Playwright Tony Kushner is having a resurgence in London, and there could not be a better time for it.
Last autumn his play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, astounded audiences at the Hampstead Theatre. Now comes a stunning, star-studded production of his seven and a half hour magnum opus Angels in America at the National Theatre.
Georg Büchner is somewhat of an enigma. Dying at age 23, in exile in Zürich for writing a revolutionary pamphlet, he created only three major works. Unfinished, the play Woyzeck was not performed until 1913, one hundred years after his birth. Yet it is said that had he lived he would have been the equal of the great heroes of German literature, Goethe and Schiller. Although he was influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Babeuf and Saint-Simon, he was so important a figure in German cultural identity that the Nazis did not burn his works.
The Paris Commune is one of the most exciting and enlightening periods of working class history. The Parisian working class took the city from the ruling elites and ran things for themselves for 72 days. All social questions were dealt with by the Commune, including justice, food and housing.
New Nigerians is a rather timely, cynical satire about the state of Nigerian politics. The main protagonist, Greatness Ogholi, is the presidential candidate of the People’s Revolutionary Party. We first meet him giving a rather bombastic quasi-Fanonian speech about the ills that plague the nation and how only he, “the man of integrity”, can bring change. We soon learn that “Greatness” is not great and he is far from being “a man of integrity”.
The Berlin Wall has fallen, offering the chance to do what has so far proved impossible. That is how Norwegian sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen (played by Toby Stephens) argues the case to go ahead with the secret talks that resulted in the Oslo Accord of 1993 and the famous handshake between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House.
This play, written by Maxim Gorky in 1902, was widely produced across Europe and made Gorky’s reputation as the father of socialist realist writing.
Gorky experienced the vicissitudes of life. He lost his father at five years old and ended up living in his grandfather’s house where everyone was “choked by a fog of mutual hostility”. After his mother died he was kicked out and left to fend for himself aged eleven. He spent five years wandering across Russia.
Sam Shepard’s important 1978 Pulitzer Prize winning play is often said to belong to the American gothic tradition. Hidden horror is flagged in the title but there are deeper myths at work here.
Ostensibly this is a play about a family, its failings and its possible renewal. The story is of Dodge, the patriarch here played by Ed Harris, and the matriarchal Halie, his abusive wife, played by Amy Madigan.
Harris brings a powerful American naturalness to the part and plays the comedy of old age brilliantly in this initially realist production.
This is a hard hitting, often quick witted and thought-provoking production. A play with the title “Oil” interested me. That it managed to span the arrival of kerosene in the 1800s all the way to a post-apocalyptic future, while taking in questions of race, gender, class, colonialism and family relationships, left me mind-blown. If you are planning on going to see the play — and I would recommend you do — it might be best to stop reading now. The less you know what to expect the better.