The Six Best Productions I’ve Ever Seen

The Six Best Productions I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past months applying for and being interviewed for various jobs in theatre (either in companies making theatre, or in theatres [the buildings] or even in school theatre departments), and one question that almost invariably comes up, is “What have you seen recently that you really loved?”, or “What kind of theatre really speaks to you?”. Writing monthly blog posts has helped me with not feeling put on the spot with the first question, because I know what I’ve seen recently – I wrote all about it – but I find the second question a little bit more difficult, because I like a really wide variety of plays and productions. There are definitely also ones I don’t like, but it isn’t as simple as “I like political theatre from the 1980s” (I do, often, but I also like entirely different things…) I’ve spent a while thinking about this question, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like productions that make me feel strongly or think intently. This can mean anything from something where I came out thinking about something very specific about contemporary politics, to coming out of the theatre unable to stop smiling because something was so feel-good, to having spent a significant amount of time weeping in empathy with characters.

Looking back on theatre that I have seen in the past (almost) 21 years, these are the productions that stand out the most as having made me think or feel very strongly. That doesn’t necessarily make them the best technical successes, or the most polished performances I’ve ever seen, but they’re the productions I look back on months and even years later and think, “that was just incredible”. They’re more heavily weighted towards relatively recent things, because those are what I remember most distinctly, but I have been going to see plays since I was very young, and I’m going to start with one of my first memories of seeing theatre.

I remember going to see Romeo and Juliet in the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield in 2006, when I would have been 9 or 10, not long before the world cup, with the two families being dressed in football [soccer for my North American readers] kit. It was fantastic: I had a great time, and don’t remember having any issues understanding what was going on (possibly because the rivalry between the families was so explicit!) and I’m sure that having found that production so easy to follow helped with studying Shakespeare in school in the following years: I didn’t have the pre-conceptions many of my classmates did that it would be incomprehensible. (And I went on to write a whole dissertation about performances of his work.)

The Phantom of the Opera, June 2008. My parents took my brothers and I to see this as a twelfth birthday present for me. It was the first play I saw in London (I think), and it was incredibly exciting to get to make a trip down to London to go see a show. I remember being incredibly awed by the technical effects on the stage, and terrified when (***spoilers***) the chandelier came crashing down over the audience, before swinging and landing on the stage. My parents had got five tickets in the stalls, in a set of two and a set of three: my father and brothers were a few rows in front of us, and the chandelier came down right above their heads! It was one of my first experiences of theatre as overwhelming and overpowering (incredible sets, powerful music and a trip down to London as a treat would do that!) and it’s stuck with me to this day.

Our Country’s Good, National Theatre, September 2015. I’d studied this play at A-level, and loved it, and was thrilled when a year later it was on at the National Theatre. I went to see it with my family and it was really exciting to get to see this play I’d spent a whole year thinking about, and crafting what I thought was the ideal production of the play (design, direction…) so that, when set three pages of the text in the exam, I could say “This is what would need to be done here, so that the play could work overall”. I knew it backwards, and I had quite a fixed idea of what I would do: I spent a whole year debating interpretations with my teachers and classmates! Seeing it in the flesh, and thinking about where they had done what I would have done, and where they had done different things, and what I thought had worked, and where I thought my ideas were better was an experience I’m unlikely to get again: I won’t ever get to study a play in that much depth, and then see an interpretation of it, and it’s a memory I treasure.

Legally Blonde, ADC Theatre, June 2016. I went to see this a few days after I finished my second year university exams, and it was incredible. I had seen the film (once, and I didn’t remember it very well) and I wanted to see something fun and lighthearted to celebrate the end of my exams. I came out grinning (I tried to stop smiling and I literally couldn’t) and I actually started skipping on a deserted path home, I was put in such a good mood by it. (My boyfriend was slightly concerned I’d gone completely mad, but I was just happy.) I think it was the combination of humour, uplifting music, and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but nonetheless unashamed feminism that really made this one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent at the theatre. (Possibly the high from having finished my exams helped too.)

An Evening With An Immigrant, Soho Theatre, July 2016. I saw this on the first night of my first week with Fuel, and I was blown away. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when, on the day I arrived, the team said “Oh, by the way, we’re all headed to the opening of this play we’ve worked on, why don’t you come along?”, but, as you do, I took the opportunity and went along. What I got was somewhere between a TED talk and a slam poetry evening, and it is probably my favourite of this list of favourite memories in theatre. It was raw, true, I cried at the story being told, I cried at the way it was told, and I was left with a lot of thoughts to unravel and process about immigration, racism, multiculturalism. I’ve recommended this production to everyone I’ve met since, and whenever I see that it’s on somewhere, I include it in my monthly theatre recommendations. If you get a chance to see it – I quite sincerely cannot recommend it enough.

The Shakespeare Trilogy, November 2016. I saw this for my dissertation on female actors in contemporary performance of Shakespeare, and I loved it. It was an endurance game (three Shakespeare plays in succession) for me, but even more so for the actors, who I remain in utter awe before: the amount of energy required for each one of those performances, sustained over three consecutive ones was incredible, and they were brilliant. The plays aren’t ones you necessarily correlate (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) but they had a lot to say, and the gutsy feminism of the all female casts was inspiring. As was what they showed about imprisonment. All three plays were set in womens’ prisons, and exploring what theatre can do for women (they were workshopped in real prisons with inmates). I went to sing a Christmas service inside HMP Thameside around the same time, and I thought what was said in the Shakespeare Trilogy about the power of theatre, which I had seen in music, was incredibly powerful. It’s something that has stayed with me, and will continue to beyond the dissertation.

These are the performances that have most marked me and that spring to mind when I think of theatre I’ve been changed by over the years: I started with Shakespeare and musical theatre, both of which I still very much enjoy, which opened the door for wider options which let me think and feel, and ideally which are engaged with society and its questions (be that political issues immigration, imprisonment, or wider, more conceptual questions like the concept of loneliness or how human relationships function).

That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading! Please like the post if you enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear about what kind of theatre you are interested in, and what your most memorable theatre trips have been in the comments! Next week will be a bit different: I’ll be getting quite close to my exams and so have scheduled a quick life update for you all, and then some recommendations for theatre that might just turn out to be one of your most memorable nights are set for the following week! Follow the blog if you haven’t already to make sure you catch those!

Emily xxx

Theatre I Enjoyed in April 2017

Theatre I Enjoyed in April 2017

I didn’t get to all that much theatre in April, but I did see two plays, both of which I really enjoyed!

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, (Harold Pinter Theatre, 6 April)

I went to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter Theatre on 6 April. I was in the £15 restricted view seats, which, for anyone wondering, are definitely worth it if you want to go, but aren’t sure about spending at least double that, for the next cheapest seats… Yes, you can’t see the entire stage in one go, because of the safety barriers, but you can see everything you need to, and more! If you can afford the more expensive seats, they may be worth it, but I would recommend the cheap seats as definitely worth it: £15 for outstanding West End Theatre is a great deal.

For anyone who doesn’t know the play, the premise is a middle aged couple invite a young couple who have just moved to their town around after a party and as the four characters drink more and more they explore their respective relationship struggles and issues with child-bearing/raising. Imelda Staunton plays Martha, the wife in the older couple, and I read a review before going which said that the play was ‘the Imelda Staunton show’. While I can see where they were coming from: she was brilliant, I disagree: every member of the cast shone (including Staunton, obviously, who was wonderful). The play was moving, particularly at the end, which was heartbreaking (I won’t spoil it for you) and hilarious throughout. I particularly enjoyed the long exchange between George (Conleth Hill) and Nick (Luke Treadaway), in which they discussed George’s troubled relationship with his father-in-law and Nick’s marriage to his wife Honey (Imogen Poots).

A Chorus Line (Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield)

I also went to see my brother in Easy Street Elite’s A Chorus Line at the Yellow Arch Studios on the 11th April. My biggest takeaway was that I don’t think much of A Chorus Line as a musical. The plot was essentially a group of adults auditioning for the chorus of a Broadway musical, and behaving like sulky teenagers while doing so. PSA: If you do ever audition for a Broadway show, refusing to dance if you get moved from the front row is a good way to get yourself thrown out of the room, and not how you get the job. That said, the company did the show very well, and the musical does have several very catchy songs, and good numbers! The whole cast were very strong: the singing was fantastic all around, and the dancing was great, particularly considering how many people were moving on a very small stage! I particularly enjoyed Harry Foster-Major’s ‘I can do that’. He apparently learned to tap dance just for this show, and hats off to him: he was a better tap dancer on three months rehearsal than I was after several years of lessons. I also loved Emma Nielsen’s ‘Nothing’ (and in fact her ‘What I did for Love’): she was an outstanding singer, with a great sense of comic timing. I had a good evening, and was really impressed by the performances, but it isn’t a show I’ll go see again.

(Basically, if you’re going to see a friend in it, and their company is good, you’ll enjoy it, and there’s no harm in buying the soundtrack, which is quite good, but, for my taste, if you’re going to see “something” in the West End or elsewhere, and you have a choice of production, I’d chose something else.)

That’s all for this week! Thank you as always for reading, please like the post if you enjoyed it! I’d love to hear if you’ve seen any good theatre this month/if there’s anything you’d recommend: please let me know in the comments. I’ll be back next week with my most memorable visits to the theatre and the best theatre I remember seeing; follow the blog if you haven’t already so you don’t miss it!

Emily xxx

Recommended Theatre for May 2017

Recommended Theatre for May 2017

It’s the last Friday of April, which makes it time for me to recommend things to see in the month ahead! This past month has been an okay one for me, in theatre terms; I’ve seen a couple of really great things (more on that next week) but I’ve mostly been focusing on dissertations (which were due on 25th April) and revision for my final exams (25th, 26th and 31st May). I’m going to see a few things this month, although I’m still focusing on revision and exams: please go see these productions and tell me about them in the comments, so I can live vicariously through you!

For anyone new to the blog – welcome! I post weekly blogs about theatre, on a Friday at 5pm (UK time), and I hope you stick around for more. I tend to recommend theatre in London, Cambridge and Sheffield, because those are the places I spend the most time, and am most aware of what’s going on. If I know of anything else that is good, elsewhere in the UK, or anywhere in the world, I’ll recommend that too. I’m not sponsored (or even contacted) by any of the productions I include: they’re all simply things that I have seen/am planning to see/would go to see if I could! In this post, I tend to recommend 8-10 things (I think more than that makes the post a bit long…) but obviously there are more amazing things going on in the theatre world! If you follow me on twitter, I tweet about everything I see that looks interesting!

Without further ado, here are the things I’m most interested in in May:

In London:

Consent, at the National Theatre til the 17th May. I haven’t managed to see this (I’m still sort of hoping I’ll make it) but it looks phenomenal. You can book tickets here.

– The Barbershop Chronicles, at the National Theatre from the 30th May. I’ll recommend this again next month, but it does, just, come into May’s recommendations too. It’s by Inua Ellams, and produced by Fuel, both of which are a sign that it’ll be fantastic. You can book tickets here.

The Addams Family Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre, 16th-20th May. This musical, setting the Addams family a few years later than the famous comics/films/TV series, sees Wednesday Addams, now 18, fall in love with a normal boy… The couple try to introduce their families, and chaos ensues. (Not a scenario reserved to the kooky Addams clan!) It opened in Edinburgh this week to fantastic reviews and I’m really excited to be going to see it: it’s a hilarious musical, and a great treat to go see it and escape from revision! It’s on a UK tour, rather than in the West End, so it’s not in central London, but I’m getting there on the tube, so I think that totally counts! You can book tickets here.

In Cambridge:

– Bad Jews at the Corpus Playroom from 2nd to 6th May. This looks entertaining and clever. You can book tickets here.

– Love Story at the Corpus Playroom from 9th-13th May. A chamber musical by a BAFTA award winning composer… I’m intrigued and planning to go! You can book tickets here.

– The Merchant of Venice at the ADC Theatre from 16th-20th May. It’s Shakespeare, which is a good start (though I admit it isn’t my favourite of his). The technical aspects of this production sound more complex and impressive than probably anything I’ve seen done in my three years in Cambridge: current plans include 21 tons of water and a self-driving punt… Probably not one to miss! You can book tickets here.

In Sheffield:

Julius Caesar at the Crucible Theatre, on from the 18th May-10th June. I’m going to see this with my family as my 21st birthday present (in early June, unfortunately, so you won’t hear about it until July), that’s how much I want to see this show. I’ve mentioned my dissertation on the role of female actors in contemporary productions of Shakespeare on this blog repeatedly (sidenote. I handed it in this week. It’s officially finished and with the markers. Good vibes/thoughts/prayers are appreciated.) and I’m looking forwards to seeing Zoe Waites playing Cassius, bringing everything I’ve thought and learned about female actors in contemporary Shakespeare to understand it, without having to make notes! You can book tickets here.

Elsewhere:

I’ve mentioned The Addams Family Musical visiting the New Wimbledon theatre in London, but it’s on tour, and it is also going elsewhere… You can book tickets for it in Northampton, 9th-13th May, (at Northampton Royal and Derngate) here, or Canterbury, 23rd-27th May, (at the Canterbury Marlowe) here. (It’s continuing to tour til October, and may end up coming closer to you still: see the full list of venues here, or wait til I recommend them on this blog in the next few months, assuming I like it when I see it!)

My Top Ten Favourite Plays by Female Playwrights

My Top Ten Favourite Plays by Female Playwrights

Plays by female playwrights are performed and published significantly less frequently than those by male playwrights. In the interests of balancing my Top Ten Favourite Plays, which do include some by female playwrights, but not as many as I’d like (ie. half) here are my favourite plays by female playwrights. If you get a chance to read or see them – do it!

10. Aphra Behn, The Rover

I studied this in my second year, and I have so much admiration for Behn that I can’t not include it here. If you’ve never heard of her, you can read the Wikipedia page about her here – we think she’s the first (English) woman to have lived from writing, and she’s just incredible. When you’re quoted in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as someone on whose tomb “all women together” ought to leave flowers, you know you’re doing something right!

9. Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey

You may well have heard of this, and, since I first heard of it, I think there have been at least one performance of it in Sheffield and two in Cambridge, so I hope there’s a way for you to see it, as well as read it.

8. Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Her Naked Skin

A play about the suffragettes, by a brilliant playwright, which premiered at the National Theatre in 2008 – the first play a female playwright to premier on the main stage. What’s not to love?

7. Laura Wade, Posh

I saw this as a student in Cambridge, and was slightly uncomfortably reminded of some of the students I found it more difficult to interact with. Biting satire about Bullingdon-style-all-male clubs at university, it’s clever, sharp, and if you’re a university student, you might find it particularly funny.

6. Bola Agbaje, Gone too Far

To my shame, I haven’t actually seen this, but I’ve read a lot of fantastic things about it, and it won an Olivier, so I think you can rest assured that it’s great writing and a great play. Buy the playtext or go see it if you can: I know I’m going to.

5. Carol Ann Duffy, My Country: A Work in Progress

I haven’t managed seen this yet, either, but I mentioned it in my recommendations for March, and it’s now touring around the UK. Considering different real people’s views on Brexit, it’s one you should definitely try to see if you can.

4. Nina Raine, Tribes

I assistant produced a student production of this last year, and it’s a wonderful, touching and poignant play about family, relationships and hearing. If you get a chance to read it, or better still see a performance, I can’t recommend it enough.

3. Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap

I saw this when it was on tour a few years ago, and it stuck with me: it’s clever, gripping and witty. If you like Christie’s crime novels and you like theatre, this is perfect. If you don’t like one, or the other, try it anyway:  you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

2. Sarah Kane, Blasted

This is very dark, very violent, and very graphic. All that said, it’s also pretty brilliant. I preferred reading to watching it (just a little too graphic to watch for my tastes, though I admire the effect of the graphic nature intellectually).

1. Caryl Churchill, The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution

I’m writing a dissertation focused on this play (and a couple of others) and the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s clever, political, anti-colonial and feminist, and can be read or seen (it was initially written as a radio play: you could try reading it aloud with friends!).

 

That’s all for this week: thank you as always for reading, and I hope one or more of these has caught your eye! Please like this post if you enjoyed it, leave a comment with your favourite play by a female playwright, and follow the blog if you haven’t already done so! I’ll be back next Friday with recommendations for theatre to see in May 2017!

Emily xxx

Theatre I Enjoyed in March 2017

I’m still a week behind my normal posting schedule, after my week’s holiday in the Lake District, so apologies for that, but everything will be back to normal from next week! I didn’t manage to see very much theatre in March 2017, which is a shame, because there were lots are marvellous things I didn’t make it to, in Cambridge and beyond. I did, however, go see two plays: Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 15 March, and How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying at the ADC Theatre on 18 March.

Escaped Alone, Caryl Churchill

If you’re a regular reader, or you know me in real life, you’re probably aware that I’m writing a dissertation about Caryl Churchill, and I’d originally booked to see this because I was considering including Escaped Alone in my analysis. By the time I went to see it, that was no longer the case, so I watched it purely for enjoyment. And enjoy it I did, despite it being, in true Churchill style, a bit weird. The couple sat beside me, and the group sat behind me clearly didn’t enjoy the structure (bitty and fractured) and hadn’t quite worked out that “indoor voices” (ie. speaking not shouting) can still be heard in an otherwise silent theatre, and if you do need to decide whether you want to leave a fifty minute show before the end (spoiler: they didn’t) you need to discuss that really quietly so as not to be heard.

Escaped Alone is a play written by Churchill very recently, which was first performed at the Royal Court in 2016, went to New York, and is now touring the UK. The play flicks between scenes of four women sat in a garden discussing their children, grandchildren, and lives (in shallow and deep ways), and monologues about horrors in the world, described in a surreal and dystopic way. The tra

It is only fifty minutes long, but it was followed by a Q&A session with the cast, discussing the possible meanings of the play, the rehearsal process, and their experience with Churchill.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

I saw How to Succeed with mixed expectations… I discovered the musical on Broadway six years ago, with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role of J. Pierpont Finch (I admit, we went to see it because we’d heard of him, rather than the show) and it was phenomenal. It’s a parody of 1960s business culture, and it’s hilarious. So, in that sense I had high expectations: I’d seen it done just about as well as it could be… But. The reviews for the Cambridge version had been very mixed, with some finding the production not clear enough in its tongue-in-cheek nature, and therefore enormously sexist. I’d also noticed that many members of the cast – including the student playing J. Pierpont Finch – had never been in a large scale musical. Those, in combination, left me a little bit worried…

I didn’t need to worry. The cast were very strong, particularly the men (leads and chorus). Toby Waterworth was fantastic as J. Pierpont Finch: he carried the show wonderfully, and I hope to see more of him on stage! Joe Pieri as Bud Frump was hilarious, as was Stanley Thomas as his uncle JB Bigley. Robert Nicholas was probably the strongest male supporting role (quite an accolade, given the competition) as Twimble/Womper. The women, on the whole, weren’t quite as good as the men, which may have contributed to the reviews which thought the production was sexist: the chorus were good singers, but poorer dancers, and Rachel-Marie Weiss as Rosemary was sweet but less tongue-in-cheek than she could have been. Heather Conder, playing Smitty, was wonderful: witty, and a great singer and dancer.

The set was impressive, as were the costumes, and on the whole the production elements were good. The opening recording of the book went wrong, and there were a couple of slightly late mic balance adjustments, which was a shame (particularly half way through the run), but on the whole it was a fantastic show and I came out of the theatre feeling very happy.

That’s all for this week. Thank you as always for reading: please like the post if you enjoyed it, leave a comment if you saw anything particularly good last month – I’d love to hear about it, and follow the blog if you haven’t already. I’ll be back on Friday next week with a post telling you about my favourite plays by female playwrights!

Emily xxx

 

Recommended Theatre For April 2017

Recommended Theatre For April 2017

Firstly, I apologise for this being a week late, and for the lack of blog post last week: I was on holiday in the Lake District and didn’t get around to uploading it. I hope that you manage to catch these plays this month anyway! (For any new readers, I will only recommend a few of the productions across the UK I think look most interesting, as I don’t want the post to get too long, but if you’re interested in even more, I tweet about all sorts of things I think look interesting. You can follow me on twitter here.)

Without further ado, here are the plays I think look exciting in the places I can get to, and those I can’t…

London:

Consent at The National Theatre. This looks amazing, and I wish that I could get to it. If you can, please enjoy it for me vicariously. (You can book here.)

– Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Howard Pinter Theatre. I had to pick one thing I could afford to see at the theatre in London while I’m there (yesterday, by the time you read this) and this was what came up as being both interesting-looking and affordable (by the time I was looking there was only one affordable ticket for Consent, and I was going with a friend, so this was a second choice, but given the volume of theatre on in London, I think it’s fair to say that second choice, and chosen is a good sign!). I’ll let you know what I thought of it in my round up of April theatre next month, but if you want to make up your own mind, you can book here.

Both these shows are on til mid-May, so you may well see them recommended here again next month, depending on what else is on.

Cambridge:

There isn’t much going on in Cambridge that caught my eye this month – the students are on vacation, so there isn’t much on in the student theatres (although there is a production of The Full Monty by amateur company the Pied Players on next week – from the 11th to the 15th – which you can book for here if that appeals) and nothing on at the Arts Theatre looks particularly interesting. Hopefully I’ll have more to suggest in Cambridge next month!

Sheffield:

Sheffield Theatres also have a little less on than usual, as the Crucible is hosting the World Snooker Championships from the 15th, but the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre is coming from 18th to 22nd April, and is definitely not one to miss if you’re within reach of Sheffield. You can book here!

Also on in Sheffield is Easy Street Elite’s A Chorus Line, on at Yellow Arches Studios, 10th-13th April. I mentioned Easy Street Theatre company a few months ago, when my younger brother played Jean Valjean in their production of Les Miserables last summer (you can read it here) and I’m looking forwards to seeing this one too! You can book here.

Elsewhere:

Edinburgh – The Addams Family Musical UK Tour is opening in Edinburgh, 20th-29th April. This musical was really successful on Broadway, and there are high expectations for the UK Tour: it’s not one to miss, and I’m certainly hoping to catch it (although probably not in Edinburgh, that’s quite far from where I live). You can book here, or browse other venues here (I’ll probably mention them in future blog posts, so you can wait, but if you’d rather book early, you can do that too!).

That’s all for this week – thank you as always for reading: I hope you’ve seen something here that’s caught your eye! If you have any plays you think I’d be interested in seeing, please let me know in the comments – I love hearing recommendations from you all, and I’d also love to hear what you think of any (or all!) of these, if you manage to see them. Apologies again that this was a week late, but I’ll be back next week with a review of theatre I enjoyed in March 2017!

Emily xxx

P.S. I have not been paid/asked/otherwise encouraged by any of these productions to recommend them – they’re simply sincere recommendations of things I thought looked interesting.

My 10 Favourite Plays!

My 10 Favourite Plays!

As many of you will know, I’ve spent the last two and a half years doing an English degree, which I will be finishing in a few months. The watershed of graduation is looming ever closer, and I flit between being so excited to start new opportunities and being terrified of the uncertainty of a basically indefinitely blank canvas ahead of me (until now, everything I’ve started has been a several year, fixed project: five years of school, two years of sixth form, three years of university… while this is the start of “employement until retirement” [I hope!], which is a bit overwhelming at times, but also very exciting). I’m hoping to spend the future contributing to physical plays on real stages, but before I do I thought I’d look over my bookshelves and think about my favourite plays to read. These are not the same as performances I’ve enjoyed of these plays, but specifically plays I’ve enjoyed sitting and reading like novels. Plays are intended for performance, but we publish playtexts, and you get a particular experience reading them, which is different to seeing them performed. I also find I get a particular enjoyment from work I’ve spent time studying, and most of these are plays I’ve studied in an academic context, which I enjoy reading in that light.

Obviously favourite pieces of art change as people change, and I’m sure my favourite plays to read won’t be the same in three years as they are now, but, nearing the end of my degree, these are the plays I most enjoyed reading at the moment.

10. Antigone, Sophocles

I first read a version of this play in my early teens when I read Jean Anouilh’s adaptation, and I then studied it (in translation) for AS-Level Drama and Theatre Studies. I returned to it this year for the Tragedy Paper, and it’s still a very powerful piece of writing. I’ve only read it in translation (I don’t have any Ancient Greek unfortunately) but the translations available show how exciting a piece of writing it is. It leaves you with plenty to think about in terms of prioritising personal/family values versus communal/state ideals, problems which are definitely still at work in society today.

9. Blasted, Sarah Kane

This is dark. Really dark. I read it for the Tragedy Paper, and it’s stayed with me: it’s a brilliant piece of writing and a really thought-provoking play, even if its celebrity came to it by its shocking violence and explicit nature. I actually think I would prefer reading this play to seeing it: I can appreciate the function of the shocking elements on paper, while I might find them almost too much onstage (this is the point of course, but I like being able to think about the other powerful aspects of the play while I experience it).

8. Richard II, William Shakespeare

I can’t talk about plays I’ve loved reading in my degree and not talk about Shakespeare: the Cambridge English course has a whole module dedicated to Shakespeare (he’s the only author in the whole course for whom this is true) and the Tragedy Paper requires consideration of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. I’ve most recently read Richard II in this context: while it is now classified as a history play, it was originally billed as The Tragedie of Kinge Richard the Seconde, and it certainly exhibits many aspects of tragedy. It’s a great play and really worth actually sitting and reading. If you really can’t face reading it, the BBC Hollow Crown filmed version is great.

7. Medea, Euripidies

You’ll be surprised to hear that this is another I read for the Tragedy Paper… It’s a striking play and one which has informed most writing which followed it, directly or indirectly. It’s another I’ve only read in translation, if you can read it in Greek that’s incredible and more power to you for it, but the translations available are usually great and it’s a play well worth spending a few hours on.

6. The Real Inspector Hound, Tom Stoppard

On a more cheerful note, I performed in a version of this in sixth form and its a very clever piece of meta-theatrical melodrama which I love reading to this day: it’s ridiculous, but very funny and lighthearted enough to be a counterweight to some of the heavier reading of my course.

5. Dr Faustus (A Text), Christopher Marlowe

I studied this in A-Level English, and then again every year during my degree. There are two versions of the play (the “A” and “B” texts) and I personally prefer the earlier version, the A text, which doesn’t include a few scenes which I don’t think add much, and contains less censored lines which I think are better than the later versions, although obviously this isn’t a universally agreed idea. I’ve never actually seen a version of it I thought was good (please, for the love of all that is holy, avoid the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor film, which is truly awful) but I love reading it: it’s beautifully constructed and written and very clever.

4. The Seagull, Anton Chekhov

I first discovered this in A-Level Drama and Theatre Studies, and returned to it for the Tragedy Paper. It’s not cheerful (the combination “Chekhov” and “Tragedy Paper” might have hinted that) but it’s striking, haunting and beautiful. Spend some time reading this one slowly, because it’s much more subtle than some of the others listed here.

3. The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution, Caryl Churchill

This is one of the texts I’m focusing on in my dissertation on Churchill and her use of children. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, which discusses the Algerian War of Independence and child abuse and it’s incredibly thought provoking. I will be posting my dissertation about it on this blog in a few months, so you can read more about what I think of it then, but if you have some time to read it, I can’t recommend it enough: it’s short, so won’t take you very long, and it’s time well spent.

2. Seven Jewish Children, Caryl Churchill

This was the text that prompted my dissertation, and I can’t begin to discuss it in just a few lines here. It’s available online here, and will take you about 10 minutes to read, and months to think about and understand.

1. Othello, William Shakespeare

This is my all-time favourite play, to read, to see performed, to think about when I’m daydreaming… It’s phenomenally powerful, insightful, and exciting. I produced a gender-swapped version of it at the ADC Theatre in May 2015, and I’ve studied it for the Tragedy Paper this year, and I still can’t get enough of it. If you haven’t read or seen it, you’re missing out, and you should go read it now. Seriously. Now.

If you’ve enjoyed this, please let me know in the comments, and please let me know if you’d be interested in something similar for favourite productions of plays, or favourite filmed versions of plays. I’m also considering doing something like this specifically for female playwrights: despite being someone who makes an effort to read work by female authors and playwrights, when thinking about work I’ve enjoyed studying so much of it is by male authors that I can’t honestly construct this list with more female playwrights, because I haven’t been able to study more of their works. I’d love to know if that’s something you’d enjoy. Also, if you’re interested in reading about some of my favourite books in various genres you can find them on my fairly regularly updated Reading Recommendations Page.

Thanks as always for reading, and for all your support of this blog. Please like the post if you enjoyed it, and follow the blog if you haven’t already to be updated when I write new posts! I’ll be back next Friday with recommendations for live theatre in April 2017.

Emily xxx