Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone presents an ordinary scene of four women of a certain age chatting over tea in a suburban garden. Of course not all is as tranquil as it appears, for each of the women harbour dark personal anxieties, and from time to time one of them steps away from the garden to share news with us about apocalyptic disasters that have struck the world. Produced at the Royal Court in 2016, Churchill’s vision of a world overcome by collective disaster has proved to be extraordinarily prophetic. Joining me to explore our first Churchill play is Professor Elaine Aston, author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill.
Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey caused a sensation when it appeared at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1958 because of its frank portrayal of a working-class, single mother and daughter, as well as its bold representations of a mixed-race relationship and a young homosexual as a central character. Delaney sent her first play to the renowned director Joan Littlewood who helped develop it into an historic production which went on to the West End and Broadway. Professor Nadine Holdsworth helps us to explore the enduring power and relevance of the play.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
Garry Essendine is a star of the London stage with an ego and celebrity lifestyle to match. But as he passes forty his excesses threaten to bring down the entire structure of his professional and personal life. Essendine is the thinly disguised alter-ego of playwright and performer Noel Coward, whose tussle with his own fame is the subject of his classic 3-act, 4-door farce Present Laughter. First performed in 1942 with Coward himself as the lead, the play has since attracted a glittering list of stars who could not resist the flamboyant turn, including most recently Andrew Scott in an Olivier award-winning performance at the Old Vic in 2019. Joining me to reexamine Coward’s ‘light comedy’ in the 21st century is theatrical agent and Coward aficionado, Alan Brodie.
One Podcast Two Plays! Carlo Goldoni’s Commedia dell’Arte classic A Servant to Two Masters and Richard Bean’s hilarious update One Man Two Guvnors. We explore all of the ingredients of the original play in the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, as well as how Bean translated these so successfully into his smash hit at the National Theatre. Writer and director Justin Greene joins me to sample this multi-course theatrical banquet. (Commedia afficionados will appreciate the gourmet references!).
The dramatic tragedy of a wife who murders her own two sons in a desperate act of grief and revenge remains as disturbing and deeply moving as when it was written nearly 2,500 years ago. Medea by Euripides is timeless not only because of our fascination with Medea’s horrific crime, but for the poetry of its language, and its unflinching portrayal of a woman all but powerless in a patriarchal world. The play was recently revived at the National Theatre with a stunning performance by Helen McCrory in the title role, which is now available to view on the National Theatre at Home. I’m joined by renowned classical scholar Edith Hall to explore our enduring fascination with Medea.
The main characters in Nina Raine’s play Consent are barristers contesting a brutal rape case. As the case unfolds the lawyers’ marriages come unravelled and they themselves cross the line of honour or even of the law. Consent explores some of the most charged issues of our time: the sources of sexual betrayal and violence, the ambiguities of consent, and the failings of the justice system to account proportionally or sensitively with cases of sexual abuse. I am delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the author of Consent, Nina Raine, and by actor Adam James, who appeared in the National Theatre production in the role of Jake.
Footnotes Volume 2 is a selection of facts and observations culled from the library of information that we’ve compiled to accompany each of the plays in the past ten episodes. These include fascinating bits of trivia as well as more extended exploration of specific aspects of the plays. A smorgasbord of dramatic intelligence befitting of the best kind of Footnote.
Samuel Bailey’s play Shook is set in a young offenders institution, where three young men are taking an unlikely vocational class in parenting skills. The three teenagers are, or are about to be, fathers. Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, and is a funny, sharp, and deeply moving play. I’m delighted to be joined by the play’s author Sam Bailey and by the director of the debut production, Papatango Artistic Director, George Turvey.
Tennessee Williams breakthrough playThe Glass Menagerie is a very personal portrait of Williams’ own flawed family. It first opened on Broadway in March 1945 to rave reviews, it’s box office success catapulting its 34-year old author to fame and fortune. The play is now a standard on educational curricula and theatrical programs, loved for its heart-wrenching portrayal of the hopes and disappointments of its characters, and admired for its theatrical technique and poetic dramatic language.
The play was brilliantly staged in 2013 on Broadway in a production directed by John Tiffany, which was revived in 2017 in London’s West End, and I am absolutely delighted to be joined in this episode by the director himself, John Tiffany, to share his insights into this enduring classic.
It is 2:00 am, and George and Martha have invited a young couple for after-party drinks to their home on a New England university campus. What follows is arguably the most extended and vitriolic marital argument ever staged. Over four hours of drunken skirmishing George and Martha tear strips off each other and their young guests, in a terrifying mix of games playing and truth telling, fuelled by anger, shame, disappointment, hatred and possibly even love. As the hostilities intensify both couples are forced to face unvarnished and difficult truths about themselves and their relationships. This is American playwright Edward Albee’s classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which opened on Broadway in 1962, and was greeted by both moral outrage and critical acclaim. Both types of review contributed to its run-away box-office success, and led to the 1966 Oscar-winning film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Joining me to survey the damage of this blistering marital battle are John Mitchinson and Andy MIller, the co-hosts of the award-winning podcast Backlisted, which as its strap line declares “gives new life to old books”.
It is 1759 in East Anglia. A child has been murdered and a young woman has been convicted to hang for the crime. She ‘pleads her belly’ and a jury of matrons must determine if she is truly with child and thus may escape the gallows. Lucy Kirkwood’s powerful play The Welkin, is an historical thriller and a tense courtroom drama, as well as a vivid representation of the real burdens that women carry in a patriarchal world of any age.
The Welkin premiered at the National Theatre in January 2020 before its run was cruelly cut short by the first Covid lockdown. I’m delighted to be joined by the author herself to talk about her rich new play.
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 curricula. 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.
Photo © Marc Brenner
To explore the enduring relevance of this classic play, we are joined by Dan Rebellato, playwright and Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London.