Theatre

Woody Sez

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Until 2 April 2011, Arts Theatre West End, London

Woody Sez could be categorised as a jukebox musical. But, unlike We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia, there's no glitz or glamour. Refreshingly, there are no microphones or belting voices, just the intimate experience of four musicians messing about on a dozen or so instruments and singing through the hard times of the life of Woody Guthrie.

Blood and Gifts

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National Theatre, Until 2 November

J T Rogers's Blood and Gifts was initially presented in shortened form as part of the Tricycle Theatre's The Great Game season and has now been expanded into a full-length production for the National Theatre. Set between 1981 and 1991, the play shows how US and British efforts to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led them to promote, fund and arm Islamic resistance movements within the country. As such, it is a timely reminder of the extent to which the problems that Western imperialism is now facing are of its own creation.

Edinburgh Festival 2010

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It was difficult to miss the Guantanamo installation when arriving at Edinburgh's West End during the festival. Orange-suited figures, hooded and cuffed, were squeezed into various points of St John's Church on Princes Street.

These replicas are regularly joined by orange-suited volunteers. One of the organisers explained that "it was to remind people of Obama's unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo".

Welcome to Thebes

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Writer: Moira Buffini; National Theatre

Moira Buffini's Welcome to Thebes draws its inspiration from two very different sources. She combines ancient Greek mythology with modern politics. Athens becomes a global superpower, with Thebes a wartorn country reminiscent of Liberia. The result is hugely effective. Buffini is not content simply to retell old stories with modern clothes and a few swear words. She uses a mythical setting to tackle issues of race, gender and international relations. In doing so, she has created a compelling piece of political theatre.

Canary

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Writer: Jonathan Harvey; Liverpool Playhouse

Canary charts the experiences of being a gay man in Britain from the 1960s onwards. It takes as its title a quote from gay activist Peter Tatchell who said, "We are the canaries in the mine," the "litmus test of whether a society is democratic and respecting human rights".

It is a tremendously strong play, successfully weaving a history of struggle into the personal stories of four gay men whose lives illustrate the huge changes over the last 40 years.

Off the Endz

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Writer Bola Agbaje; Until 13 March

Bola Agbaje's second play for the Royal Court explores the choices that face David, Kojo and Sharon, childhood friends hardening up to the realities of being 20-somethings trapped in the harsh landscape of inner-city London. This fast-paced and hard-hitting play attempts to shock its audience into the realities of what is often crudely termed "Black Britain" today. Class dynamics soon explode upon the stage.

Theatre round-up 2010

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Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian last month, asked, "Is this a new golden age for British theatre?"

Certainly, the past year has been punctuated by some remarkable plays and the impressive bursts of new theatre writing in 2009 look set to continue this year. Many upcoming plays will directly engage with how the recession is affecting ordinary people.

The Power of Yes

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By David Hare; National Theatre, London until 10 January

A little over a year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank and the resulting economic meltdown, the theatre industry finally seems to be catching up. David Hare's new play is the latest in a spate of new work to take the financial crisis as its subject matter.

Subtitled "A Dramatist Seeks to Understand the Economic Crisis", The Power of Yes is essentially an edited compilation of interviews conducted by the author over the past year with a multitude of people who were at the heart of the crash, and who give their own accounts of what happened.

The Wrestling School

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21st anniversary

Howard Barker is arguably Britain's greatest living dramatist and the author of such extraordinary plays as The Europeans, The Castle, Victory, and The Fence in Its Thousandth Year. His work is, in equal measure, uncompromising, spiritual, erotic, poetic, politically profound, morally ambiguous, bleakly humorous and proudly, defiantly tragic. With one foot in the tragedy of the ancients, and another planted resolutely in modernity, Barker has fashioned his own latter-day tragic theatrical genre, the Theatre of Catastrophe.

Enron

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By Lucy Prebble, Royal Court Theatre, London; Until 7 November

Lucy Prebble's new play at the Royal Court Theatre charts the rise and fall of the Enron corporation, whose spectacular demise in 2001 provided a foretaste of last year's financial crisis.

The story begins with an ambitious young executive, Jeffrey Skilling (Samuel West), introducing Enron employees to a scheme called "mark to market". This is a way for the company to predict the profits it expects to make on future investments, and declare them straight away - effectively making money immediately on transactions that haven't even occurred yet.

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