Plays

The Antigone of Sophocles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his book The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, John Willett writes of The Antigone of Sophocles: 'Perhaps two-thirds of the play follows the Hölderlin version, but even here Brecht has largely reshaped the verse so that although much of the sense, many of the images, and even the words themselves are the same as Hölderlin's the cadence is different. Almost indistinguishable in style, his new passages are woven into this. Considerable changes result. A prologue set in Berlin of 1945 shows two sisters whose brother has deserted from the German army and is found hanged: should they risk being seen by the SS cutting his body down? In the play itself Creon becomes a brutal aggressor who has attacked Argos for the sake of its iron ore; Polyneikes deserts in protest against this war which has killed his brother; and Antigone is partly moved by a like disapproval of her uncle's policy.'

The Antigone of Sophocles was conceived as a new experiment in the epic theatre, and is linguistically an extraordinary composition. It was first produced in February 1948.

Born

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Born is a tragic epic for the twenty-first century. In it Edward Bond examines violence and terror in a dehumanised world in the terse and broken language of extreme deprivation.

Peter and Donna and a baby have moved in to a new house. The removal men have broken a mug. Twenty years later, the street is being evacuated, people piled into trucks – Peter and Donna are ejected from the room, one suitcase each. They are afraid for their son Luke, but he puts on a uniform and joins the fighting, asking questions of an ailing and silent world.

Born was first staged at the Avignon Festival in 2006. It is the third play in Bond’s The Paris Pentad (originally called The Colline Tetralogy), preceded by The Crime of the Twenty-First Century and Coffee, and followed by People and Innocence.

The Bundle: or New Narrow Road to the Deep North

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Bundle, or New Narrow Road to the Deep North is a compelling and forceful story exploring the origins and mechanisms of moral concepts through cruel ethical dilemmas.

Like Bond’s Narrow Road to Deep North, the play begins with the discovery of an abandoned child on a riverbank. The poet Basho who is searching for enlightenment protests that he cannot take it with him, so reluctantly the ferryman adopts the child though he can barely afford to feed another person. The play first describes the boy’s upbringing within the social values of his community, before turning to revolution to dissect and rework accepted attitudes and ideologies. The Bundle weaves together lives beset with social injustices and torn by agonizing choices, with the moral force of parable and the scope and depth of epic.

The Bundle was first performed in 1978 at the Warehouse Theatre, London.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. J. Stern, T. Stern, Auden)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version is translated by James and Tania Stern with W. H. Auden.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (trans. McGuinness)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in exile in the United States during the Second World War The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a politically charged, much-revived and complex example of Brecht’s epic theatre.

In a prologue set in Soviet Georgia, a narrator-figure called The Singer introduces the story of choice and sacrifice. The servant girl Grusha sacrifices everything she has to look after an abandoned child, even marrying a dying peasant in order to provide for him. But when the boy’s biological mother attempts to reclaim him, the unruly judge Azdak, one of Brecht’s most vivid creations, calls on the ancient tradition of the chalk circle to resolve the dispute. Brecht subverts an ancient Chinese story (echoed in the Judgement of Solomon) into a parable advocating that resources should go to those best able to make use of them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed in 1948 by students at Northfield, Minnesota in Eric and Maja Bentley’s translation, and has since become one of his most popular works. A morality masterpiece, the play powerfully demonstrates Brecht's pioneering theatrical techniques.

This version by Frank McGuinness was published to coincide with the National Theatre's production which toured the UK in 2007.

Chicken Soup with Barley

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This landmark state-of-the-nation play is a panoramic drama portraying the age-old battle between realism and idealism.

The kettle boils in 1936 as the fascists are marching. Tea is brewed in 1946, with disillusion in the air at the end of the war. In 1956, as rumours spread of Hungarian revolution, the cup is empty. Sarah Khan, an East End Jewish mother, is a feisty political fighter and a staunch communist. Battling against the State and her shirking husband, she desperately tries to keep her family together. Chicken Soup with Barley captures the collapse of an ideology alongside the disintegration of a family.

The play, the first in a trilogy with Roots and I'm Talking about Jerusalem, was first performed at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in 1958.

The Days of the Commune

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Days of the Commune tells the story of the uprising and ultimate failure of the Paris Commune in 1871, a city council in France's capital which based its policies on socialism and proclaimed its right to rule over all of France. It held out for two months of counter-attack by the regular French army before its final defeat in May, 1871.

Brecht's account of the Commune is based on Norwegian playwright Nordahl Grieg's play The Defeat. In his adaptation, Brecht eschews a central protagonist, focusing instead on the Commune as characterised by the people in the street.

Ultimately, as in life, the Commune is defeated. But, as the editors write in their introduction: 'In his interpretation of the Paris Commune Brecht adhered closely to the 'classical' line established by Marx . . . that the outcome of the siege of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War could only have been different if the ruling class had been prepared to align themselves behind the National Guard, but that the French bourgeoisie were terrified at the thought of an armed labour force, and so initiated the betrayal of the French people by its government and the capitulation of Paris.'

The Days of the Commune was first performed in November, 1956, shortly after Brecht's death.

The Dream Collector

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Fin Kennedy’s The Dream Collector is an ensemble play for teenage performers, the fifth developed by Kennedy with his long-term collaborators, Mulberry School for Girls in Shadwell, East London – but this time also involving students from a second local school, St Paul’s Way Trust School in Bow.

It was first performed by Mulberry Theatre Company, as the inaugural production at the Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre, in November 2013, with a parallel premiere production performed at St Paul’s Way Trust School in December 2013.

The play follows a school group who go on a Media Studies trip to an isolated country house which once belonged to a movie pioneer, Charles Somna. Upon arriving, they discover that Somna was responsible for much more than the creation of mere movies – as the inventor of the Somnagraph he had built the world’s first machine for screening your dreams. Once they step through the movie screen and enter the Dreamworld, each of the young friends meets their dream double, the sinister Neverborn.

In an author's note published with the script, Kennedy writes: 'The play has been written for sixteen young actors aged fourteen to sixteen. One group is a ‘Real World’ twenty-first-century group of school students from East London. These eight all have names and individual identities. The other is an ensemble cast of eight who inhabit the ‘Dream World’. They are known as the Neverborn. Their world is like a black-and-white film, and is stylised and movement-based. They bring to life the other cast’s dreams, and share lines as a chorus. Each Real World cast member has a Neverborn who shadows them, and plays them in their dream sequence. This means there needs to be a minimum of eight Neverborn, but there could be more if a larger cast is available.'

The Mulberry Theatre Company production was directed by Shona Davidson and designed by Barbara Fuchs and Afsana Begum. The St Paul’s Way Trust School production was directed by Kelly Jasor.

The Encounter

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Encounter is a play by international theatre company Complicite and its artistic director Simon McBurney, inspired by the novel Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. It was first performed at the Edinburgh International Festival on 8 August 2015, and received its London premiere at the Barbican in February 2016 before embarking on a world tour.

The play is performed by a single actor working with sound technicians to create a range of voices and aural effects conveyed to the audience via headphones. It tells the story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, found himself lost among the people of the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. It was an encounter that was to change his life, as he began to explore, through the indigenous culture in which he was immersed, the limits of human consciousness. The play traces McIntyre’s journey and experiences through a constantly shifting sound world created live on stage in front of the audience.

A 'Note on the Text' in the published script explains that 'During the introduction the audience are asked to put on a set of headphones, which they then wear for the duration of the performance. Everything they hear is through these headphones. The actor uses a range of microphones that can be modified to create the voice of Loren McIntyre and other characters. The actor also creates a variety of live foley sound effects onstage, and uses loop pedals to create exterior soundscapes and the interior worlds of the characters. The performer also plays some sound and audio recordings live through their mobile phone, iPod, and various speakers. All sounds created or played onstage are picked up and relayed to the audience’s headphones through a variety of onstage microphones, one of which is binaural. Other sound is played and mixed live by two operators who in part improvise in reaction to the performer onstage.'

The Complicite production was directed and performed by Simon McBurney, co-directed by Kirsty Housley and designed by Michael Levine, with sound design by Gareth Fry with Pete Malkin.

Enron

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One of the most infamous scandals in financial history became a theatrical epic in Enron, a dazzling exposition of the shadowy mechanisms of economic deceit.

At once a case study and an allegory with continuing importance, the play charts the notorious rise and fall of the company Enron and its founding partners Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Market strategies based on engineering ever-rising stock prices, rather than actual profits, turned the company into an empty shell, a virtual organism balanced on a pin-point of market confidence. Mixing classical tragedy with savage comedy and surreal metaphor, Enron follows a group of flawed men and women in a narrative of greed and loss which reviews the tumultuous 1990s, and the financial chaos which has spilled over into the new century.

Enron premiered at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester in 2009.

Flood, Part I: From The Sea  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One day it starts to rain and no-one knows why. And it doesn't stop. Far out on the North Sea a fisherman raises a girl in his net, miraculously alive from the deep sea. Is she one of the migrants now washing up on English shores? Or someone sent for some higher purpose?
Commissioned by Hull UK City of Culture 2017 this epic and extraordinary collaboration between multi-award-winning artists James Phillips and Slung Low is the culmination of a year-long project. Four parts told across three different mediums, this complete text includes four stunningly written dramas that ask fundamental questions about our future, our communities and our collective responsibilities.

Flood, Part II: Abundance  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

  One day it starts to rain and no-one knows why. And it doesn't stop. Far out on the North Sea a fisherman raises a girl in his net, miraculously alive from the deep sea. Is she one of the migrants now washing up on English shores? Or someone sent for some higher purpose?
Commissioned by Hull UK City of Culture 2017 this epic and extraordinary collaboration between multi-award-winning artists James Phillips and Slung Low is the culmination of a year-long project. Four parts told across three different mediums, this complete text includes four stunningly written dramas that ask fundamental questions about our future, our communities and our collective responsibilities.

Flood, Part IV: New World  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

  One day it starts to rain and no-one knows why. And it doesn't stop. Far out on the North Sea a fisherman raises a girl in his net, miraculously alive from the deep sea. Is she one of the migrants now washing up on English shores? Or someone sent for some higher purpose?
Commissioned by Hull UK City of Culture 2017 this epic and extraordinary collaboration between multi-award-winning artists James Phillips and Slung Low is the culmination of a year-long project. Four parts told across three different mediums, this complete text includes four stunningly written dramas that ask fundamental questions about our future, our communities and our collective responsibilities.

The Genius

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A nuclear physicist runs away from the horrifying consequences of his research in this flinty, electric modern parallel to Brecht’s Life of Galileo.

Brenton’s genius is Leo Lehrer, a brilliant and magnetic American, in academic exile at a rainy English Midlands university because he refused to work for the Pentagon. His inability to confront the moral and ethical implications of his discoveries leave him unable to work, or do anything except get high and sleep with his friend’s wife in the snow.

Then he meets Gilly, a first year mathematics student, who can do the equations he has been trying to hide from: she has worked them out for herself. Together they struggle to deny science’s imperative for progress, and stare in horror at the momentous power which they have articulated.

The Genius was first performed in 1983 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

The Good Person of Szechwan (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht’s famous parable pivots around a moral paradox – that in an unjust society good can only survive by means of evil.

The play opens on three gods, who have come to earth in search of enough good people to justify their existence. They find Shen Teh, a good-hearted and penniless prostitute, and make her a gift that enables her to set up her own business. But her generosity brings ruin and trouble to her small tobacco shop, and she is forced to disguise herself as an invented male cousin, Shui Ta, in order to reclaim her shop from the scroungers and creditors. Shui Ta turns out to be the stern and ruthless counterpoint to Shen Teh, helping her to capitalist success and financially-motivated marriage, but not to happiness.

Through this sharply split personality Brecht points to the impossibility of living anything like a ‘good’ life in a corrupted and persistently exploitative world.

The Good Person of Szechwan was first performed in Zurich in 1943. This version is translated by John Willett.

He Who Says Yes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

He Who Says Yes forms a pair with He Who Says No, relating two different versions of a fable about consenting to a cause. The Boy demands to be taken by his teacher on a dangerous journey into the mountains, so that he can bring back medicine for his ill mother. The teacher acquiesces reluctantly, but when the boy can’t go on, either he or the journey will have to be sacrificed.

The didactic Lehrstücke (or ‘learning-plays’) lie at the heart of Brechtian theatre. Written during 1929 and 1930, years of far-reaching political and economic upheaval in Germany and the period of Brecht’s most sharply Communist works, these short plays show an abrupt rejection of most of the trappings of conventional theatre. The Lehrstücke are spare and highly formalized pieces intended for performance by amateurs, on the principle that the moral and political lessons contained in them can be best taught by participation in the actual production. There is nothing in the drama of this century to match the precision of their language and the economy of their theatrical technique.

He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No were inspired by the Japanese Noh play Taniko. He Who Says Yes was first performed in 1930 at Zentralinstitut für Erziehung und Unterricht, Berlin.

Human Cannon

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Human Cannon is a narrative of class struggle, set in a small village consumed by the fight against Fascism in Spain, a play which swells from resentment against the privileged landowners to blazing revolution.

At the centre are Agustina and her family, who we see in the first scene preparing to bury her nameless child, while her husband explains the violent origins of capitalism. When the war takes over the village and the play, Agustina begins by learning to fire her enemies’ cannon, and ends by herself becoming – through the strength of human will – the most effective weapon in the armoury of revolution.

Human Cannon is a tremendous manifesto of resistance and an unflinching interpretation of the Spanish Civil War.

In the Jungle of Cities

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When lumber dealer Shlink meets book clerk George Garga, they immediately conceive an irrational hatred for each other and declare war between themselves. Their fighting engulfs and eventually destroys their families and the people around them. Depicting fraud, crime, and prostitution in an imagined version of Chicago, Brecht structured In the Jungle of Cities as a boxing match between two men who do not know why they are fighting.

Ever a revisionist, Brecht rewrote In the Jungle of Cities several times in the 1920s, finally settling on this version in 1927. When an earlier version premiered in Berlin, it was interrupted by Nazis in the audience throwing stink bombs and making noise. Brecht’s interest in the collision between the interests of capitalism and the good of the people is already evident in this early work.

Lear

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Edward Bond recasts the story of King Lear into a fundamentally political epic, which reveals the violence endemic in all unjust societies. He exposes corrupted innocence as the core of social morality, and this false morality as a source of the aggressive tension which must ultimately destroy that society.

The despotic Lear is building a vast wall to keep his enemies out of his kingdom, but the betrayal of his two daughters sends the country into civil war. Lear is deposed and tried, while the punishment of those who sheltered him begins a revolutionary uprising against the sisters. The new regime proves a cruel and hypocritical one, and orders that work on Lear’s wall be resumed. Though Lear has now been blinded, he begins to see the suffering of the people and becomes a focus for opposition.

Bond takes names and structures from Shakespeare’s play, but twists them into a brutal new shape that also takes influences from Chekov’s Three Sisters. The play premiered in 1971 at the Royal Court Theatre in London to many shocked reviews.

The Life of Edward II of England

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Based on Christopher Marlowe’s classic play, The Life of Edward II of England dramatizes the life of the king who was deposed and eventually murdered by his wife and her lover. King Edward’s treatment of his favourite courtier, Gaveston, causes discontent among the English nobles, and provokes the Queen’s jealousy. She and her lover, Mortimer, raise an army, intending to put her son on the throne.

Although Brecht used Marlowe’s play as a source, he envisioned Edward II as a challenge to German Shakespearean traditions, which he considered stodgy and middle-class. One of Brecht’s early plays, Edward II contains the beginnings of the playwright’s ‘epic theatre’ style. It premiered at the Kammerspiele in Munich in 1924.

Life of Galileo (Modern Classic)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals.

John Willett's translation is included here, along with the much shorter version translated in Brecht's lifetime by Charles Laughton as an appendix (see 'From the Book'). Also included are Brecht's own copious notes on the play.

Life of Galileo (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by the great Brechtian scholar John Willett.

A Life of Galileo (trans. Ravenhill)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Life of Galileo examines the tension between the pursuit of knowledge and the power of official ideology, and contains one of Brecht’s most human and complex central characters. It was first performed in Zurich in 1943.

The play opens on Galileo, wild with excitement about a new world of scientific upheaval and improvement, teaching his servant’s young son the remarkable theories of Copernicus with the assistance of an apple and a lamp. But his hopes of a general enlightenment are cut short when his heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. Broken by torture, Galileo is forced to publically abjure his theories, and though Galileo’s name is the one we remember today, Brecht’s character does not forgive himself for his betrayal and his new world disappears with his recantation.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of authority, Life of Galileo has few equals. This version is translated by Mark Ravenhill.

The Little Gray Home in the West

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Little Gray Home in the West was a reworking of a 1972 play called The Ballygombeen Bequest which was described by the Guardian as 'a freewheeling Brechtian parable of sickness, colonialism and capitalism in Ireland'.

Chris Megson, in his book Modern British Playwriting: the 1970s described the case succinctly: '7:84's production of The Ballygombeen Bequest by John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy . . . attacked British actions in Northern Ireland and accused the British Army of using torture. The production was halted after legal advice in the final week of its run at the Bush Theatre. The controversy related to a programme note about a real absentee English landlord who was in the process of evicting a tenant and whose contact details were listed in the programme. The landlord issued a writ on the writers in a civil action and the military also complained about the play's content. The case was eventually settled out of court but the company's annual grant was removed.'

A play with songs, and a spoonful of cynicism, The Little Gray Home in the West tells the story of a businessman named Baker-Fortescue who has come to inherit a small estate in the south of Ireland, a place where communications with the locals, and the security of fences, is forever on a knife's edge.

Mother Courage and Her Children (Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Brecht's classic play is here presented with ample scholarly material to aid in the study of this great work.

A chronicle play of the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century, the remarkable Mother Courage follows the armies back and forth across Europe, selling provisions and liquor to both sides from her canteen wagon. As the action of the play progresses, between the years 1624 and 1646, she remains indomitable in her profiteering, refusing to part with her wagon and her livelihood even as she loses her each of her three children to the conflict. The play demonstrates poignantly that those trying to profit from a war cannot escape its costs.

The play is one of the most celebrated examples of Epic Theatre and of Brecht's use of alienation effect to focus attention on the issues of the play, over and above the individual characters. First performed in Switzerland in 1941, it is regarded as one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century and one of the great anti-war plays of all time.

This version is translated by John Willett.

Mother Courage and Her Children (trans. Hare)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A chronicle play of the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century, the remarkable Mother Courage follows the armies back and forth across Europe, selling provisions and liquor to both sides from her canteen wagon. As the action of the play progresses, between the years 1624 and 1646, she remains indomitable in her profiteering, refusing to part with her wagon and her livelihood even as she loses her each of her three children to the conflict. The play demonstrates poignantly that those trying to profit from a war cannot escape its costs.

The play is one of the most celebrated examples of Epic Theatre and of Brecht's use of alienation effect to focus attention on the issues of the play, over and above the individual characters. First performed in Switzerland in 1941, it is regarded as one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century and one of the great anti-war plays of all time.

This version is translated by John Willett.

O Fair Jerusalem

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It’s 1348 and the Black Death is raging throughout England. Fed up with feudal society, William leaves home to earn his living as a free man and is received into a company of players and tricksters. For these men, the plague offers many lucrative opportunities, from acting as the servants of crusading knights whose men-in-waiting have fled to looting from the dead.

It’s also 1948 in David Edgar’s metatheatrical play about humanity’s response to pandemic suffering. A group of actors are rehearsing a morality play about the plague in a bombed-out church. As they assume their parts and death masks, they are transformed into the motley community living six hundred years previously.

Moving between these two ages of pestilence and war, Edgar unifies these two societies struggling with religious and scientific authorities and disillusioned with the idea of a glorious war.

O Fair Jerusalem received its world premiere in May 1975 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Studio.

On the Shore of the Wide World

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set over the course of nine months, On the Shore of the Wide World is an epic play about love, family, Roy Keane and the size of the galaxy.

The play spans three generations of a suffering family. Eighteen-year-old Alex is preparing to introduce his girlfriend Sarah to his parents. His younger brother Christopher is immediately and completely smitten with her. Their parents, Alice and Peter, are unnerved by how quickly Alex has grown up. Peter’s father Charlie is mastering card tricks and keeping his smoking a secret from his long-suffering wife Ellen. Something is about to happen that will change all their lives irrevocably, as the honest scenes of domestic family life melt to reveal a sad picture of disconnection, fragile relationships and missed moments.

On the Shore of the Wide World premiered in 2005 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is an opera chronicling the development and demise of the ‘paradise city’ of Mahagonny in a series of tableaux capturing the baser aspects of human nature.

Three criminals create the city in order to trap money: it is a place of pleasure, where no-one works, everyone drinks, gambles, brawls and visits prostitutes, and all that matters is whether you can pay your way. A hurricane passing dangerously close to the city encourages complete lawlessness and debauchery, and soon the raving, delirious city destroys itself.

A pivotal work in the genesis of Brecht’s theory and practise of epic theatre, it is a classic of the twentieth-century avant-garde and represents his first major collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill. It premiered in Leipzig in 1930 where it provoked a major scandal. This version is translated by Steve Giles.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is an opera chronicling the development and demise of the ‘paradise city’ of Mahagonny in a series of tableaux capturing the baser aspects of human nature.

Three criminals create the city in order to trap money: it is a place of pleasure, where no one works, everyone drinks, gambles, brawls and visits prostitutes, and all that matters is whether you can pay your way. A hurricane passing dangerously close to the city encourages complete lawlessness and debauchery, and soon the raving, delirious city destroys itself.

A pivotal work in the genesis of Brecht’s theory and practise of epic theatre, it is a classic of the twentieth-century avant-garde and represents his first major collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill. It premiered in Leipzig in 1930 where it provoked a major scandal. This version is translated by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

The Romans in Britain

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A tough, vigorous epic, The Romans in Britain looks at imperialism and the conflict of cultures, examining Julius Caesar’s invasion of Celtic Britain, a Saxon invasion of Roman-Celtic Britain, and the British Army in the twentieth-century conflict in Northern Ireland.

As these scenes bleed into one another, Brenton suggests what it might have been like for these people to meet. Three Roman soldiers sexually assault a young druid priest. A lone, wounded Saxon soldier stumbles into a field, a nightmare made real. An army intelligence officer begins to lose his mind in the Irish fields. Brenton’s sinewy vernaculars summon a lost history of cultural collision and oppression, of fear and sorrow.

When first performed in 1980 on the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre, London, there was great controversy concerning the scene in which a male priest is raped by a Roman soldier, with the moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse bringing an unsuccessful court case against the production.

Round Heads and Pointed Heads

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Round Heads and Pointed Heads began as an adaptation of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Commissioned in 1931 by stage and screen director Ludwig Berger, Brecht's ideas about the play soon took the work beyond straight adaptation, incorporating more and more elements of contemporary political satire.

Of the play, Brecht said 'Round Heads and Pointed Heads is a new creative adaptation of the old Italian tale which Shakespeare used in his play Measure for Measure. Many people think that Measure for Measure is the most philosophical of all Shakespeare's works, and it is certainly his most progressive. It demands from those in positions of authority that they shouldn't measure others by standards different from those by which they themselves would be judged. It demonstrates that they ought not to demand of their subjects a moral stance which they cannot adopt themselves. The play Round Heads and Pointed Heads seeks to propose for our own age a progressive stance similar to that which the great poet of humanism proposed for his.'

Round Heads and Pointed Heads tells the story of a racial conflict between two classes of citizens, those with pointed heads and those whose heads are round – both as abnormal as each other – in the fictional town of Luma. Written in the early 1930s, it finally received its premiere in Copenhagen on 4 November 1936, before being published in German in 1938.

Señora Carrar's Rifles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Partly based on John Millington Synge's Riders to the Sea, Señora Carrar's Rifles transposes the Irish play of the early twentieth century to mid-century Andalucia. There, a fisherwoman named Teresa Carrar is trying desperately to maintain a normal life even as the civil war closes in around her; having killed her husband it proposes now to sweep up her two sons as well.

Señora Carrar hopes to insulate her boys from the fighting, believing she can keep her head down, sew nets and send the boats out, and the war need not touch them. But tragedy strikes her eldest on the waves, causing her to rethink her position of non-engagement.

Written as an Aristotelian drama, based on empathy, rather than Brecht's own theories of Epic theatre, Señora Carrar's Rifles is one of Brecht's more immediately accessible plays. It premiered in Paris, 1937, with Brecht's wife Helene Weigel playing the lead.

The Trial of Lucullus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When the Roman general and politician Lucullus dies, we witness his trial by jury, who will decide whether he takes his place among the heroes in the Elysium fields, or whether he shuffles through the shadows in the darkness of Hades' halls.

Allowed to defend himself, Lucullus calls forth witnesses to his great militaristic victories, including conquering the far east for Rome, only for the jury and judge to point out the human loss in each case.

Ultimately, those characteristics in himself that he saw as irrelevant are his only graces, while the greatness he with which he had gilded his reputation is reduced only to the charge sheet which may condemn him.

The Trial of Lucullus was a radio play that was first broadcast on 12 May 1940 from a Berne studio.

After the end of the Second World War, after the atomic bomb had been dropped, the Nuremberg trials had ended , and the Korean War had begun, Brecht revisited this radio play with the aim of rewriting it as an opera. The revised text – which became The Condemnation of Lucullus, with music by Paul Dessau, had many variants to the radio play. These variants are discussed in detail in the introduction to the collection, as well as under Notes and Variants; both of these can be found in the 'From the Book' section below.

Victoria

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A rich epic work, Victoria is a trilogy in one play: three separate but interweaving narratives forming a vast and bold panorama. The same actress plays three women who witness the shifting political and social history of Britain in the twentieth century, their lives shaped by the dramatic events in a rural community on the Scottish coast.

In 1936, a restless Victoria is preparing to emigrate to America. She is eager for her lover Oscar to come with her, but he is caught up in an ideological struggle against the Fascist heir to the local estate.

In 1974, an American geologist named Vicky crashes from the sky into the hillside while Oscar tries to turn the stately home into a college.

And in 1996, the spoilt Victoria lives in a world of environmentalism and smooth PR, and tries to trace her past lives and her heritage.

A joyous, erotic and poetic epic spanning three generations of rich and poor in the Scottish Highlands, Victoria was first performed in 2000 at the Pit, Barbican in London.

In the Poetics Aristotle drew a distinction between tragedy and epic, though conceding that they had much in common. The separateness of the two genres has been acknowledged down the centuries. Linking them is therefore something of a paradox. This originated after the First World War with German radical theatre practitioners who felt that the linear plot and focus on the individual characteristic of Aristotelian dramaturgy were inadequate tools for representing the clash of vast social forces. They also rejected naturalism as providing too limited an angle of vision for revolutionary times.

The term ‘epic theatre’ was coined by the left-wing director Erwin Piscator in the early 1920s. For him, the chief connotation of epic was that of scale, of social dimension. In his work in Berlin – at the Proletarisches Theater, the Volksbühne and particularly in his own house, the Theater am Nollendorfplatz (1927–9) – he sought, often with less than ideal texts, to make the stage respond to the political battles of the moment. He included a good deal of documentary and indeed didactic material in his shows. In order to demonstrate the connection between widely separated events or to provide a historical context for the stage action, he made a bold use of theatrical machinery: lifts, treadmills, multiple stages, even a huge globe that opened up to reveal acting areas inside. In particular, Piscator pioneered the projection of slides and films as an integral part of a stage performance. What mattered, however, was not so much the technical ingenuity of these devices as the social vision they brought to his productions. His commitment to factual drama resurfaced in the final period of his life, when he ran the Freie Volksbühne in West Berlin (1962–6); here he premièred documentary plays by Hochhuth, Kipphardt and Weiss.

Brecht – unlike Piscator not only a director but also, indeed primarily, a playwright and a theorist – appropriated the term ‘epic theatre’ in the mid-1920s. For him, the chief connotation of epic was that of a narrative mode. (In his definitions he drew on and modified from a Marxist perspective the work of Goethe and Schiller, who had collaborated in the 1790s on reformulating Aristotle’s concepts of drama and epic for the modern world.) Brecht’s plays were fictional rather than documentary; they were intended to be models (in the laboratory sense) of human interaction. Their form was non-Aristotelian, i.e. open and structurally closer to Elizabethan drama than to the well-made plays of nineteenth-century bourgeois theatre. Since he wanted his audience to react rationally rather than emotionally, he built his plays on a non-linear storyline, with each scene standing on its own, which often avoided a climax; thus the spectators were denied a catharsis. Brecht introduced the so-called Alienation effect and would employ a number of distancing devices, some borrowed from oriental theatre, such as direct address to the audience; stylized speech, including rhyming, free and blank verse; the insertion of songs in sharp contrast to the surrounding dialogue; a narrator or a chorus; miming and masks. He would expose stage lighting and illuminate the action with bright, untinted light, openly show the source of (live or recorded) music, identify scenes by means of dropped-in or projected captions and use half-tabs (curtains) that only partially concealed scene changes, thus reminding the audience that they were in a theatre.

Towards the end of his life Brecht had come to doubt whether epic theatre was a really useful description; it could be applied too easily to other kinds of non-Aristotelian plays, such as those by Claudel and Thornton Wilder, which had no bearing on social conflict and the class struggle. He was tempted to substitute the term ‘dialectical theatre’ but never found time to evolve a suitable theory.

Epic theatre represents at the same time thematic and technical innovations and a reversion to some pre-naturalist styles of theatre. If it did not bring about the total revolution in the theatre (and elsewhere) that its advocates polemically claimed it would, it did at any rate make a major impact on twentieth-century drama and staging practice.

from George Brandt, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).