The Play Podcast is a podcast dedicated to exploring the greatest new and classic plays. In each episode we choose a single play to talk about in depth with our expert guest. We discuss the play’s origins, its themes, characters, structure and impact. For us the play is the thing.
It is September 1941. German physicist Werner Heisenberg is visiting his friend and former colleague, Danish physicist Niels Bohr at his home in Copenhagen. Denmark is occupied by the Third Reich, and both men are under surveillance by the Gestapo. What is the purpose of their meeting at this charged time? Did they confer about the potential to build weapons based on the emerging knowledge of nuclear fission? Did Heisenberg wish to warn Bohr about the growing threat to Danish Jews? These questions and more are explored in Michael Frayn’s absorbing play Copenhagen. I’m delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the playwright himself.
John Webster’s 400-year-old play The Duchess of Malfi is a potboiler of courtly love, intrigue and murder. It has endured not just for its bloody plot, but for its poetic language and the indomitable character of its protagonist. The Duchess remains a female paradigm for a patriarchal world. Joining us to explore this classic anew is Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, an expert on early modern drama.
David Mamet’s play Oleanna about the abuse of patriarchal power caused intense controversy and divided audiences when it was first produced in 1992. It is now being revived at the Theatre Royal Bath. How will we see the sensitive issues it raises differently nearly 30 years on in the light of the #MeToo movement? The acclaimed director of this new production, Lucy Bailey, joins me to explore this explosive work.
Note: this episode contains some strong language.
Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner c Simon Annand
Florian Zeller’s disturbing and moving play The Father presents a piercing portrait of a family living with dementia. Anyone who has witnessed the cruel effects of the disease will recognise painful truths in the play, and everyone will be unsettled by its inventive dramatic form. The Father premiered in Bath in 2014 before award-winning runs in London and on Broadway. It has now also been made into a feature film with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman due for UK release in January 2021. I’m delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the renowned playwright and screenwriter Sir Christopher Hampton, who translated the original play and co-wrote the film’s screenplay
Winsome Pinnock’s powerful new play Rockets and Blue Lights explores the continuing legacy of the slave trade by allowing the lost voices of the past to merge into our current re-examination of history and black identity. The play won the 2019 Alfred Fagon Award and was in preview at the Manchester Royal Exchange earlier in 2020 when the Covid pandemic cruelly closed our theatres. I’m especially honoured during Black History Month to talk with Winsome Pinnock about her wonderful play.
Photo: Wendell Pierce as Willy Loman at the Young Vic (c. Brinkoff Mogenburg)
Arthur Miller’s portrait of an ordinary American family in post-war Brooklyn has become an enduring presence on stages around the world and in educational curriculums. The splintering of the Loman family became emblematic of the personal costs and challenges of the American Dream, but Miller’s play has also remained popular and relevant because of its innovative form and emotional power. We’re delighted to be joined by Dr Stephen Marino, founding editor of The Arthur Miller Journal to explore this dramatic classic.
This episode is a recorded ragbag of selected extra Footnotes that we’ve compiled during the research and conversations from our first eleven episodes. You’ll hear trivial titbits of information in the best tradition of footnotes, as well as pithy observations on all of the plays that we’ve covered so far.
Photo: Johan Persson
In David Eldridge’s wonderful two-hander we eavesdrop on a funny, poignant and potentially life-changing date between two people whose lives have not yet turned out as hope or promised. The playwright himself joins us to share with us where the play came from and review how the date unfolds
Photo: Marc Brenner
Mike Bartlett’s major new play Albion is a funny and moving portrait of an individual family coping with grief and life’s big challenges, as well as a reflection on issues consuming the nation at the height of the Brexit debate. Joining us to review the reverberations of this rich play are the two leading players in its recent Almeida production: Victoria Hamilton and Nicholas Rowe.
Nigel Slater’s Toast is an innovative dramatisation of the award-winning memoir of the same name, that described the life-changing events of the author’s childhood through his nostalgic diary of his favourite foods. Henry Filloux-Bennett’s funny and heart-warming play not only brings food to life in the theatre, it tells the inspiring story of a young boy who has the courage to follow his own recipe in life.
The two authors of Nigel Slater’s Toast, Henry Filloux-Bennett and Nigel Slater himself, join us to share the unlikely story of how a catalogue of childhood foods became a hit play.
Terence Rattigan’s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea was written off for more than 30 years as a dated melodrama until a landmark production at the Almeida in 1993 led to its reappraisal as a “modern classic”. The National Theatre at Home will broadcast their production starring Helen McCrory in the lead role as from 9th of July, and on the same day we will delve into the play in conversation with Dan Rebellato, the series editor of Rattigan’s plays for specialist drama publisher Nick Hern.
Photograph: Helen Maybanks
A young couple navigate the age-old debate of whether or when to embark on having a baby. They are naturally worried about their personal responsibilities, but most topically they are also concerned about the impact that their adding to the global population will have on the world’s climate and future.
Duncan Macmillan’s award-winning play written in 2011, was revived at the Old Vic in 2019 with Claire Foy and Matt Smith conducting the debate. They will shortly reprise their roles via the Old Vic’s innovative in Camera live stream for a limited run from 26th June. Joining us to review the ongoing debate is George Spender, former editorial director at Oberon Books who publish Lungs and the playwright’s other plays.
Pinter’s modern classic dissects the dynamics of betrayal in marriage, friendship and work. The ambiguities of the adulterous affair that is the core of the play are made all the more unsettling by the innovative chronology of the narrative: the play famously opens with the end of the affair and works backwards to its inception.
Joining us to mine the depths of Pinter’s compressed masterpiece is Mark Taylor-Batty, senior lecturer in Theatre Studies at the University of Leeds and author of The Theatre of Harold Pinter (Bloomsbury 2014).
Photo © Manuel Harlan
From the dramatic opening shipwreck on an “isle full of noises, sounds and sweet airs”, Shakespeare’s late masterpiece is a magical play. Join us as actor Tim McMullan shares his personal insights from his acclaimed performance as the magician Prospero at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Globe in 2016, just one of Tim’s many outstanding Shakespearean roles.
Eight months after the disaster that killed 144 people in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan in October 1966, a group of bereaved mothers gather in a local hotel for a demonstration of beauty tips by a rep from the Revlon cosmetics company. The Revlon Girl premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017, followed by a run at the Park Theatre in London, where it won the Off West-End Award for Best New Play. We’re joined by the play’s author, Neil Anthony Docking, to talk about his heartrending and funny play.
Photo © Manuel Harlan
Following the recent revival at the Old Vic in London starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming. we explore the method, meaning and impact of Beckett’s startlingly original play with Beckett expert, Dr Matthew McFrederick, Lecturer in Theatre at the University of Reading.
To coincide with Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of the Chekhov classic, and its West End run, we talk with his publisher Nick Hern.
The Footnotes to our episode on Copenhagen include more on the atomic metaphors that resonate through the play, the drama that played out at Farm Hall country house in 1945, and the darkness of Elsinore.
The Footnotes to our episode on The Duchess of Malfi include John Webster and the business of funerals, visions of the afterlife in the play, and our favourite metaphors in Webster’s metaphysical verse.
The Footnotes to our episode on Oleanna include a clue to the arcane title of the play, a reminder of one of the real-life sources of the play’s gender politics, and how the theatre may reflect our national sub-conscious.
Our brief Footnotes to our episode on The Father expand on the subjects of the changing set in the play, and the significance of Andre’s watch.
The Footnotes to our Rockets and Blue Lights episode explore the Turner paintings that partly inspired the play, the Zong massacre that inspired Turner, the ghosts that haunt the play, and the litany of victims that Thomas pays tribute to in his closing speech.
The Footnotes to our Death of a Salesman episode cover the title of the play, the real life salesman in Miller’s family, why Happy likes bowling, more on fathers and sons and the fluid form of the play, and Willy’s pastoral dream.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …
Your host …
I’m Douglas Schatz, founder and presenter of The Play Podcast.
I had the great privilege to work for a number of years as the Managing Director of Samuel French, the renowned play publishers and theatrical licensing agent. I was lucky enough to be able to read plays and go the theatre and call it work. One of the most rewarding parts of my job was the time spent talking in depth with writers, directors, agents, and colleagues about plays. We talked endlessly about plays.
The idea for The Play Podcast is to continue those conversations. To talk in more depth about a play than you will find in the reviews of a single production. To look at the origins of the play, its plot, themes, characters, and structure. To consider it in the context of the playwright’s life and times, its place in the dramatic canon, and its current and enduring relevance.
Each episode focuses on a single play, or perhaps very occasionally two, to talk about for up to an hour with one or more of our expert guests. We will often choose a play that is live on stage somewhere in the UK, which gives us and listeners the added opportunity to see and review a current production. This is not a review show though, because we are interested in the play itself. We want you to enjoy listening whether or not you are able to see a particular production, and whenever you find us.
Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com with your comments on our conversations, and with suggestions about plays that you recommend that we could explore on the podcast.
You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at email@example.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).