Thursday 26 March 2009

The Play's The Thing

This morning I handed in the thesis I mentioned the other day, and I have a few days off before I need to start thinking about my dissertation (the difference in definition is perhaps negligible, but in practice a thesis is 5-7000 words and a dissertation is 10-12000). My end-of-year book total is going to be quite massive for 2009, and that's because of all the plays I've been reading, which can be got through in an hour or so (can't take longer to read than they are to watch, I figure). But, though they've dominated my reading this year, they've not been mentioned much on Stuck-in-a-Book. A bit like the elephant in the room - or perhaps rhinoceros would be a more apt theatrical simile.

Difficult to discuss them all, though below is a list of the ones I've read over the past three months in case anyone wants to launch into a discussion about any of them, or ask me to elucidate - I'll talk about two or three over the next few days, and welcome any suggestions!

Drama is a surprisingly unpopular medium for study amongst my masters course. We all like prose or poetry best (which is a rather reductive statement, but seems to hold true) while most of the group put drama a distant third - for myself, it is second to prose, but not too far behind, and far above poetry. The history of theatre, and how performance influences text and vice versa, fascinates me - studying Shakespeare from contingent angles of the effects of actors, stages, all male casts, printers etc. etc. was captivating. In fact, the whole history of theatre interests me - because the texts are so unstable, presented in inherently variable performances, but all this can be imagined and investigated by reading a playscript too. Now I'm babbling, but I hope I can make my enthusiasm contagious, because so few people seem to read plays! Even those who love going to the theatre (and of course this is the ideal way of experiencing plays) find it difficult to read plays themselves. I think AA Milne helped me read plays, because he wrote so many of them and he was the first author I got really excited about post-teenage reading.

So. The list. Do say any you've read, or would like to hear more about. I'm going to kick off tomorrow with The History Boys by Alan Bennett.

The Colleen Baum - Dion Boucicault
The Octoroon - Dion Boucicault
Black Ey'd Susan - Douglas Jerrold
The Bells - Leopold Lewis
Uncle Tom's Cabin (adapted) - George L. Aiken
Mrs. Warren's Profession - George Bernard Shaw
The Philanderer - George Bernard Shaw
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray - Arthur W. Pinero
The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith - Arthur W. Pinero
Mrs. Dane's Defence - Henry Arthur Jones
A Woman of No Importance - Oscar Wilde
The Master-Builder - Henrik Ibsen
The Lady From The Sea - Henrik Ibsen
Hedda Gabler - Henrik Ibsen
A Taste of Honey - Shelagh Delaney
The Lion in Love - Shelagh Delaney
The Deep Blue Sea - Terence Rattigan
The Winslow Boy - Terence Rattigan
Separate Tables - Terence Rattigan
The Entertainer - John Osborne
The Birthday Party - Harold Pinter
Travesties - Tom Stoppard
Indian Ink - Tom Stoppard
Rock and Roll - Tom Stoppard
Arcadia - Tom Stoppard
Saved - Edward Bond
Early Morning - Edward Bond
Loot - Joe Orton
What The Butler Saw - Joe Orton
Blasted - Sarah Kane
Cloud Nine - Caryl Churchill
Making History - Brian Friel
The History Boys - Alan Bennett
Our Country's Good - Timberlake Wertenbaker
Oh What A Lovely War - Theatre Workshop


  1. Huzzah for Our Country's Good and History Boys. I did Our Country's Good two years ago (the costumes), and in fact I saw a production of History Boys last night. It was completely fabulous. I love what that play says about history and literature and life, and pretty much everything else. Thanks for reminding me I ought to blog about it.

  2. Oh what a lovely "Oh What a Lovely War" or to be be accurate , oh what a thought provoking "Oh What a Lovely War".
    We were lucky enough to see big-top production of this just along from the National Theatre when the children were just about old enough. They still talk about it sometimes.
    I even used some of it in a history presentation on conscription in the first world war which I finished up with the final scene from "Blackadder Goes Forth" (the scene where they "go over the top" and the action goes into slow motion..

    I haven't read "Cloud Nine" by Caryl Churchill" but "did" "Top Girls" when at college and was thrilled to get amazing exam marks for it. I remember years previously that my mother and aunt went to the theatre expecting to see Peter Ustinov but got the week wrong. Top Girls was on and my aunt was so horrified at the play that she made my mother walk in the middle of the play.

    The most recent play I have read is "the Pitmen Painters".

    I look forward to reading about the plays you have read.

  3. Goodness what a fascinating list. I have a background in theatre but avoided drama as much as I could during my studies. I'd love to hear your opinion on the post-1950 ones, or indeed on all of them.

  4. The weird thing about reading plays is the way that the action seems to go so quickly. It's more like a film or a comic than a novel.

    My recommendation: Stoppard's The Invention of Love. Best play ever about Latin translation.

  5. History Boys is a great play to see performed, although I've never read it.

    I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on Rock 'n' Roll, only because I'm due to see it in May (at the same theatre where I saw History Boys, as a matter of fact).

  6. History Boys is a very good play. I am shocked to see that there is no An Inspector Calls on the list but then thats GCSE text now. I went and saw it last night and thought (bar the awfully acted inspector himself) it was absolutely brilliant!


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