Monday 30 December 2019

#ReadaPlayaWeek December and 2019

For three years, #ReadaPlayaWeek was a, well, weekly feature of our blog. Starting out as a way to familiarise myself more with the canon, established writers were a regular feature. Later, we (now a co-authored blog) decided to challenge ourselves to read more widely, and to give equal focus between male and female writers. By the time we decided to pause it at the end of 2016, it was by no means an all-male, white, British showcase. In 2019, we have indeed read plays by Stoppard, Gray and Hare amongst others, but part of the fun has been to dig out a dusty play text or a new play and see what it has to offer. In the past, finding plays to write about wasn’t always easy. But this year, partly thanks to access to a well-stocked library, we’ve almost been spoilt for choice: from war-torn villages in present day Syria, to a 70s taxi office in Pittsburgh; from one playwright’s account of his journey to Israel, to another of their journey across the Slave Trade Triangle; from a fascinating blend of drama and journalism, to pure comedic escapism.

Last year, perhaps in the midst of a Fluoxetine-fuelled inertia, it took me 6 months to read one play! The play wasn’t particularly long or dense and was actually very good, but I read a scene, forgot it and then kept on re-reading it until I was stuck in a cycle of American rustbelt procrastination. I’ve re-read and included it in December’s choices (below). So, here’s what we’ve read in 2019 along with December’s reads at the bottom. Happy New Year!

In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings (1999), by Stephen Adly Guirgis
The Guys (2001), by Anne Nelson
The Nest by Franz Xaver Kroetz (1975), new version by Conor McPherson (2016)
born bad (2003), by debbie tucker green
The Strange Death of John Doe (2018), by Fiona Doyle

Breathing Corpses (2005), by Laura Wade
Adult Child/Dead Child (1987), by Claire Dowie
Thatcher’s Women (1987), by Kay Adshead
Superhoe (2019), by Nicôle Lecky

Stamping, Shouting and Singing Home (1986), by Lisa Evans
Night (L’Homme Gris) (1984), by Marie Laberge (translated by Rina Fraticelli)
Unicorns, Almost (2018), by Owen Sheers
buckets (2015), by Adam Barnard
Victory Condition (2017), by Chris Thorpe

Effie’s Burning (1987), by Valerie Windsor
Letters Home (1979), by Rose Leiman Goldemberg
Rites (1969), by Maureen Duffy
Trafford Tanzi (1980), by Claire Luckham

The Brothers Size (2007), by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Antigone (2014), in a contemporary version by Roy Williams, inspired by Sophocles
Find Me (1977), by Olwen Wymark
Chewing Gum Dreams (2012), by Michaela Coel
This is Our Youth (1996), by Kenneth Lonergan

Stunning (2009), by David Adjmi
Goats (2017), by Liwaa Yazji, translated by Katharine Halls
Close of Play (1979), by Simon Gray
2nd May 1997 (2009), by Jack Thorne

The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry (2013), by Marcus Gardley
Jumpers (1972), by Tom Stoppard
The Author (2009), by Tim Crouch
Via Dolorosa (1998), by David Hare
Dry Powder (2016), by Sarah Burgess

Luther (1961), by John Osborne
Dying City (2006), by Christopher Shinn
This is Not an Exit (2014), by Abi Zakarian
I Can Hear You (2014), by E.V. Crowe
Revolt. She said. Revolt again. (2014), by Alice Birch

The Big Meal (2011), by Dan LeFranc
Jitney (1982), by August Wilson
Tom and Clem (1997), by Stephen Churchett
Pullman, WA (2005), by Young Jean Lee

Family Voices (1981), by Harold Pinter
Fewer Emergencies (2005), by Martin Crimp
salt. (2017), by Selina Thompson
Wild East (2005), by April De Angelis

Comedians (1975), by Trevor Griffiths
The Skriker (1994), by Caryl Churchill
Hurt Village (2012), by Katori Hall
Rough for Theatre II (written in French in the late 1950s, English translation 1976), by Samuel Beckett


A Thousand Clowns (1962), by Herb Gardner
Sixty percent of audience; noticeably moved
They left the theatre?

I’ve been fascinated by the text for Herb Gardner’s ‘quintessential New York comedy’, picked up in a Brighton charity shop for 99p. It includes everything from property and working prop lists to costume and lighting plots, and set designs. The play itself focuses on an out of work comedy writer, Murray, in his eclectic Manhattan apartment. He’s an apathetic oddball, tired of the cheap gags and children’s comedy that’s ruled his life. This is until social services threaten to take his 12-year-old nephew out of his care, resulting in a dash to get a job and for one of the social workers-cum-one-night stand to reorganise his life. But does Murray want a conventional life?

Not dissimilar to a Neil Simon comedy, Gardner’s script is packed with gags and his protagonist is one half of several odd couple relationships. One of these is the double act between Murray and his precocious nephew Nick. He’s wise beyond his years, and even picks up on the cues of Murray’s flirting so to know when to vacate the apartment for the night. It’s an entertaining duo, and probably paved the way for later Hollywood concepts like Curly Sue and Big Daddy.
Published by Samuel French

People (2012), by Alan Bennett
“What’s the worst thing in the world?
Other people”

This is very much a sentimental choice of play for us. In September of 2013 the two of us first met at a matinee of Alan Bennett’s People, on tour at Curve, Leicester. Over 6 years later and we’re in the middle of compiling our annual Top 10 list of theatre while wrapping Christmas presents for our new born nephew, packing boxes ready to move house, and making plans for our wedding. Little did we know back in that bustling auditorium on an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon…

Theatre brings people together, so it’s rather ironic that the play that united us is based on the premise of keeping people out. Ex-model and aging aristocrat Dorothy Stacpoole lives in the squalor of her neglected family estate alongside her senile companion-cum-maid Iris. The two women are isolated from the outside world, reading stockpiled copies of newspapers from the 1980s and preparing for wars decades-long passed. With no heating and the house succumbing to decay, Dorothy and her sister June draw up opposing plans to fund their future. June wants to give the house to the National Trust, to create a museum curio of the estate and their lives. Dorothy wants nothing to do with the prying eyes of the public, instead preferring the option of relocating the house to Dorset to be ‘preserved’ by a private auction-house. With little chance of resolution between the warring siblings, a novel opportunity presents itself in the form of Dorothy’s old-flame, film director, Teddy.

People is classic Bennett. His trademark northern flippancy, pithy wit and endearingly cantankerous characters is a conduit for a tart inspection of class, nationalism, economics, politics and the enigmatic façade of ‘History’. The opening of the second act is a triumph of dramatic irony and farce, while the final dénouement is touching in its mixture of pragmatism and whimsy. In Dorothy, Iris and June, Bennett has created three fantastic roles for mature women, all of whom burst with ambiguous charm. A delicate distinction is drawn here between relationships with people, and relationships with People, as Bennett inspects the collision between the private and public spheres. It’s a lovely play, and one I was delighted to reacquaint myself with during such a momentous period in my own life.
Published by Faber

Sweat (2015), by Lynn Nottage
I watch these politicians talking bullshit and I get no sense that they even know what’s going on beyond the windshield of their cars

This time around it took me three nights to read Sweat. And what a great play it is. Set over a number of months in a bar at the heart of America’s rust belt in 2000, Nottage depicts the lives of a community as they are locked out from their livelihoods. We see people’s anger and desperation build on the backdrop of a widening income gap and the upcoming US election. From there to 2008, we see the beginnings of old wounds healing and the effects of the area’s industrial decline.

But what struck me was how characters cling on to hope. Whilst they are breaking their backs all day in the mills, they still have the escapism of alcohol in the evening, and something to set their sights on in the future. For Cynthia, it’s her cruise on the Panama Canal, but for others it’s more distant or illusory. For Jason, his plan is to work until he’s 50, then retire and open a Dunkin’ Donuts in South Carolina. And then there’s Jessie who only planned on working at the plant for a few months but ended up staying years. We hear how she planned to go out to Alaska and ‘live clean’ off the fatta the lan’, followed by the pipedream of India, Istanbul, Tehran, etc. It’s a fascinating part of the play, and in some ways very familiar in American literature. Everyone has their own mythical West.
Published by tcg


Monday 23 December 2019

Top 10 Shows of 2019

But I don’t know if that’s interesting’ (The Antipodes)


We’ve seen some great theatre in 2019, from Tim Minchin’s Back in Birmingham, to the Chaoyang acrobats in Beijing. There was the formally brilliant Fairview by Jackie Sibblies Drury with its call for action at the end, still playing at the Young Vic. At the Birmingham Rep, we saw Roxana Silbert’s light-hearted and giddily enjoyable production of Alexis Michalik’s Edmond de Bergerac. The female-led The Worst Witch set a standard for family shows with its edgy yet fun high jinks for every generation. We’ve also seen some excellent touring shows (War Horse, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery) which demonstrate the enduring class of popular productions.  And, in the spirit of Michael Billington who's stepping down as chief theatre critic for The Guardian, we loved All My Sons at the Old Vic, but Howard Davies' production still reigned supreme for me.

 But here’s our Top 10 list, for what it’s worth, along with an extract from each review:


10 – The Antipodes (Dorfman, National Theatre)

It might have helped that my seat was upgraded to one of the pit seats at the side of the thrust stage, but I was fully absorbed in Annie Baker’s play. The Antipodes sees 8 people in a pitching room tasked with coming up with a new story. Designer and co-director Chloe Lamford created the panelled boardroom of executive America, with a pyramid of Perrier boxes in the corner, glowing like radioactive material. I loved its characters – some cocksure, some more hesitant – and the play’s creeping pace, jolted by well-choreographed scene changes, where takeaway boxes would appear from nowhere. Yes, it was about and featured storytelling, but it was far slippier than that. Some were grotesque, some more memorable than others, some big, some small, some well-arched, but what was curious was the way they all hanged together in this strange and pressured environment.


9 – Our Lady of Kibeho (Royal & Derngate, Northampton)

James Dacre’s production opens up the world of Kibeho with great detail; it’s a world which is new to us on two levels. Firstly, we see a modest school building: its white and blue walls flaking, a playground thick with red clay, their water source a single hand-pump, electricity only evident in flickering ceiling lights. Radio Rwanda seems to be the only connection with the outside world. Secondly, Hall and Dacre show us a world devout with belief which to a 21st century, young, British audience may seem odd or anachronous. But the nature, extent and purpose of this belief is contested throughout. As the girls’ prophecies draw crowds of locals, media coverage and, eventually, interest from the Vatican, what at first seemed a blessing evolves into a portent of chilling historical magnitude.


8 – The Unreturning (Frantic Assembly at Curve, Leicester)

It’s in Anna Jordan’s text that home is the most strongly and nostalgically conjured – that is, through what characters (mis)remember or desire about home. Her poetry here is honest and lyrical. It may remind some people of Carol Anne Duffy’s text for My Country but it’s far better. Whereas Duffy’s text crowbarred a generic list of national and local stereotypes, Jordan’s words feel personal, stemming from what the characters miss most. But I also think that Jordan’s text is smarter than that. The waxed lyrical ‘hedgerows, fish and chips shops and neat rows of terraced houses’ are edged with a knowingness that these images and questions pervade all three men’s lives spanning over 100 years just as they’ve pervaded British drama for however long. But for each of the men, as in drama, England is unanswered and unrequited. We don’t see Blighty; only ever hear about it or imagine it. It’s a romantic vision of home seen through the mind of someone horrifically torn away from it.


7 – Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet (New Adventures at Curve, Leicester)

Bourne has homed in on not two warring families, but a war between master and subject; a war of freedom of identity versus political propriety; this is a youth in revolt. Yet the ultimate tragedy resides in the internal conflict Romeo and Juliet have with their mental health (exacerbated by the incorrect care/treatment demonstrated at Verona). Juliet is scarred and haunted by the tyrannical Tybalt to the point where she is blinded to the world around her. The result is sadder than anything Shakespeare wrote. Bourne has created a powerful statement on the irresponsible and inexcusable neglect of our youth. We live in a society where more young people than ever before suffer from mental health issues, and while these issues are definitely getting more publicity, there remains a sense that those in power – local and national authorities, adults, carers – are unsympathetic and/or ignorant. Romeo and Juliet is what happens when vulnerable children are let down by those that they should be able to trust.


6 – A Taste of Honey (National Theatre on Tour)

Bijan Sheibani’s production is entertaining without being flashy, showcasing Delaney’s text in all its humour, honesty and melancholia. Outstanding performances and an evocative design placed my thoughts and emotions directly with the characters on stage. I was invested in their lives, and it was with a heavy heart that I had to leave them behind, so engrossing was the play. A keystone in feminist theatre, having now seen A Taste of Honey I can see just why Delaney is so lauded for her work.


Kate Hewitt’s production and Magda Willi’s design are deceptively simple. A long traverse stage, no more than two meters wide with a concrete floor, runs from one end of the auditorium to the other. Above, over 40 white spot lights illuminate this catwalk. Four glass doors slide back and forth to create the different places, most notably the separated isolation yards in Rikers Island Prison. It’s an aesthetic which is extremely clean in its execution, and one which gives the illusion (conversely) of space, light and freedom. I particularly liked the way you could see reflections in the glass, to create the sense that characters might be talking to, arguing with, or convincing themselves. Whereas other productions have enclosed the action in cages, the action and performances here – although the characters are still very much confined – are fully opened out. It allows Lucius’ evangelism to soar and Hanrahan’s monologues to gain an air of a courtroom. Furthermore, staging it in the round allows the guard Valdez (a smug and pitiable character played very well by Joplin Sibtain) to roam all levels of the auditorium, in turn creating a panopticon effect. The characters have nowhere to hide so it heightens the idea of performance. And these characters sure do perform!


4 – Amélie, the Musical (Selladoor/Leicester Haymarket)

Michael Fentiman conjures all the phantasmagorical splendour of the original, while Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen’s honeyed score elevates the story in its melancholy highs. Messé’s music doesn’t quite eclipse the iconic bright minimalism of Yann Tiersen’s film score, but it’s nevertheless beautifully lilting, evoking the atmosphere of Montmartre while lending an intense depth of feeling to the show’s most emotional moments. The Bretodeau story is something of a simple plot device in the film, yet Lucas and co. place more emphasis on the restorative power and feeling of Amélie’s actions. Messé and Tysen's Bretodeau ‘open the box’ leitmotif synonymises the lost and found narrative themes and amplifies all the melancholy ecstasy of memory, epiphany and the transitory illusions of time. While I hesitate to mention any particular stand-out numbers, I felt that the music’s role in the production is to wash over you, inviting you into this strange yet recognisable world, and nourish the soul. Though rarely propelling the plot in the traditional sense of musical theatre, as a mood piece, the score is intrinsic and provides a window into Amélie’s psyche.


3 – West Side Story (Curve, Leicester)

Foster’s production demands we acknowledge these characters for what they are: naïve kids, let down by a society that places ultimate emphasis on the self. That’s why the refrain from ‘Somewhere’ resonates so deeply; the stress is not on the individual, but the collective – ‘we’, ‘us’ – and Kane’s dream ballet sequence, in which the stage brims with an amplified cast of young people dancing, hugging and smiling together, is a utopian depiction of what could be. That is, until the dream dissipates and Tony and Maria are, in fact, alone; isolated upon a bare stage.

Bernstein’s score is given the full orchestral treatment and rightfully shines. There’s a reason that so many of the songs from West Side Story have become standards – I still marvel at Bernstein’s menacing horns and irregular beats, which, coupled with Sondheim’s extraordinary lyrical wit, are the epitome of musical theatre class. There’s not a dud number in the entire show, but standouts include Jamie Muscato’s soulful rendition of ‘Maria’ and an ecstatic and timeless ‘America’ – minimal staging, three performers, Kane’s energetic choreography, and a rousing song prove that crowd-pleasers needn’t rely on large-scale spectacle.


2 – Death of a Salesman (Young Vic)

The production is located in a very specific time and place (refrigerators are the latest kitchen gadget; rich Gershwin melodies lull us into a false sense of nostalgia; New York is expanding and neighbourhoods becoming increasingly gentrified), and just as Willy’s past shapes him and haunts him, so too does the socio-political and cultural history of the USA in which the Loman family live. Here the Lomans’ race undeniably plays into the tragedy. Elliott and Cromwell unearth resonant subtexts in Willy’s work struggles and lack of friends – his assertion that people ‘laugh’ at him when he enters a room takes on a whole new meaning; his boss, Howard, leaps back from a desperate Willy, telling him not to touch him and painstakingly wiping Willy’s fingerprints off his prized sound recorder. In this production I noticed (white) characters’ patronisingly incessant use of the word ‘kid’ in reference to Willy – a lexical slur that made me cringe at every utterance. In the tainted light of racial segregation, the humiliating treatment of Willy leaves a distinctly bitter taste more so than ever before.

This production will become the stuff of legend, hopefully setting a precedent for future ‘classic’ revivals. Elliott and Cromwell bring out the absolute best in Miller’s text, packing a walloping punch with an emotional and intellectual impact that has been subtextually staring us in the face all along. The characters are truly alive. Wondrous stuff.


1 – Come From Away (Phoenix)

Come From Away is a story of togetherness, highlighted in the local bar ‘Screech In’, in which several of the plane people are bestowed with full Islander status – after downing shots and kissing a freshly caught fish in a booze-fuelled initiation ritual. This rustic traditionalism is captured in Sankoff and Hein’s folky music; quaint yet never twee, it effuses a sense of wilderness entwined with the serene harmonies brought about by collective familiarity. Stand out numbers include the lilting paean to momentary happiness, ‘Stop The World’, Hannah’s desperation to protect her child in ‘I Am Here’, and pilot, Beverley’s triumphant love-letter to flight, ‘Me and the Sky’.

Ultimately, Come From Away is so much more than the sum of its parts. The reaction of the audience when we saw it was overwhelmingly positive and the auditorium was aflood with emotion. At a time where cynicism, bigotry and selfishness seem to reign supreme, Sankoff, Hein, Ashley and, most importantly, those Newfoundland islanders that agreed to share their stories have restored my faith in humanity.

From Top Left going Clockwise: The cast of Come From Away.
Credit: Matthew Murphy; Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse in West Side Story.
Credit: Ellie Kurttz; Oberon K.A. Adjepong and Ukweli Roach in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. Credit: Johan Persson; Gemma Dobson, Tom Varey and Jodie Prenger in A Taste of Honey.
Credit: Marc Brenner.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Giraffes Can't Dance

Curve, Leicester
14th December, 2019

Let your worries float away like bubbles

Following their collaboration on George’s Marvellous Medicine two years ago, director Julia Thomas and composer Tasha Taylor Johnson have joined forces again on Curve’s latest festive treat for young people. Thomas’ adaptation of Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees’ Giraffes Can’t Dance is an exuberant show with a strong message: the importance of embracing difference.

Simon Kenny has created the bright, warm colours of the African plains on which we see a variety of animals of all shapes and sizes. Their purpose? Well, through the lens of a David Attenborough documentary, we see that tonight’s the night when all animals come together, politics aside (!), for the jungle dance.

We meet tangoing lions, a rhino comedy double act, moustachioed wild boars, and a cheeky highland baboon. The multi-talented cast of five achieve some impressive quick changes to pull this safari off, getting their teeth into their wild side. But it’s not just the Big Five we meet. There’s also a posse of street-wise beetles, all in shiny puffer jackets, showing off their nifty moves. And then there’s Gerald the giraffe. He wants to dance but is too tall and gangly, as we hear through Taylor Johnson’s catchy lyrics: ‘But when he tried, when he tried, when he tried… he fell down on the ground’. With the help of a cricket, who helps Gerald to realise that it’s OK to be sad sometimes, he finds a different song to which to dance.

Joshua Coley, Sophie Coward, Phyllis Ho, Gracia Rios and Jason Yeboa are all great story tellers. They bring the magic of the story alive with playful theatricality. But they also highlight the story’s heart and don’t shy away from its emotional maturity.

Giraffes can dance,

And Gerald will show you how,

The cast all danced to their own tune,

And finished with a bow.

Giraffes Can’t Dance plays at Curve, Leicester until 5th January

Sophie Coward as Gerald the Giraffe in Giraffes Can't Dance. Credit: Pamela Raith

Monday 2 December 2019

#ReadaPlayaWeek - November

Comedians (1975), by Trevor Griffiths

“Every joke was a little pellet, a … final solution.

We’re the only animal that laughs”

Griffith’s play has been famously described as an experience where ‘you’re invited to laugh, and then get punished for it’. A satirical jibe at the sexist, racist, homophobic stand-ups of the 1970s, such as Bernard Manning, Griffiths’ play is a blistering inspection of British standards and the honesty, deceit, hatred, love and hypocrisy of humour.

Set in real-time, a group of night class stand-up students congregate ahead of a local showcase which may or may not be the making of their comedic careers.  Teacher and ex-comedian, Eddie Waters encourages the men to challenge themselves and their audience, to find the philosophical humour in distasteful truth. However, the man they need to impress, London comedy big-wig, Mr Challenor, has other ideas, wanting them to play to the lowest possible denominator and ‘give the people what they want’, so to speak.

The second act takes the form of the comedy showcase, the audience becoming stand-ins for the fatigued bingo-playing observers within the play. Upon this stage some of the men cave, tossing aside their well-honed routines for non-sequential strings of off-colour gags for quick and cheap laughs. Others stick to their guns, namely Gethin Price (a role which landed Jonathan Pryce his big break), a brittle, fanatical and occasionally unhinged young man, whose ultra-modern music-hall routine attacks mundane absurdities of social rank. Even just reading them, the stand-up routines - and more importantly the tonal juxtaposition - is a gut punch of the highest theatrical standard. The third, final, act sees the fallout.

Griffiths explores the human psyche in a deft, witty and empathetic manner. We are forced to question what we find funny and the reasons for it. The revelation that Waters gave up performing following a visit to a concentration camp where he realised that ‘there were no jokes left’, places the evening’s earlier enigmatic and occasionally awkward interactions into stark perspective. What is comedy for? How does comedy adapt within an ever changing society? These are questions that Sean O’Connor’s revised production of Osbourne’s The Entertainer was striving to explore earlier this year, yet failed to fully realise. For a play over forty years old, Comedians is still as potent as ever, managing to entertain and philosophise in concurrent measure. A modern great.

Published by Faber

The Skriker (1994), by Caryl Churchill

I am an ancient fairy, I am hundreds of years old…
long before England was an idea

There’s an element of Churchill’s typically original play which is very much rooted in the real world: it’s about two young women, two sides of the same coin, and their friendship and hardships. One of the them is pregnant, the other has recently killed her own baby. This is very much given a dystopian skew by the brilliant invention of the Skriker (played initially by Kathryn Hunter at the National and more recently by Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange). She/he is a shapeshifter capable of causing mayhem and distrust, taking Lily and Josie into her underworld. Described as ancient and damaged, she can go from being an old woman in a dowdy cardigan, then a grandiose fairy queen, to a man and a child. She asks impossible questions, about how TVs work, how do you fly, how does sleep work.

But her language is the most fascinating. Her monologues are Beckett crossed with nursery rhymes. She speaks in half rhymes and eye rhymes, fusing together phrases like in ‘Out of her mind how you go’. She has a playfulness that reminded me of John Cooper Clarke’s poetry. This is performed on a backdrop made up of an ensemble including RawHeadandBloodyBones, Man with Cloth and Bucket, and Woman with Kelpie. It’s a text bursting with potential for the uber-theatrical and continuous reinvention.

Published by Nick Hern Books

Hurt Village (2012), by Katori Hall

God only take care of fools and babies,

The rest of us gotta get along by our damn selves

Hip-hop and crunk beats resound through Katori Hall’s snapshot of a multi-generational community’s experiences of displacement and isolation, featuring pertinent observations on post-9/11 national and racial identity. Hurt Village centres on thirteen-year-old bright spark, Cookie, and her friends and family that inhabit the titular area of Memphis, an infamous pit of drugs, poverty and crime. Cookie, her mother, Crank, and great grandmother, Big Mama, are being evicted from their soon-to-be-demolished unit in the Hurt Village project upon the promise that they’ll be relocated to a more affluent area. Faces from the past, and an ongoing drug war complicate matters, as the characters rise and fall within a country that is desperate to disown them.

Hall explores topics such as gang violence, illiteracy, prostitution, mental illness and addiction, all of which feed off each other in the Hurt Village, perpetuating a vicious circle of hardship. As one character points out ‘[the police] only come for the dead. They don’t come for the livin’. They don’t care about them folk’. The injustices served up by various administrative and governing bodies seem designed to cement these characters’ fortunes, to ‘ring-fence’ them, to put it crudely. One of the most hard-hitting scenes involves Big Mama pleading on her hands and knees to an uninterested clerk – she’s been told that her work as a cleaner earns her too much (a mere $300 a year too much) for her and her family to qualify for the rehousing benefits scheme.

It may seem like Hall’s created a prime piece of poverty porn, but the characters are so human in their depth that, even while taking a strong political stance, Hurt Village remains an ensemble character-driven play. From Skillet, a sweet, stuttering, scarred but underestimated dealer, to Cookie’s psychologically ravaged father, Iraq veteran Buggy, to Cookie herself, a precocious and talented youngster that is wise beyond her years, yet completely naïve to other worldly matters – Hall’s characters are richly drawn, empathetic, yet tough and brash enough to counter accusations of petty pity or ‘champagne socialist’ tendencies on the playwright’s (and audience’s) part.

This was the final play I’ve read this year from Sarah Benson’s Methuen Drama New American Plays anthology. The book offers an exciting and broad range of recent, and in some cases lesser-known, plays which draw on the themes that seem to have pervaded 21st Century society in the USA – race, identity, family, trust and capitalism. Of the six plays featured, Hall’s is up there as one of the best, alongside David Adjmi’s Stunning and Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal. It’s a gem of a book, well worth seeking out.

Published by Methuen

Rough for Theatre II (written in French in the late 1950s, English translation 1976), by Samuel Beckett

Hold on till I find the verb and to hell with all this drivel in the middle

What’s there to make of Beckett’s short skit for the stage? What’s going on remains oblique: two men (A & B) are in a room sorting through old papers by lamplight. A third (C) is stood at the back looking out over a void, his back to the audience. The papers are old testaments of this faceless, speechless man, and the duo have been tasked with sorting through his affairs, possibly having his fate in their hands.

There is occasionally a comic stichomythia to their dialogue as they spar off each other, and try to work their temperamental lamps. It’s an elusive relationship between the two, not as clearly defined as the tragic reliance of the duo in Rough for Theatre I. But more interestingly is the peculiar sense of Englishness that runs through it, including references to Marks & Spencer’s and Wootton Bassett which add a twee sense of the comic. And if this has given you a hunger to see it (although why would it?), it’s playing as part of a double bill with Endgame starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming at the Old Vic next year.

Published by Faber