For three years, #ReadaPlayaWeek was a, well, weekly feature of our blog. Starting out as a way to familiarise myself more with the canon, established writers were a regular feature. Later, we (now a co-authored blog) decided to challenge ourselves to read more widely, and to give equal focus between male and female writers. By the time we decided to pause it at the end of 2016, it was by no means an all-male, white, British showcase. In 2019, we have indeed read plays by Stoppard, Gray and Hare amongst others, but part of the fun has been to dig out a dusty play text or a new play and see what it has to offer. In the past, finding plays to write about wasn’t always easy. But this year, partly thanks to access to a well-stocked library, we’ve almost been spoilt for choice: from war-torn villages in present day Syria, to a 70s taxi office in Pittsburgh; from one playwright’s account of his journey to Israel, to another of their journey across the Slave Trade Triangle; from a fascinating blend of drama and journalism, to pure comedic escapism.
Last year, perhaps in the midst of a Fluoxetine-fuelled inertia, it took me 6 months to read one play! The play wasn’t particularly long or dense and was actually very good, but I read a scene, forgot it and then kept on re-reading it until I was stuck in a cycle of American rustbelt procrastination. I’ve re-read and included it in December’s choices (below). So, here’s what we’ve read in 2019 along with December’s reads at the bottom. Happy New Year!
In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings (1999), by Stephen Adly Guirgis
The Guys (2001), by Anne Nelson
The Nest by Franz Xaver Kroetz (1975), new version by Conor McPherson (2016)
born bad (2003), by debbie tucker green
The Strange Death of John Doe (2018), by Fiona Doyle
Breathing Corpses (2005), by Laura Wade
Adult Child/Dead Child (1987), by Claire Dowie
Thatcher’s Women (1987), by Kay Adshead
Superhoe (2019), by Nicôle Lecky
Stamping, Shouting and Singing Home (1986), by Lisa Evans
Night (L’Homme Gris) (1984), by Marie Laberge (translated by Rina Fraticelli)
Unicorns, Almost (2018), by Owen Sheers
buckets (2015), by Adam Barnard
Victory Condition (2017), by Chris Thorpe
Effie’s Burning (1987), by Valerie Windsor
Letters Home (1979), by Rose Leiman Goldemberg
Rites (1969), by Maureen Duffy
Trafford Tanzi (1980), by Claire Luckham
The Brothers Size (2007), by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Antigone (2014), in a contemporary version by Roy Williams, inspired by Sophocles
Find Me (1977), by Olwen Wymark
Chewing Gum Dreams (2012), by Michaela Coel
This is Our Youth (1996), by Kenneth Lonergan
Stunning (2009), by David Adjmi
Goats (2017), by Liwaa Yazji, translated by Katharine Halls
Close of Play (1979), by Simon Gray
2nd May 1997 (2009), by Jack Thorne
The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry (2013), by Marcus Gardley
Jumpers (1972), by Tom Stoppard
The Author (2009), by Tim Crouch
Via Dolorosa (1998), by David Hare
Dry Powder (2016), by Sarah Burgess
Luther (1961), by John Osborne
Dying City (2006), by Christopher Shinn
This is Not an Exit (2014), by Abi Zakarian
I Can Hear You (2014), by E.V. Crowe
Revolt. She said. Revolt again. (2014), by Alice Birch
The Big Meal (2011), by Dan LeFranc
Jitney (1982), by August Wilson
Tom and Clem (1997), by Stephen Churchett
Pullman, WA (2005), by Young Jean Lee
Family Voices (1981), by Harold Pinter
Fewer Emergencies (2005), by Martin Crimp
salt. (2017), by Selina Thompson
Wild East (2005), by April De Angelis
Comedians (1975), by Trevor Griffiths
The Skriker (1994), by Caryl Churchill
Hurt Village (2012), by Katori Hall
Rough for Theatre II (written in French in the late 1950s, English translation 1976), by Samuel Beckett
A Thousand Clowns (1962), by Herb Gardner
“Sixty percent of audience; noticeably moved”
“They left the theatre?”
I’ve been fascinated by the text for Herb Gardner’s ‘quintessential New York comedy’, picked up in a Brighton charity shop for 99p. It includes everything from property and working prop lists to costume and lighting plots, and set designs. The play itself focuses on an out of work comedy writer, Murray, in his eclectic Manhattan apartment. He’s an apathetic oddball, tired of the cheap gags and children’s comedy that’s ruled his life. This is until social services threaten to take his 12-year-old nephew out of his care, resulting in a dash to get a job and for one of the social workers-cum-one-night stand to reorganise his life. But does Murray want a conventional life?
Not dissimilar to a Neil Simon comedy, Gardner’s script is packed with gags and his protagonist is one half of several odd couple relationships. One of these is the double act between Murray and his precocious nephew Nick. He’s wise beyond his years, and even picks up on the cues of Murray’s flirting so to know when to vacate the apartment for the night. It’s an entertaining duo, and probably paved the way for later Hollywood concepts like Curly Sue and Big Daddy.
Published by Samuel French
People (2012), by Alan Bennett
“What’s the worst thing in the world?
This is very much a sentimental choice of play for us. In September of 2013 the two of us first met at a matinee of Alan Bennett’s People, on tour at Curve, Leicester. Over 6 years later and we’re in the middle of compiling our annual Top 10 list of theatre while wrapping Christmas presents for our new born nephew, packing boxes ready to move house, and making plans for our wedding. Little did we know back in that bustling auditorium on an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon…
Theatre brings people together, so it’s rather ironic that the play that united us is based on the premise of keeping people out. Ex-model and aging aristocrat Dorothy Stacpoole lives in the squalor of her neglected family estate alongside her senile companion-cum-maid Iris. The two women are isolated from the outside world, reading stockpiled copies of newspapers from the 1980s and preparing for wars decades-long passed. With no heating and the house succumbing to decay, Dorothy and her sister June draw up opposing plans to fund their future. June wants to give the house to the National Trust, to create a museum curio of the estate and their lives. Dorothy wants nothing to do with the prying eyes of the public, instead preferring the option of relocating the house to Dorset to be ‘preserved’ by a private auction-house. With little chance of resolution between the warring siblings, a novel opportunity presents itself in the form of Dorothy’s old-flame, film director, Teddy.
People is classic Bennett. His trademark northern flippancy, pithy wit and endearingly cantankerous characters is a conduit for a tart inspection of class, nationalism, economics, politics and the enigmatic façade of ‘History’. The opening of the second act is a triumph of dramatic irony and farce, while the final dénouement is touching in its mixture of pragmatism and whimsy. In Dorothy, Iris and June, Bennett has created three fantastic roles for mature women, all of whom burst with ambiguous charm. A delicate distinction is drawn here between relationships with people, and relationships with People, as Bennett inspects the collision between the private and public spheres. It’s a lovely play, and one I was delighted to reacquaint myself with during such a momentous period in my own life.
Published by Faber
Sweat (2015), by Lynn Nottage
“I watch these politicians talking bullshit and I get no sense that they even know what’s going on beyond the windshield of their cars”
This time around it took me three nights to read Sweat. And what a great play it is. Set over a number of months in a bar at the heart of America’s rust belt in 2000, Nottage depicts the lives of a community as they are locked out from their livelihoods. We see people’s anger and desperation build on the backdrop of a widening income gap and the upcoming US election. From there to 2008, we see the beginnings of old wounds healing and the effects of the area’s industrial decline.
But what struck me was how characters cling on to hope. Whilst they are breaking their backs all day in the mills, they still have the escapism of alcohol in the evening, and something to set their sights on in the future. For Cynthia, it’s her cruise on the Panama Canal, but for others it’s more distant or illusory. For Jason, his plan is to work until he’s 50, then retire and open a Dunkin’ Donuts in South Carolina. And then there’s Jessie who only planned on working at the plant for a few months but ended up staying years. We hear how she planned to go out to Alaska and ‘live clean’ off the fatta the lan’, followed by the pipedream of India, Istanbul, Tehran, etc. It’s a fascinating part of the play, and in some ways very familiar in American literature. Everyone has their own mythical West.
Published by tcg