The Play’s the thing April sees us celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday. He’s our most celebrated playwright but who else believed ‘all the world’s a stage’?
Fame came knocking overnight for Bennett after the Oxford university lecturer teamed up with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook to write and perform in the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe. One of his most-loved series is Talking Heads which was originally written as a series of hilarious character monologues for the BBC. Bennett enjoyed further acclaim with his play The History Boys. Set in a fictitious boys’ grammar school it follows a group of students preparing for the Oxbridge exams. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2005 and scooped Best Play at the Tonys the following year.
The best thing about seeing a Pinter play is hearing everyone in the interval trying to work out what it all means. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature so you know it’s good stuff, you just may not know whether you actually like it or not. Although Pinter didn’t win
critical acclaim until The Caretaker, it’s worth reading his earlier work, The Room, which he wrote in three days. The Dumb Waiter produces a lot of laughs with an excellent twist at the end and A Slight Ache might leave you examining your own relationships.
Playwrights don’t come more prolific than Alan Ayckbourn who’s written more than seventy plays. In Absurd Person Singular, three married couples take it in turns to host a dinner party on three consecutive Christmas Eves. It was adapted into a television drama with Geoffrey Palmer, Maureen Lipman, Michael Gambon and Prunella Scales among the cast. Sisterly Feelings is a challenging Ayckbourn play following the lives of siblings Abigail and Dorcas. The first and last scenes always remain the same, whilst the decision to go with either Dorcas’s story or Abigail’s is made on a coin toss at the end of the first. Some companies rehearse just one version but others learn both.
Sir Tom Stoppard
Stoppard began his career as a journalist before becoming a drama 44
critic and then a playwright. His works often centre on themes of human rights, politics and freedom of expression. His first great success, Enter a Free Man follows the story of George who has unrealistic dreams about a reusable envelope empire he’s planning on building. In his Tony award-winning play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead his two main protagonists are the actors playing the parts of the messengers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Most of the action takes place in the wings during Hamlet and great confusion and ambiguity ensues.
Sir Noel Coward
There’s still time to catch Noel Coward’s Hay Fever which is currently enjoying a successful run in the West End. Hay Fever is a lesson in the importance of paying attention to your house guests. Set in the 1920s it deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and the farce that ensues when they all invite a guest to stay for the weekend. Coward’s Blithe Spirit is also a theatrical mainstay. This time the socialite Charles Condomine is tormented by the ghost of his first wife who is hell-bent on ruining his second marriage.