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BeitragVerfasst: 13.01.2017, 21:11 
Mill overseer & Head of the Berlin Station

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Mit Richard als John Proctor als Bildbeispiel:

Politics on stage
Reporter: Rachel Jessop, first published Fri 13 Jan 2017 16:07

By Abbie Dan

On both sides of the Atlantic, 2016 was a political roller coaster––and it looks like 2017 will have all the twists and turns we knew were coming, plus a few extras we can’t even dream up yet. Someday, the world’s great playwrights will cover these tumultuous years in works that look knowingly back (that old saying about hindsight being 20/20…) and teach future generations about our 21st-Century foibles. Until then, we can all enjoy these Great Political Shows, which might teach us a thing or two about our modern era. History does, after all, repeat itself…

Richard III

Yes, this list is bookended by the Bard. Though not the original political playwright, he was certainly a prolific one, and the history plays teem with scandals, ethical quandaries, and lessons to be learned. Among the most powerful (and popular) of these is Richard III, which, historically, covers the conclusion of the War of the Roses while delving into the nature of evil, the costs of Richard’s pursuit of power, and how the English people––not just those in his immediate circle––suffered under his rule.

Mother Courage and Her Children

Set in the 17th Century’s Thirty Years’ War but written in 1939, Bertold Brecht’s “Mother Courage” is the author’s response to the rise of Nazism in his native Germany, a depiction of the horrific reality of what the Second World War would do to the people of Europe. Mother Courage is a twisted morality play, taking an allegorical look at the personal costs of war while complicating the tropes of morality plays at every turn.

This House

This House transports audiences to the politically turbulent landscape of 1974, in which a hung parliament presides over economic crises and fist fights in parliamentary bars are abound. Votes in the House of Commons are won or lost by the narrowest of margins, and sick MPs are forced through the lobby to register their votes. Stripping the sheen of politics of its gloss and exposing the practical realities of the engine rooms of Westminster, those behind the scenes are brought into the limelight in this strikingly pertinent political drama.

The Crucible

Another play, another allegory––this time, Arthur Miller’s 1953 approach to the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, which stand in for the “witch hunt” for communists undertaken by the American Government in the 1950s and 1960s. Suspicion and fear splinter the seemingly strong moral fabric of Salem, embodied by the tellingly flawed John Proctor, as Abigail Williams’ quest for power and revenge turns the town upside-down. “The Crucible” shows how a conflict built on lies can spread, dismantling civil society.


And now for something a bit more modern and plainly more political: “Frost/Nixon”, Peter Morgan’s 2006 play about the televised interviews that British TV presenter David Frost conducted with former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon in 1977, three years after he resigned from office. This dramatised––and slightly fictionalised––account of the build-up to the interviews and the interviews themselves are a study of ego, public versus private personas, and the power of the media, all deeply relevant in this day and age.

Fiddler On The Roof

A “Fiddler on the Roof”. Sounds crazy, no? But this beloved musical about Tevye the milkman and his family changes from a funny domestic story about small-town characters into a saga of separation and displacement at the hands of an oppressive regime. Perhaps a reminder that while political leaders may exist at a great remove from the average person, the average person remains subject to their leader’s actions. Right? Of course right!

The Audience

A play so contemporary that scenes were edited during the original West End run to keep up with the news, Peter Morgan’s “The Audience”, in its most recent iteration, covers 64 years of British history through the window of the Queen’s weekly audiences with nine of the Prime Ministers who have served during her reign. That window proves to be a unique vantage point for the ups and downs of modern British history, and the stagecraft on display, as the Queen seemingly travels through time and leaps from her twenties to her eighties, has been dazzling in two West End productions and on Broadway. Dame Helen Mirren, who played the Queen collected an Olivier and a Tony for her portrayal of the country’s longest reigning monarch.


Political legacy, personal legacy, the birth (and afterbirth) of a nation, the pursuit of power, behind-the-scenes manipulation and deal-making, a cartoonishly maniacal ruler, international intrigue, and more are all woven into the fabric of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”, and all are relevant in today’s political scene. But that’s not all: Miranda’s score also uses homages to other great political musicals like “1776” and “Les Miserables” to tell A. Ham’s story. Hamilton opens in the West End in October 2017.


Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 tuner is a crash course in all of the attempts (successful and otherwise) at assassinations of U.S. Presidents, presented as a kind of trippy, evil-laced carnival/revue. The individual motivations of each assassin vary, but nearly all of them offer a glimpse at the political and ideological conflicts of his or her era, from slavery to immigration and everything in between.


And finally, perhaps the finest theatrical examination of political ambition, this time in the absence of morality: Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. Macbeth lets his better judgment fall away in the face of the three witches’ prophecies and his wife’s urging, which leads him to murder Duncan and order the murders of Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son to become the king. But Macbeth quickly becomes known as a “tyrant” rather than a “king”, as his violence and paranoia cause his demise.



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BeitragVerfasst: 21.11.2017, 12:05 
Mill overseer & Head of the Berlin Station

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Kurzerwähnung von TC in einem Artikel über den Dufteinsatz in Theateraufführungen:

The spray's the thing: how actors use perfumes to get into character

Playing Thatcher? Dab on Bluebell. Got a part in Hairspray? Reach for the Madame Rochas. We lift the lid on how actors use smells – from the finest fragrances to cheap tinned mackerel – to nail a role

by David Jays

Monday 20 November 2017 06.00 GMT

Before I go on stage, says Michael Ball, I ask myself a question: “Do I smell nice for all the ladies and gentlemen?” The actor chooses a signature scent for each of his roles, from bay rum for the vengeful barber Sweeney Todd to his mum’s favourite Madame Rochas for Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad.

Ball’s not alone in deploying scent to to get beneath a character’s skin. Anne-Marie Duff has a fragrance for each role too. “If ever I smell that perfume on somebody else,” she has said, “it will remind me of a story I’ve told.” Nikki Amuka-Bird, meanwhile, says she “uses aromatherapy oils – lavender for characters with a slow tempo, ylang ylang for sensuous characters”.

But why should an actor fret about something no spectator can share? “The senses are incredibly important,” says Fenella Woolgar, who is playing the tormented heroine Miss Roach in a new adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s wartime novel The Slaves of Solitude. “You think about everything around the character’s physical life, their sensuality. Fragrance is absolutely to do with emotion, so it’s useful to investigate.”

What scent might suit the painfully awkward Miss Roach? “She has lost her parents,” says Woolgar, “so I imagine she might have worn something from her mother. Guerlain, perhaps. Something light for daytime – and Shalimar for the evenings. I can also imagine her making scent mistakes – wearing something like [the sultry] Tabu which isn’t her style, making her feel very self-conscious.”

Woolgar always researches her characters’ ideal fragrance – in particular, for the “cruel, horrid” aristocrat she played in the doxy drama Harlots, set in Georgian London. “People wore civet, musk and ambergris – a waxy substance from the digestive tract of the sperm whale – though fragrance would also have been covering up unpleasant bodily smells.” Her 1950s snob in Welcome Home, Captain Fox! was never without Chanel No 5. “I used to put on an extra squirt before a crucial scene.”

How about Margaret Thatcher, whom Woolgar alarmingly embodied in Moira Buffini’s Handbagged? “Her favourite scent was Bluebell by Penhaligon. That was quite upsetting, because I loved it as a teenager, so in the end I didn’t wear anything.” What did that suggest about the character? “It’s a pretty young girl’s scent, floral. Perhaps it connected with something in her?” There’s something melancholy in the notion of the Iron Lady dabbing a reminder of lost innocence at her pulse points.

Scent memory is part of an actor’s arsenal. Woolgar evokes her heavy-smoking grandfather to conjure the pervasive wartime stench of cigarettes. She also recognises the “sulphurous smell” that would accompany the trauma of Miss Roach’s bombed-out London home. “In my last year at Rada,” she recalls, “my boyfriend and I were in a flat next to the Admiral Duncan.” That was the gay pub targeted by a nail bomber in 1999. “I still remember the sulphurous smell that got in my hair. It really freaked me out.”

The perfumer Sarah McCartney, of retailer 4160Tuesdays, isn’t surprised that smell can help actors. “We’ve been smelling for a lot longer than we’ve been talking,” she says. Smell is about safety, she continues: familiar scents reassure us; unfamiliar ones, or those associated with danger (smoke, decay), put us on high alert. So it makes sense that fragrance might heighten the senses, ignite the imagination.

Lizzie Ostrom, author of Perfume: A Century of Scents, points out that for Experience, a 1915 morality play in New York, the actors were given “different fragrances to help them perform their roles as embodied emotions – lemon for hate, frankincense for passion, patchouli for deceit”.

Yet, unlike most rehearsal exercises, scent-whispering is a largely personal process. Woolgar admits her fellow Solitude actors were bemused by the idea, and was delighted to meet a fellow fragrance-fancier in Zoë Wanamaker on an episode of Inside Number Nine (“she wore Joy, and we agreed that my character would have worn Poison”).

“You do keep it to yourself,” agrees actor Arthur McBain. “But smell for me is very important. Every time I get an audition, I find a smell that starts me thinking.” Preparing to play a homeless man, the vital scent was “an old Costa cup with no coffee left inside. It felt that I was sat outside in the city.” More recently, he wore McCartney’s Evil Max (“thick and spicy”) as a 1960s rock drummer in the ABC miniseries Friday on My Mind.

Some odours only make sense to an individual. Tinned mackerel helped place McBain in the harsh mountain environment of Dunsinane, David Greig’s take on Macbeth. Medieval Scotland was short on tinned fish, but McBain remembered “going camping and climbing mountains with my mum when I was a child. We’d always have tinned mackerel – you’d crack it open and eat it from the tin. John West mackerel fillets in a rich tomato sauce. For me, the smell carries a world of outdoors, of cold and vast landscapes.” He didn’t tuck fish into his costume – that could skew a cast’s camaraderie – but “in my mind’s eye I would open a tin, smell it and go on. It does some of the work for you, but it’s a very personal thing.”

Other performers go even further. The ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson works with a perfumer, sometimes over months, to devise the perfect scent for her roles with the Royal Ballet. “I learn a lot when I work with her,” she once told me. “I talk it all through, from the beginning to the end of the ballet, while she asks many questions. There was a moment in act two of Giselle” – where the heroine appears as a spirit – “which she captured unbelievably. I’d said I wanted to feel like there was a veil or gauze over me, and she did it in scent.”

The unique relationship between scent and psyche is familiar to McCartney who I meet at her west London workshop (a beguiling muddle of bottles, tubs and paper spills, plus a research shelf of pongs peddled by Lady Gaga and the Smurfs). Devising a bespoke fragrance often involves asking clients which smells take them to a happy place. Vanilla is popular, she says – though it reminds Woolgar of the forlorn scented candles she used to bring to cheer up her digs on tour.

McCartney worked with a former drug-dealer, who requested the precise aroma of his previous life: a blend of “marijuana cigars, rum cocktails, hookers, blackouts and regret”. She has scented productions, including Handel’s Acis and Galatea. The opening fragrance summoned cut grass and cucumber, “fresh, green and outdoors”. During the interval, as the plot darkened, she sprayed a muddy, leathery, mossy brew called Foreboding from bottles in the balcony. Currently, her assistant Harry Sherwood is working with the director of a Polish play set in the 1870s, who has requested the smell of sperm to suit its promiscuous patriarch.

Searching for suggestively scented theatrical atmospheres is nothing new. In Scents and Sensibility, her new book on Victorian culture, Catherine Maxwell quotes Oscar Wilde’s plan for mood-enhancing fragrance in Salome. He wanted “in place of an orchestra, braziers of perfume. Think – the scented clouds rising and partly veiling the stage from time to time – a new perfume for each emotion.” It never happened: how could you air the theatre between emotions?

However, Wilde’s fans ensured an aromatic premiere for The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895. Ada Leverson reported that “nearly all the pretty women wore sprays of lilies against their large puffed sleeves, while rows and rows of young elegants had buttonholes of the delicate bloom of lily of the valley.”

Anthony Tudor also sprayed the auditorium with lilac perfume when his ballet Jardin aux Lilas opened in 1936. More recently, Yaël Farber’s production of The Crucible opened by filling the auditorium with the smell of burning sandalwood – appropriately alluring and mysterious.

But is there one smell that sums up the job of acting itself? After taking part in one of McCartney’s productions, McBain asked her to help him create a fragrance redolent of an actor’s life. The resulting scent combined the “woody smell” of long-trodden boards, citrus (“there’s always oranges in a rehearsal room”), red wine and whisky. “And tobacco for the smokers around the entrance.”

The Slaves of Solitude is at Hampstead theatre, London, until 25 November. Box office: 020-7722 9301.



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BeitragVerfasst: 21.11.2017, 16:01 
Percy's naughty little barfly

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Aha. "Lost innocence", soso.

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BeitragVerfasst: 15.03.2018, 20:51 
Mill overseer & Head of the Berlin Station

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Der nachfolgende Artikel verwendet ein Foto von Richard als John Proctor:

The best political plays, from The Crucible to The Jungle – picked by David Hare, James Graham and more

A gripping story of the Calais camp. A caper about media greed. A pair of startling dramas from Caryl Churchill. Leading playwrights choose their favourite political plays

Thu 15 Mar 2018 12.34 GMT
Last modified on Thu 15 Mar 2018 17.33 GMT

David Hare

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson don’t yet have the brawn and brain of Sophie Treadwell or Shakespeare. Nor do they have the acumen of Wallace Shawn, a playwright unsurprised by Donald Trump. But in The Jungle, at the Young Vic, these activists told one of the most important stories of the century.

Why did the camp at Calais have to be destroyed? Why did the governments of Europe’s 750 million inhabitants react with such cruelty and hysteria to the idea of just a million refugees coming to the continent? Do the rich really believe, as matter of long-term policy, that they can live indefinitely in gated communities and keep the poor out? Are they never going to share? How can Theresa May call herself “Christian”? How can anyone still propagate free-market capitalism when they are so opposed to the free movement of people?

Murphy and Robertson have drawn the map for a standoff we know is going to be played out many times over. Whenever you next see the dispossessed abandoned by supposedly civilised governments, whenever you watch well-intentioned volunteers struggle with the problems of trying to help, you’ll say: “Oh, it’s just like The Jungle.” And with Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin directing, the play had welcome artistic significance too. The young audience leant forward, catching an exhilarating whiff of the glory days of British theatre before the cult of style threatened to take its soul away.

James Graham

The hysteria of the mob, the power of a lie, the fallibility of our institutions. These themes are resonant, but The Crucible also taught me that plays can often more effectively address the anxieties of the here and now by returning to the way back when.

Arthur Miller wasn’t the first to come up with this, of course: the Greeks did it; Shakespeare was always at it. In finding a historical equivalent to what was happening around him in the US, Miller’s play leaves the perfunctory plains of literalism behind and elevates itself to the heights of metaphor. In this way it protects itself from the pitfalls of political playwriting – ranting, bias, being too worthy or crusading. It allows us to see our own modern day troubles in context. As John Proctor tells us: “We are only what we always were.”

On the surface it’s not necessarily subtle. The McCarthy hearings in 1950s America were a political witch hunt. Miller went back to a time of hunting witches: Salem, 1690s; a nation trying to find itself. But its execution is poetic, truthful and human. These characters are not ciphers for Miller’s politics but people in pain making impossible decisions, agents in their own demise. Like any of us. Like the US, then and now.

Timberlake Wertenbaker

In an imaginary Guide to Successful Tyrannies, there would be a chapter showing that the best way to crush people is by taking away their language – with that, you eradicate their culture, memory and identity. When slaves were brought from Africa to the US, they lost their many and varied languages. Colonists have always imposed their own languages on the colonised.

Translations by Brian Friel is one of the few plays I know that deals with this. And Friel does it with anger and linguistic beauty. This has one of the most beautiful love scenes ever written (two people who try to communicate in separate languages), permeated by a sense of threat and despair.

The play takes place in 1833, in a “hedge school” in rural County Donegal. A captain and his lieutenant arrive to “map Ireland” and proceed to anglicise or simply rename all local places. What happens when your familiar places are changed and you no longer know where you are? When Bun na hAbhann becomes Burnfoot? Eradicate a language and people may find no other recourse but violence. In the Basque country, where I grew up, the same happened. All local geographical names were replaced by French or Spanish ones. A neighbourhood called Herburua was renamed, in that same amusing way as Burnfoot, Cherchebruit (“Search noise”).

I’m surprised Translations is not revived more often. In its subtle way, it is probably one of the most political plays of the last century.

Anupama Chandrasekhar

Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq, the first Indian play I ever read, is a coruscating portrayal of a madman/genius who was the sultan of Delhi for 25 years in the 14th century. Historically, he was notorious for shifting the capital – and its entire population – from Delhi to Daulatabad and back again to Delhi. His name became a metaphor for a wavering mind and causing endless misery. Also remarkable during his regime was his decision to introduce copper coins instead of silver to regularise currency. In his chaotic sultanate, it elevated counterfeiting into a roaring cottage industry. This is the backdrop of Karnad’s sprawling Shakespearean study of political ambition and betrayal in a region imploding under Hindu-Muslim tensions and a despot’s whimsies.

Karnad’s Tughlaq is a well-read man of ideas burdened with a temper and a boyish desperation to win approval. The play has one of the most thrilling episodes in theatre: an assassination attempt during the Sultan’s prayer. No words. Just the muezzin’s prayer. Karnad wrote the play in Kannada in 1965 when India’s disillusionment with Nehru’s socialism and idealism was at its peak. It is often held up as an allegory for the failed Nehruvian dream. I first read it in the 1990s, during the early chaos surrounding the Babri mosque’s demolition and India’s economic liberalisation, and I found the sociopolitical roiling of the 14th century strangely resonant. I reread it again recently and found premonitions of Trump. It is one of those rare gems that is both of its time and ahead of it.

Ella Hickson

Many plays walk you through modern political debate. You leave the theatre and spend the next weeks passing lines off as your own. But no matter how subversive the conversation, if the form is naturalistic, the argument dialectical and the protagonists – as the genre tends to have them – white, male and middle-aged, then the play is part of the establishment. Caryl Churchill’s Far Away is as mad as it is profound. It features a young girl witnessing her uncle loading a lorry with bloody children, a sequence of hat-making and a war in which the elements of nature turn against each other.

What happens to you as you experience the action is far larger than the sum of these parts. You are watching the unfurling of a huge metaphor for the horror of our times. The abstraction makes the viewer active; you draw your own conclusions, question everything, work hard to see what powers are at play beneath the fabric of the world. These are the faculties we should be applying to our current political moment. Far Away is not a play during which you listen, laugh and go home with soundbites: it teaches you to re-see. We must be aware of the world’s power structures if we stand any chance of changing them.

Jack Thorne

In 1992 I was starting to get interested in politics and I remember so clearly the headline: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”. A newspaper claiming it controlled an entire election, and they were probably right. That headline stained me, but I wouldn’t have a clue how to write about it. James Graham’s Ink examines how that headline was written, or, rather how the paper behind it was made.

A play in two acts about the rebirth of the Sun under Rupert Murdoch, it’s written like a caper. In act one you fall in love – how can these characters destroy the dusty institutions around them? In act two you watch your lover make all the wrong decisions. The caper sours as people and events are increasingly abused.

The play tells the story not through Murdoch but through his editor Larry Lamb, a man who feels he’s never had his voice heard, a man distorted by the greed of competition and the allure of figures, and a man who does the twisting on his very own. In fact, as the caper turns, Murdoch extraordinarily almost becomes a moral voice.

The political plays I love are human and humane portraits rather than polemics, and what sets Ink apart is it manages to humanise an entire publication that has defined my lifetime. It gives context and light to the darkest of places and leaves you feeling slightly dirty. It makes the audience complicit in shaping what the Sun became and leaves you with a better understanding of both the paper and the country we live in.

JT Rogers

I have been haunted by Harold Pinter’s One for the Road since I saw it in 2001. This brief work shows us Nicolas, functionary for an unnamed totalitarian state, interrogating a husband, wife and child. When I sat down to watch it, I didn’t know the play. Twenty minutes later, when the lights came up, I couldn’t get out of my seat.

Pinter himself played Nicolas and his natural menace and charm as an actor made the arbitrary wielding of power that much more terrifying. But it’s his writing that makes the work devastating, and the play pulls you into the spider’s web of state-sponsored political terror. The story is elliptical; the charges against the young family are never spelled out. But as Nicolas sips his booze and pauses his Pinter Pauses, a fear rises in you. One for the Road viscerally conveys what it’s like to be powerless before the state. It pins you with the knowledge that you too would not be heroic if faced with the arbitrary, all-powerful cruelty of a government that wished to bend you to its will. No, you too would be crushed.

I’m full of admiration for the painful gut punch of an ending. The tortured man asks after his son and Nicolas’s casual response is totalitarian might, and every parent’s nightmare, distilled into one line – the political and the personal devastatingly twined.

Ella Carmen Greenhill

A political play has to leave you wanting to change the world. It can’t just be a night out. Lucy Kirkwood’s It Felt Empty When the Heart Went at First But It Is Alright Now is a powerful exploration of sex trafficking. Yet it never feels like issue-based theatre. We meet Dijana, an eastern European woman in her early 20s, who is kept in an east London flat by her boyfriend turned pimp, Babac. He has told her she must work off a £20,000 debt. Her last client is about to come in. Once the debt is cleared, she’ll see her little girl in Brighton and they’ll have chips and swim in the sea together. But you gradually realise she has a skewed idea of her own reality.

Kirkwood shows us how Dijana is failed by her cousin, who essentially sells her to Babac. Then she is failed by Babac. Then again by the government and the criminal justice system, when she ends up in a detention centre. What comes across is that we don’t quite know what to do with people in her situation.

The play was developed with the company Clean Break, which promotes the rehabilitation of women affected by the system. What I love about Kirkwood’s writing is that it’s never preachy. Dijana is simply telling us her story and, as she does, you can see yourself in her. She could be you.

Arinzé Kene

Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman is based on an incident that took place in colonial Nigeria. A horseman, the king’s right‑hand man, is prevented from ritual suicide by a British district officer who isn’t familiar with this tradition. The British get in the way of an old ritual and the play explores mistakes, misunderstandings and miscarriages of justice as it looks at the fractious relationship between Nigeria and its colonial rulers.

I cried when I saw it at the National Theatre in 2009 because that relationship is part of my story, too. During the Biafran war my dad was in the US on a chemistry scholarship. He couldn’t go back to his country because they were killing Igbo people. My mum was in Nigeria where the war was happening. And Soyinka was in Cambridge, in political exile, when he wrote the play. A few months later, I started writing. That play was one of the catalysts that made me realise I had stories to tell.

Conor McPherson

Set in Dublin in 1922, Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock follows the penniless Boyles whose lives are turned upside down when they believe they are about to inherit a fortune. A masterpiece of poetic naturalism, the work’s political punch is delivered by its unflinching depiction of societal dysfunction and poverty. This is a world where families live crammed into rooms in decaying houses.

The comedy and misery are tightly bound together. “Captain” Jack and his buddy Joxer are one of the greatest double acts of modern theatre. Despite his ridiculous self-aggrandisement, the Captain is as mercilessly tossed about on the seas of history as anyone else. His ignorance remains intact while the women pick up the pieces amid the devastation wrought by the men. For all the bleak truth at its core, the play remains a love song to the tenements where O’Casey grew up – and to the spirit of the Dubliners who lived and died in its slums.

James Fritz

Is it responsible to have a child in a world facing environmental catastrophe? That’s the question at the heart of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, a play that both gently pokes fun at middle-class hand-wringing while acknowledging that there is a lot to wring our hands about. Romcom like in structure, it smuggles big themes into a funny, heartbreaking story of two people struggling to stay together while the world falls apart outside.

The reason I love Lungs – it’s the play I’ve returned to and stolen from more than any other – is because Macmillan has thought as carefully about the politics of the play’s form as its content. The playtext contains no stage directions, no settings and no character names. Jumps in time go startlingly unmarked, sometimes occurring mid-line, suggesting a world – and relationship – spinning out of control. Those in the rehearsal room make the play and its ideas their own. Trust is placed in the audience, too, inviting them to accept huge leaps of time and space without recognisable signifiers.

Lungs also alludes to something scarier – the concept of having to do without the things that make us comfortable: lighting, sound, stage directions; air travel, clean air, electricity. This was made explicit in Katie Mitchell and Chloe Lamford’s production at Berlin’s Schaubühne, where the show’s electricity was entirely generated by performers on exercise bikes. Whenever they stopped pedalling, the lights began to fade.

Beth Steel

Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls explores the dynamics of gender and class in Thatcher’s Britain. It’s a potent cocktail, not only because of Churchill’s choice of ingredients but also how she mixes them.

The career-driven Marlene throws a dinner party celebrating her success. The guests include Nijo, a Japanese emperor’s courtesan; Pope Joan and Dull Gret. It’s an audacious opening, visually arresting and meaty: talk of history and religion pings across the table. The sacrifices each of these women made on their remarkable paths haunt the conversation.

Churchill then moves the action to an employment agency (which Marlene now runs) and into naturalism. The extraordinary women of history are gone – instead here are ordinary women who want something more but are trapped. There is an assumption throughout that motherhood limits, if not kills, a woman’s career. The horror of Top Girls is that it was written in 1982 and is still utterly relevant; it is not only high-flyers such as Marlene, unable to “have it all”, who are explored here, but a whole cross section of women in society.

Contemporary working-class voices are hugely underrepresented on the main stages of major British theatres, but here they are central. It is the reason I hold this play so dear. For me, it blew the lid off the social realist box I found working-class experience shut away in. Why are plays about the working-class experience always domestic? Why not exuberantly theatrical? But Churchill does not forego domestic realism entirely. In the last scene of the play, we return to the home, to the sister and child Marlene left behind. It is the most deeply felt scene, filled with a class fury that haunts me. This is what inequality looks like, this is how it limits a life, and this is why its challenges are even greater than those of gender. It is, to quote the last line of the play, frightening.

Beth Steel’s plays include Labyrinth and Wonderland




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