designed by Naomi Wilkinson. It was performed by Frances Ashman, Ryan Fletcher, Meg Fraser (as Beth), Laura McMonagle, Helen Mallon and Owen Whitelaw.

Dancing Bears

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's short play Dancing Bears examines the twisted loyalties and violence of teenage gangs. It was first performed as part of Clean Break's Charged season, a collection of plays about the lives of women in the criminal justice system, at Soho Theatre, London, on 10 November 2010. Cockroach was revived at the Soho Theatre in March 2011.

The play is performed on 'a bed of hot coals', with the characters constantly performing a 'firewalk'. It begins with the unlikeable Dean coercing his friend’s sister, Charity, into having sex with him before abandoning her when she becomes pregnant. As a consequence she, Babymother and Razor Kay form a girl gang with the aim of standing up to the men who have injured and discarded them. But their mistreatment has left them with no means of communication beyond violence, or the threat of violence. Soon there’s a court hearing pending and the girls’ relationships with each other descend into violence.

In an article for the Nick Hern Books blog (, Holcroft wrote: 'I began researching several months before putting pen to paper. You don’t have to dig deep to find many extraordinary stories of suffering, triumph and gut-twisting injustice. Clean Break put me in touch with women who had experience of gang culture and they kindly shared their stories with me. I also attended the 2010 Nacro Youth Justice Conference and spoke with social workers, police, teachers and health professionals who helped to shed light on the psychology behind gang-related behaviour. And slowly but surely a structure began to emerge. ... It seemed that all-female gangs often evolved as offshoots from mixed-gender gangs. Girls were choosing to set up on their own to avoid the misogyny, violence and lower social status afforded them in mixed-gender gangs. But, sadly, sooner or later these new all-female gangs would begin to mirror the hierarchies of the mixed-gender gangs they’d left behind. And these hierarchies would be daily reinforced by threats and violence against girls at the bottom of the chain from girls higher up. So it seemed impossible to write a play without both male and female characters in order to explore this mirroring of behaviour. Clean Break has a policy of working with only women and so all characters in the play, whether male or female, are played by women. But I soon realised that this would work in favour of the drama. Boys could morph into girls before our eyes: their machismo give way to femininity; their hunched shoulders drop; they would arch their backs – like a ripple effect, a stage of boys would become a stage of girls. However as we continue to watch, unintentionally, they would begin to mimic the boys they were fleeing from, and this time instead of knives they would wield guns.'

The Soho Theatre premiere was directed by Tessa Walker and designed by Soutra Gilmour. It was performed by Emmanuella Cole, Danielle Vitalis, Ony Uhiara and Samantha Pearl.

Edgar & Annabel

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's short play Edgar & Annabel is an Orwellian dystopian fable about a group of freedom fighters attempting to stand up to a repressive regime, while being continuously subjected to surveillance. It was first performed in a double bill with The Swan by D.C. Moore as part of the Double Feature season of paired short plays at the Paintframe, a specially converted space at the National Theatre, London, on 18 July 2011.

The play begins in Edgar and Annabel's kitchen, where dinner is being prepared. But the young couple who live here are only playing the roles of Edgar and Annabel: they are in fact Nick and Marianne, two members of the resistance movement plotting revolution. Since the house is bugged by a computer capable of analysing sounds and speech-patterns, they must play Edgar and Annabel, sticking to the script to ensure continuity and imperceptibility. The play explores the complex relationship that undercover agents, and actors, have with their allotted roles. In a key scene that uses motifs of high farce, the two dissidents prepare a bomb, while the sound they make is drowned out by four other dissidents singing karaoke.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Lyndsey Turner and designed by Soutra Gilmour. It was performed by Trystan Gravelle, Kirsty Bushell, Damian O’Hare, Karina Fernandez, Tom Basden, Richard Goulding and Phoebe Fox.

Pink (Holcroft)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's Pink is a short play written for the Tricycle Theatre’s Women, Power and Politics season, staged at the Tricycle, London, in June–July 2010. It is a comic political fantasia that brings together a female Prime Minister and a porn star turned successful businesswoman. It was first performed at the Tricycle on 8 June 2010, in rep with short plays by Joy Wilkinson, Zinnie Harris, Bola Agbaje and Sue Townsend.

The play's action takes place in the dressing room of a London television studio, where ex-porn star, now successful businesswoman, Kim Keen is preparing to launch her latest line of sex products on a TV chat show. She receives an unexpected visit from the Prime Minister, Bridget, whose husband has been caught buying sex toys from a porn website. The connection between the two women is eventually revealed, and the steely-hearted politician resorts to blackmail to get her own way. Finally, the pair form an unholy alliance to promote the female cause through blue movies.

The Tricycle Theatre production was directed by Indhu Rubasingham and designed by Rosa Maggiora. It was performed by Heather Craney, Amy Loughton, Tom Mannion and Stella Gonet.

Rules for Living

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's Rules for Living is a theatrically playful black comedy that explores the coping strategies we adopt in life. It was first performed in the Dorfman auditorium at the National Theatre, London, on 13 March 2015.

The play's action is set in an open-plan kitchen/living room or kitchen-conservatory where Edith and her family are gathering for lunch on Christmas Day. Edith plans everything with military precision, but her plans are destined to be thrown into disarray. Her son Matthew arrives partnered by a nervously jocular actor, Carrie, but secretly nurses a passion for his sister-in-law, Sheena. And Sheena, a compulsive drinker, is unable to contain her anger at her cynical, underachieving husband, Adam, or her concern for their psychologically damaged daughter, Emma. After the short opening scene, each subsequent scene is introduced with a 'rule' (eg 'Matthew must sit to tell a lie', 'Edith must clean to keep calm'), which is displayed to the audience for the duration of the scene. The characters adhere to these rules, even as they accumulate alarmingly (each rule, once it appears, applies throughout the rest of the play). In the play's second act, the rules are modified by a conditional element, so that each rule is activated until a specific condition is met: 'Matthew must sit and eat to tell a lie… until he gets a compliment'. Eventually, as the family gathering descends into chaos, all the rules are obscured by a title card stating that ‘ANARCHY RULES’.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Marianne Elliott and designed by Chloe Lamford, Miles Jupp as Matthew, Maggie Service as Carrie, Claudie Blakley as Sheena, Stephen Mangan as Adam, Deborah Findlay as Edith, John Rogan as Francis and Daisy Waterstone as Emma.

The Wardrobe

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's The Wardrobe is a play exploring British history, how the country was shaped, and how connected we are with our past. It was commissioned as part of the 2014 National Theatre Connections Festival and premiered by youth theatres across the UK.

The play's action is set in different time periods across several centuries, all within the same large wardrobe. In each scene, a group of children climb into the wardrobe, seeking sanctuary of one sort or another. There are twelve scenes in all, ranging from the bedchamber of Elizabeth of York on 27 October 1485, to 'a museum, somewhere in Britain, 2014'.

For the first performances, given as part of the National Theatre Connections Festival in 2014, groups were required to select nine of the possible twelve scenes to perform; they were free to choose their preferred scenes. An author's note included in the playtext states that 'This rule can also be applied to subsequent productions of the play.'

While You Lie

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's While You Lie is a play that dissects modern romantic relationships, exploring the power relations, the accommodations and the compromises that define them. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 30 July 2010.

Ana, a woman in her twenties, seeks constant reassurance about her physical appearance from her boyfriend Edward, and when he refuses to give it, they break up. Desperate to get on the career ladder whatever it costs, she offers her boss Chris sex in exchange for promotion. Chris has become bored with his marriage to domestic goddess, Helen, now heavily pregnant with their second child. He treats both women with disdain, ignoring their presence when he is not ordering them around – requiring his salmon sashimi lunch from Ana, or clean shirts and dinner from Helen. Entering the lives of these four characters is Ike, a shady plastic surgeon who is more concerned with a medical charity to sponsor physically deformed African children. The action transforms into farce in a climactic scene at a family barbecue involving a DIY caesarean.

The Traverse Theatre premiere was directed by Alex Lowde and designed by Lizzie Powell, with Pauline Knowles as Helen, Claire Lams as Ana, Steven McNicoll as Chris, Andrew Scott-Ramsay as Edward and Leo Wringer as Ike.

Picture of Sam Holcroft

Sam Holcroft’s other plays include The Wardrobe, for National Theatre Connections, and Edgar & Annabel, part of the Double Feature season in the Paintframe at the National Theatre; Dancing Bears, part of the Charged season for Clean Breakat Soho Theatre and Latitude Festival; While You Lie at the Traverse, Edinburgh; Pink , part of the Women, Power and Politics season at the Tricycle; Vanya, adapted from Chekhov, at The Gate; and Cockroach, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Traverse (nominated for Best New Play 2008, by the Critics’Awards for Theatre in Scotland and shortlisted for the John Whiting Award, 2009). In 2013, Sam wrote The House Taken Over, a libretto for opera, adapted from Cortázar, for the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and Académie Européenne de Musique. Sam received the Tom Erhardt Award in 2009, was the Pearson Writer-in-Residence at the Traverse Theatre, 2009–10, and the Writer-in-Residence at the National Theatre Studio from 2013–14. In 2014, Sam received a Windham Campbell Prize for Literature in the drama category.