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Plays

Blood Brothers

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A compelling story of friendship, loyalty and fate, Blood Brothers is one of the longest-running and most successful ever West End musicals, as well as one of the most moving.

Twin brothers are separated at birth because their mother cannot afford to keep them both; one of them is given away to a wealthy woman, the other remains with his mother. They become friends and swear to be blood brothers, all the time unaware of their true fraternity. But as they grow older, the two brothers find they can no longer ignore the class difference that divides them, and the love triangle that has dominated their lives erupts into a quarrel. The staggeringly emotional climax of the play questions whether it was destiny, or the inevitable difference of class, that led to the fatal conflict of two brothers who were once so close. Blood Brothers was first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1983.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

A Doll’s House (trans. Meyer; Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This Student Edition of A Doll's House provides a wealth of scholarly information, annotation and background to aid the study of Ibsen's seminal play.

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Michael Meyer, and was first performed in 1964 at the Playhouse, Oxford.

Educating Rita (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This Student Edition of Educating Rita provides a wealth of scholarly information, annotation and background to aid the study of Russell's much-loved play.

Educating Rita is a play for two actors about a working-class woman’s hunger for education, knowledge and culture, and her friendship with a weary, alcoholic, failed poet-cum-lecturer. This Methuen Drama Student Edition includes extensive notes for students and teachers of the play.

Susan is a hairdresser who feels that there must be more to life than having children, so she renames herself 'Rita' after her favourite fictional character and applies for an Open University course in English Literature. Set entirely in the scholarly clutter of Dr Frank Bryant’s office, the play follows Rita’s efforts to escape her old life, and her blossoming into a literary connoisseur under Frank’s sporadic direction. Terribly funny and terribly sad, the play is both a comic masterwork and a poignant examination of education, class and disillusionment.

Educating Rita premiered at the Warehouse Theatre, London, in 1980. It was subsequently made into a highly successful film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. This revised version was first performed in 2002 at the Liverpool Playhouse.

Elektra (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elektra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Elektra.

Just like Sophocles, Euripides was inspired by Aeschylus's great tragic cycle, the Oresteia. Unlike Sophocles (whose focus was a battered and vilified victim of circumstance, fully justified in seeking revenge), Euripides paints a character with a more confused mindset, one who cannot be fully trusted, not even by her returning twin and brother-in-arms. Euripides allows no easy judgement, forcing his audience to pick over the bones of a moral dilemma, as bloody as it is tragic.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht's series of 24 interconnected playlets describe what life was like in German households in the 1930s. They dramatize with clinical precision the suspicion and anxiety experienced by ordinary people, particularly Jewish citizens, as the power of Hitler grew. A growing distrust of their friends and colleagues and even of their own children affects everyone from factory worker to physicist, housewife to judge. ‘We know the results, what we are looking for is the beginnings’, Max Frisch said of the play in 1947, emphasising its significance in exposing the roots of Nazi terror. Brecht’s picture of the breakdown of normal relationships under the Nazis is not only of historical interest, but emotionally transfixing.

Written in exile in Denmark, the play was inspired in part by Brecht’s recent trip to Moscow where he had been researching tasks for the anti-Nazi effort. Eight scenes of the play were first performed in Paris in 1938 entitled 99%, while all the scenes have since been produced in a variety of different combinations.

This version is translated by John Willett.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

Hedda Gabler (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hedda Gabler is a hard and brilliant tragedy on the purposelessness of life, and a comment on the difficulty of finding personal fulfilment in the stifling world of late nineteenth century bourgeois society, particularly for women.

The eponymous Hedda is an electrically complex woman bored to death by her suburban life. Recently married to George Tesman, an academic happily absorbed in his obscure research, she returns from their honeymoon to a handsomely furnished house and a meaningless existence. In the drawing room, with an insidious judge, a wayward visionary writer and his loyal wife, she impulsively creates a dark, mercurial, anxious drama.

Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in Munich in 1890 shortly before his return to Norway. The play initially met with universal condemnation and misunderstanding. This translation was first performed in 1960 at the 4th Street Theatre, New York.

Lear

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Edward Bond recasts the story of King Lear into a fundamentally political epic, which reveals the violence endemic in all unjust societies. He exposes corrupted innocence as the core of social morality, and this false morality as a source of the aggressive tension which must ultimately destroy that society.

The despotic Lear is building a vast wall to keep his enemies out of his kingdom, but the betrayal of his two daughters sends the country into civil war. Lear is deposed and tried, while the punishment of those who sheltered him begins a revolutionary uprising against the sisters. The new regime proves a cruel and hypocritical one, and orders that work on Lear’s wall be resumed. Though Lear has now been blinded, he begins to see the suffering of the people and becomes a focus for opposition.

Bond takes names and structures from Shakespeare’s play, but twists them into a brutal new shape that also takes influences from Chekov’s Three Sisters. The play premiered in 1971 at the Royal Court Theatre in London to many shocked reviews.

Life of Galileo (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by the great Brechtian scholar John Willett.

Methuen Drama Student Editions are expertly annotated texts from the modern and classic repertoires. As well as the complete text of the play itself, each volume contains:

• a chronology of the playwright’s life and work

• a summary of the plot

• an introduction to the context of the play

• commentary on themes, characters, language and style

• a review of the play in performance

• notes on individual words and phrases in the text

• a list of suggested reading

• questions for further study.