David Edgar

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Plays by David Edgar

Arthur & George

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Arthur & George is a stage play based on Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-nominated novel of the same name (first published in 2005), itself based on a real-life case in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes) found himself playing detective. The play takes the form of a detective thriller that raises questions about guilt and innocence, identity, nationality and race. It was first performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 19 March 2010 in a coproduction with Nottingham Playhouse.

In 1903, Birmingham solicitor George Edalji was found guilty of a series of brutal attacks on farm animals, known as the Great Wyrley Outrages. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labour. Desperate to prove his innocence, he recruited Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world famous detective Sherlock Holmes, to help solve his mysterious case and win him a pardon.

Edgar restructures Barnes's story. He starts with a meeting between Conan Doyle and Edalji that took place after the latter's prison sentence had been commuted, although his conviction remained intact. Through flashbacks, we learn the details of the case: how Edalji, his Parsee-born vicar father and his Scottish mother had been subjected to a campaign of sustained intimidation. We also learn how the sober, industrious Edalji had been accused of being part of the Great Wyrley gang that brutalised local cattle, and of being the source of the poison-pen letters to his own family. Conan Doyle determines to clear Edalji's name and, assuming the mantle of Sherlock Holmes, uncover the true culprits.

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre production was directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and designed by Ruari Murchison, with Adrian Lukis as Arthur and Chris Nayak as George. Other members of the cast were Richard Attlee, William Beck, Simon Coates, Daniel Crowder, Kirsty Hoiles and Anneika Rose.

The production subsequently transferred to Nottingham Playhouse, with performances there from 22 April 2010.

Daughters of the Revolution

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Daughters of the Revolution is one part of a two-play cycle under the collective title Continental Divide, set against the background of a bitterly fought American governor’s election in an unspecified Pacific-coast state. Daughters of the Revolution centres on characters in the Democrat camp, while the other part, Mothers Against, examines the election from the Republican perspective.

Across the two plays, Edgar explores what has happened to the revolutionary fervour that took hold of both the Right and the Left in the 1960s, and how it has been carried over into the politics of the twenty-first century.

Both plays were jointly commissioned and produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Daughters of the Revolution was first performed in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on 1 March 2003 before transferring to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, with performances from 6 November 2003.

Daughters of the Revolution is an expansive epic theatre play about the diaspora of 1960s student radicals. Michael Bern is a Community College professor about to land a big promotion due to his connections with the Democratic candidate for governor, Rebecca McKeene. As a birthday present his partner, Abby, has tracked down his old FBI file relating to his days as a political activist in the 1970s. This leads him on a mission to find the informer who betrayed his revolutionary cell in 1972. Along the way he meets an ex-Black Panther, an old Marxist turned fervent right-winger, and discovers that his old friend Rebecca may have a dirty little political secret of her own.

The premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival was directed by Tony Taccone and designed by William Bloodgood, with a cast including Terry Layman as Michael Bern.

The play received its UK premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 6 March 2004, with the original American cast directed by Tony Taccone. It subsequently played at the Barbican, London, as part of their BITE Festival, with performances from 20 March 2004.

Destiny

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Other Place in Stratford in September 1976, Destiny transferred to the Aldwych Theatre, London in May 1977 where it received exceptionally high praise from a wide range of critics. The production established David Edgar as a major playwright, one of the most important of the young generation of dramatists to emerge out of the 'portable' theatre movement of the late sixties.

1947. The twilight of Empire in India. Sergeant Turner and his Colonel share a bottle of whisky in reluctant celebration of Independence. 'Do you think Mr Churchill will do anything about it, sir? When the conservatives get back in?'

1976. A bye-election in the West Midlands against the background of an industrial dispute involving Asian labour. A three-cornered fight between Labour, Conservative (candidate: the Colonel's nephew) and the up and coming National Forward party (candidate: Sergeant, now Mr. Turner) – a contest in which the issue of race cuts like a razor through the conventional cosy assumption of British politics, with alarming and prophetic results.

It is impossible to read David Edgar's play without feeling provoked into re-examining one's own political sentiments. Impossible also not to admire the skill with which he has woven so many strands into an authentic, gripping and theatrically effective play of impressive scope and power.

If Only

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar’s If Only is a political drama set around the 2010 UK General Election and its possible consequences for policymaking. It was first performed at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, on 20 June 2013 (previews from 14 June).

The play's first act is set in the spring of 2010, before the General Election that took place on 6 May. The day after the UK’s first ever televised prime ministerial debate, a Labour special adviser (Sam Hunt), a Liberal Democrat staffer (Jo Lambert) and a Tory candidate (Peter Greatorex) are stranded in Malaga airport by a volcanic ash cloud. As they wait for their transport home, they consider their options in the event of a hung parliament.

The second act takes place in a church near Mons in Belgium during the summer of 2014 (hence in the future at the time the play was written and premiered). The three politicians meet again during commemorations for the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. In Britain, the right-wing UKIP (UK Independence Party) is rising and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to shore up his threatened position by co-opting his rivals' policies on immigration and welfare. But one of the three politicians knows something that could change the outcome of the 2015 election, and a series of complex political manoeuvres ensues as each of them seeks to outwit the others.

The Chichester premiere was directed by Angus Jackson and designed by Ruth Sutcliffe. The cast was Jamie Glover, Martin Hutson, Charlotte Lucas and Eve Ponsonby.

The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Albie Sachs walks into his chambers one morning, he feels a hand on his shoulder and soon finds himself surrounded by men in suits. Arrested and imprisoned without trial for speaking out against apartheid law, the young lawyer is held in solitary confinement in a concrete cell without a bunk or a chair, and only the Bible to read. Albie’s refusal to answer the special officers’ questions ensures his continued detainment, as he struggles to retain his convictions, and his sanity, alone in jail.

Based on the real-life figure of Albie Sachs, a South African lawyer, and drawing heavily on his diaries which detail his experience of apartheid in South Africa in the 1960s, this adaptation by David Edgar explores the endurance of the individual against loneliness, oppression and a justice system that is threatened by a growing movement towards emancipation.

The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs was first presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Warehouse Theatre, London, in June 1978.

Mary Barnes

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In 1965, Mary Barnes arrives at Kingsley Hall, the first resident of an alternative treatment centre for mental illness founded by the controversial psychotherapist, R. D. Laing. Having undergone shock therapy and insulin injections for her schizophrenia with little result, it seems unlikely that Mary will ever leave institutional care.

But her life changes when she meets Joseph Berke, her therapist. Encouraged to regress to a childlike state, Mary discovers a way through her madness with the paints and crayons given to her by Berke, creating the fantastic canvasses and drawings which would later bring her fame as an artist.

David Edgar’s play is adapted from Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness, written by Mary Barnes and Joseph Berke. Edgar worked closely with both authors during the writing of this uniquely personal piece which challenges traditional assumptions about the reality of living with and treating mental illness.

Mary Barnes received its world premiere in August 1978 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Studio, before transferring to the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Maydays

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

David Edgar's monumental Maydays dissects the saga of post-war political awakenings, as the many dedicated devotees of the ideals of communism become disillusioned, and dissent. In a play that spans five decades, we see socialists of various dedication and origin – from the apparatchik of the Soviet Union down to the radical university lecturer – each finding that the distance between their conscience and their comrades has become too great to traverse.

Written in the early eighties, Maydays was first presented against a backdrop of many prominent members of the Left abdicating and turning Tory. Edgar writes in his introduction that for Maydays, the "starting point was the insight that the unique thing about the conservative revival of the late seventies was that it was led largely by defectors from the left".

Described by the author as being "about as grand a narrative play as it's possible to be this side of Tamburlaine the Great", Maydays offers a rise-and-fall look at the ideals of communism, and its supporters, from the popular post-war rise of the 40s to the stagnant and jargon-laden demise of the 80s.

Maydays premiered at the Barbican, London, in 1983, in a production by the RSC.

Mothers Against

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

David Edgar's Mothers Against is one part of a two-play cycle under the collective title Continental Divide, set against the background of a bitterly fought American governor’s election in an unspecified Pacific-coast state. Mothers Against examines the Republican campaign, while the other part, Daughters of the Revolution, looks at the same election from the Democrat perspective.

Across the two plays, Edgar explores what has happened to the revolutionary fervour that took hold of both the Right and the Left in the 1960s, and how it has been carried over into the politics of the twenty-first century.

Both plays were jointly commissioned and produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Mothers Against was first performed in The New Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on 1 March 2003 before transferring to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, with performances from 6 November 2003.

Mothers Against takes the form of an intense chamber play as Republican candidate Sheldon Vine prepares at home for a vital televised debate in a gubernatorial race once thought a lost cause for the Republicans, but which is turning into a contest that is too close to call. Ironically, fiscal conservative Sheldon Vine's jump in the polls arises from voter ignorance of his true, relatively liberal position on two interconnected hot-button issues: the shooting of an eco-terrorist by a Latino security guard and 'Proposition 92'. The latter is a loyalty oath that would make it illegal for registered voters to support a group that pursues its ends through force. However, securing the necessary votes to win the election exposes ideological rifts in the campaign team. His handlers struggle to position the candidate on these matters while maintaining his approval ratings, trying as much as they can not to betray the candidate's beliefs. Edgar injects dynastic struggles into this mix as Sheldon's campaign manager and older brother, Mitchell, is resentful of being passed over for the candidacy because of his seeming mismanagement of the family fortune, while Sheldon's daughter, Deborah, may know more than she reveals about the slain eco-terrorist.

The premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival was directed by Tony Taccone and designed by William Bloodgood, with a cast including Bill Geisslinger as Sheldon Vine.

The play received its UK premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 6 March 2004, with the original American cast directed by Tony Taccone. It subsequently played at the Barbican, London, as part of their BITE Festival, with performances from 20 March 2004.

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.

Our Own People

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A workers' strike in a weaving factory leads to a standoff with management. However, what would have once been a straightforward class-struggle is complicated by the fact that the Asian workers have a different set of grievances to the Whites. Strikes are called, denied, deemed official or otherwise, and all the while the people at the lowest economic rung are fighting each other for the scraps handed down from above. Added to this the expected redundancies for all female staff, and what emerges is a complex system of oppression, whose particularities are investigated in a Court of Inquiry brought by the Department of Employment

Edgar writes that Our Own People concerns the breakdown in logic that happens when "people originally committed to the idea that the only division that matters is class are forced to come to terms with the notion that there are other divisions between people as deep and perhaps even more painful".

Based on a fictional conflation of many different real-life strikes and disputes, and with echoes of Hauptmann's The Weavers, Our Own People was first performed at the Half Moon Theatre in 1977.

Copyright © 1987 by David Edgar

Picture of David Edgar

David Edgar is a British playwright and journalist, whose works are known for their strong political content. Edgar began to write in the wake of the student rebellions of 1968. His reputation was established when Destiny (1976), which examines racist and fascist elements in British culture, was performed in a production by the RSC.

His other works include Wreckers (1977), Mary Barnes (1977), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1978), Maydays (1983), That Summer (1987), The Shape of the Table (1990), The Prisoner's Dilemma (2002), Albert Speer (1999), Continental Divide (2003), Playing With Fire (2005), and Testing the Echo (2008). Edgar has also been involved with community theatre projects, most notably A Time to Keep (2007), co-written with Stephanie Dale for community actors in Dorchester.