I thought I’d take a second to share with you my top 5 plays. It’s very possible that I’ve missed a few important ones and I’ll kick myself later. Maybe I’ll update it to a top 10 at some point. But these are my top 5 plays and for very different reasons. They’ve all strongly influenced both the type of work I like to create and the stories that fascinate me.
Pool (no water)
by Mark Ravenhill
“A famous artist invites her old friends out to her luxurious new home and, for one night only, the group is back together. However, celebrations come to an abrupt end when the host suffers an horrific accident. As the victim lies in a coma, an almost unthinkable plan starts to take shape: could her suffering be their next work of art?”
Now, I’ve never actually seen this play staged. Back when Frantic Assembly staged it I was performing In another play so totally missed out. If it ever comes back round again I’ll be the first in line for a ticket.
I think I’d go as far as to say that this play changed the way I write. It showed me a different style of writing and now my most successful pieces are in this past present tense style. I find it gives me so many options and helps me to achieve a satisfying flow and rhythm to my writing. It really takes story telling back to its purest roots while still giving way to a modern contemporary vibe. God knows where I’d be without this play.
I also love the story. It’s both harrowing and painfully beautiful. It’s the play I wish I’d written myself. In my eyes it’s a totally perfect bit of writing. I can’t comment on how it translates to stage but I can only imagine its pretty spectacular.
Six Characters in Search of an Author
by Rupert Goold and Ben Power
“In Pirandello's modern classic, premiered in Rome in 1921, six strangers turn up in a rehearsal room and demand that their story be acted out by the assembled company. As the actors perform, the increasingly gruesome story becomes frighteningly real. This new version from the mightily successful "Headlong Theatre" updates and recontextualises it into a dark parable for a media-obsessed age and an exhilarating exploration what we call 'reality' in the 21st century.”
This play is, of course, a fascinating read. It takes a classic and updates it in such a smart way. But the main reason this one’s here is for how it was staged. The 2008 Chichester festival theatre production transferred to the west end before going on a national tour and, although I don’t think audiences were quite ready for it, it was some of the most ingenious staging I’ve ever seen. This was the first production I probably saw where projection was used in a really modern and classy way. Sound too was an immersive experience and the whole thing was summed up by the lasting image of a child, face down in a giant fish tank while the whole rest of the stage crackles with TV static.
It was so haunting and affronting I think it actually took me about three days to decide if I even liked it or not. Needless to say, the conclusion was yes I did and I ended up going back to see it again. It seems a crime that this production wasn’t documented better as it really was an amazing feat of concept and design. As far as I can see, this was the production that showed the theatre world how to use projection properly which, In my opinion, ultimately lead to shows like Curious Incident having such an impressive design and wowing audiences all over the world. But six characters did it first and did it better.
by J.T Rogers
“Seizing the opportunity to research a book, Jack Exley uproots his family from Illinois to Rwanda in early 1994. As Jack involves himself in the local politics, he discovers a pattern of brutality and beliefs that jeopardizes the lives of everyone around him. This is a gripping story of a country on the brink of genocide.”
This play showed me just how powerful political theatre can be. When I left this show I was physically shaking and I’ve never been affected by a play like that either before or since.
I was pretty put out to discover that the majority of my drama class at the time, including our teacher, found it boring. There were some long scenes in this play, but that’s what worked so well. Perfectly crafted, measured dialogue that at a moment’s notice could be destroyed and give way to a total assault on your senses. The Overwhelming took the feel of its setting and transferred it to the audience in quite a genius way. You could never relax because you were never safe from the danger within the story.
This is what political theatre should be. It should inform you both intellectually and emotionally.
Angels in America
by Tony Kushner
“America in the mid-1980s. In the midst of the AIDS crisis and a conservative Reagan administration, New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell.”
Arguably the most famous of all the plays on my list and probably the most famous piece of gay theatre ever, Angels in America is in a word… epic. Spanning two full length plays, Angels is America tackles massive issues like AIDS and Religion without ever feeling self-important or preachy. It’s another one that really has to be seen or read to be appreciated but there’s a lightness of touch to it that is hard to find. It’s never dull and has a wonderful balance between the fantastical and the pedestrian. Angels in America really is a classic and a total masterpiece. I can’t wait to see it at the National this year!
by Martin McDonagh
“A writer in a totalitarian state is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of child-murders that are happening in his town.”
By this point, if you didn’t know it already, you’ve probably realised that my taste lean pretty clearly towards darker themes and stories. The Pillowman perfectly sums up my love of the dark and twisted. This play is not only expertly crafted but also delightfully sick and imaginative.
Featuring several nightmarish children’s stories, if you can see past all the darkness, there’s a strong core and message to this piece. It’s not just shocking for the sake of it. This show manages to delve into some really dark places while still absolutely keeping its integrity. I don’t really know what else to say about it apart from that I thoroughly recommend giving it a read.
So that’s a little overview of some of the plays I love. If you have any recommendations of your own, please let me know because I’m always looking for the next show that’s going to take my breath away.