In-yer-face theatre


Butterfly Kiss

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Butterfly Kiss unfolds the story of Lily Ross’s life – and her crime – through oblique, shifting and mesmeric scenes, her interlaced memories revealing the psychosexual tangle of her childhood and the events that led up to her trial.

From her jail cell, Lily summons up her past: a vivid collage of cross-fades and flashbacks, which reveals aspects of her experience cumulatively, not chronologically. At the age of fourteen, her father, a lepidopterist, sets her up as a girlfriend for his ex-Marine buddy. A relationship blossoms with Martha, a woman she meets in a bar. Her grandmother forces her to watch her father and mother together. She runs after her father on his way to visit her mother, who is in hospital with hypochondria. Lily’s relationships are spikily chronicled in hard-edged scenes, all leading in an impossible multiplicity of ways to the terrible truth of what she has done to her mother.

Butterfly Kiss was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 1994.

The Censor

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shirley Fontaine, director, visionary, pornographer, meets with Frank, a censor whose job it is to decide what cuts would make her latest work acceptable for general release. On the face of it, her film is comprised solely of a litany of sex scenes: but, in a series of tête-à-têtes, she attempts to make the timid and tentative Frank see the arc of a relationship in her movie, one she believes to be an important record of sex as communication, and, more importantly, a work of art.

First performed at the Red Room, before a West End transfer to the Royal Court at the Duke of York’s, Anthony Neilson’s controversial play tells a tender tale in graphic scenes, challenging the audience to see beyond the images themselves, to a deeper truth, about interaction, honesty and affection.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Citizenship is a bittersweet one-act comedy about growing up, following a boy's frank and messy search to discover his sexual identity.

Tom dreams of being kissed, but he’s not sure whether by a man or by a woman, and he feels he should choose pretty quickly. His friends’ homophobic teasing and interrogations about what he did with his friend Amy the other night leave Tom no space to make up his mind, and he’s got no one to ask for advice, except maybe people on the internet.

Citizenship captures adolescent confusion with a witty and sensitive charm, crackling with humorous and authentic dialogue.

Ravenhill’s play was developed as part of the National Theatre Connections 2005 Programme and premiered in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre, London.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The war is raging, Dea, a heroine, has committed a terrible act and has been exiled. When she meets someone from her past, she is forcefully confronted by the broken society that drove her to commit her crimes. Edward Bond takes from the Greek and Jacobean drama the fundamental classical problems of the family and war to vividly picture our collapsing society.

Death and Dancing

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In a spiky, angry duologue between ‘She’ and ‘He’, Dowie interrogates the labels with which society constricts everyone – gay, lesbian, straight, man, woman.

‘He’ has come over from America to study at a London University, and is out and proud, but he might fancy ‘She’ a bit. Particularly when ‘She’ is wearing a leather jacket, and making him wear a dress, because ‘She’ is determined to be anything she wanted to be, and wants to show him that you don’t have to be feminine or be masculine or wear a costume or buy a suit. Death and Dancing is about two people going dancing and the social categories of sexuality which try to pin them down.

Death and Dancing was first presented in 1992 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Drag Act

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Drag Act is a proud and punchy monologue spoken by Rose, a fifty-two year old lesbian who can’t stand being told how she should dress. She was told by her mother that she should be more girly and feminine, and now she finds she’s being told that she’s letting down ‘the Cause’ by wearing trousers; she’s sick of people thinking she’s trying to be a man. So she’s reluctant when her new younger girlfriend Sarah insists they go to a drag club for her birthday, until she realises that among the sequins and the feathers are people just like her.

Drag Act was first presented in 1993 at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.

The Fastest Clock in the Universe

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In a strange room in East London the party preparations are under way. Everything has been planned to the last detail. Surely nothing can go wrong? After all, there’s the specially made birthday cake, the specially written cards, the specially chosen guest of honour . . . and a very, very sharp knife.

Philip Ridley’s edgy and provocative drama caused a sensation when it premiered at Hampstead Theatre in 1992, winning the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Newcomer to the Stage and the Meyer Whitworth Prize. It is now regarded as a contemporary classic.

The Fastest Clock in the Universe was revived at Hampstead Theatre on 17 September 2009.

Five Kinds of Silence

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Harrowing and claustrophobic, Five Kinds of Silence describes the sickening abuse inflicted by a father upon his wife and daughters.

Janet and Susan have just shot Billy, their father. The appalling grip he has on their lives means that they can’t quite believe that he is dead, and his ghost haunts the stage spitting sharp poetry and insults and dark delight. Billy’s commentary on his past shows how a pattern of childhood abuse led to him abusing his own family, creating a psychological prison which none of them can escape from. As psychiatrists and detectives interview the sisters and their mother in order to build a case for their defence, they reveal the absolute totality of Billy’s control, punishing the slightest deviation from his exacting household rules with brutal violence and enforcing secrecy with threats of murder and suicide. The play explores the impossible complexity of the feelings of these three women towards Billy, deeply damaged by their life-long suffering.

Adapted from a radio play, the stage version of Five Kinds of Silence was first performed in 2000, at the Lyric Hammersmith, London.

A Laughing Matter

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

It's 1773 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The crowd is getting restless. The leading man's unconscious but the show must go on.

This irreverent version of real-life events tells the story of David Garrick, Dr Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and a new play called She Stoops to Conquer. Caught between financial pressures and artistic ambition, Garrick must decide if he can risk staging a play that could make or break his career.

A Laughing Matter was produced by Out of Joint and the National Theatre, London. Following its premiere at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, in October 2002, it transferred to the National in November and returned in February 2003.

Made in England

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

A young musician is faced with the dilemma of denying his cultural identity for success or remaining in obscurity. Time Out Critic's Choice. 

A journalistic term for a new style of drama that emerged in 1990s Britain, when a number of young playwrights produced works that were seen as being deliberately aggressive, confrontational, and provocative. Key plays in the emergence of the school include Anthony Neilson’s shockingly violent Penetrator (1993), Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995), with its scenes of cannibalism and anal rape, and Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking (1996).

In-yer-face theatre was both a new sensibility and a series of specific theatrical devices. In terms of sensibility, these playwrights were drawn to the depiction of psychological and emotional extremes, some of which – such as sexual abuse or viciousness – were truly distressing. They insistently broke taboos and used direct, powerful language, often with fast and furious dialogue. Their sensibility relished the idea of provocation. As a series of theatrical techniques, in-yer-face theatre involved a stage language that emphasised rawness, intensity and swearing, stage images that showed acute pain or comfortless vulnerability, characterisation that preferred complicit victims to innocent ones, and a ninety- minute structure that dispensed with the relief of an interval. In-yer-face theatre depended on certain material conditions, mainly the ready availability of studio spaces (typically seating between fifty and eighty people) which provided ideal conditions for the kind of experiential theatre where audience members felt as if they were actively sharing the emotions being depicted by the actors. Unlike other names, such as ‘New Brutalism’, which have been used to characterise these plays, In-yer-face theatre describes not just the content of a play but rather the relationship between the stage and the audience. In other words, it strongly suggests what is particular about the experience of watching extreme theatre – the feeling of your personal space being threatened, or violated. This kind of theatre was a radical break with much of the drama of the 1980s. At its best, its aim was to use shock to awaken the moral responses of the audience – its desire was no less than to help change society.

from Jonathan Law, ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011); Aleks Sierz, Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s: Voices, Documents, New Interpretations (London, 2012)