Theatre

The Entertainer

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I went to see this production with low expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Entertainer is quite possibly the most overhyped play in modern theatre. While a comparable play of genuine originality and power like Trevor Griffiths’ The Comedians is rarely performed, this shallow threnody for the British Empire is regularly revived and regularly discussed in academia as one of the great plays.

The Plough and the Stars

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This production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough And The Stars, written in 1926, marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

The action in the first two acts takes place in November 1915 and the final two are set during Easter week 1916, with the uprising as the backdrop. The mood of the play changes with the shifting time. The opening scenes have a lighthearted humour that is absent in the final tragic and heartrending moments.

The Threepenny Opera

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“Food first, morals later” declares Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in the shattering second act finale of Bertolt Brecht’s musical play, a satire of bourgeois ethics. Brecht shows us the would-be bosses grubbing and grasping for every penny in order to rise out of the poverty of the mass.

The story, told with the help of a swirling polyphonic score from Kurt Weill, was the first great example of a new genre, musical theatre. Written in 1928, it is based on The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay’s 1728 parody of Handel’s operas, and it was Brecht and Weill’s first big success.

Stories from the street

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John Godber’s plays about working class people have been popular for many years. After attending a secondary modern school and becoming a drama teacher, he ran Hull Truck Theatre Company for 20 years. He spoke to Dave Gilchrist about his new play, Shafted, which deals with the continued fallout from the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85.

Why produce a play about the Miners’ Strike 30 years after the dispute?

I’m from a mining family and it was too raw at the time to write about the strike. My dad is 85 and still whenever we talk about the strike he starts banging the table and wanting to punch somebody.

We often hear about the “Northern Powerhouse”. I’ve not worked out where that is yet. I try to live in the real world and what I see are zero hours contracts, containerisation, large distribution warehouses and the demise of industry.

The Maids

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This 1947 play by French playwright Jean Genet comes to London’s West End in a new version for the Jamie Lloyd Company. The all-star cast features Uzo Aduba (best known for her role in US TV comedy Orange is the New Black), Zawe Ashton (Fresh Meat) and Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey).

Waste

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There have been rave reviews in the Guardian and largely positive noises from the rest of the press for the new National Theatre production of Henry Granville-Barker’s Waste.

The play has at its heart a debate about a bill to secure the disestablishment of the Church of England and an attempt by the Tories to form a coalition government. Given recent political history you can see how this might be appealing. We see tensions between sections of the ruling class and the old power of the church. “How’s the wretched capitalist to live?” complains one of the politicians.

A Room with a Stew

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“Are there any jokes? No,” says Stewart Lee midway through his new show A Room with a Stew, and he’s telling the truth. There aren’t any jokes as such.

But there is surreal, vivid imagery that emerges often from nowhere as it builds, layer upon layer, through exquisitely tortuous repetition.

References to Brechtian alienation share the bill with a variety of tales of childhood urination.

It’s awkward, self-referential and self-consciously arrogant and, because of rather than despite these traits, it’s brilliant.

The Hook: a real contender

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This is in so many ways a remarkable and important play. It is after all a world premiere of a major play, staged to mark the centenary of Arthur Miller, one of the great playwrights of the last century. It is also Miller’s most directly political script from his early career.

Miller and Elia Kazan (two of the tyros of left wing American theatre) became interested in the matted politics of New York dockland in the late 1940s.

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