You are an adventurous and exciting bunch, who enjoy a challenge, that’s for sure. The legendary Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron knocking back a raw egg on stage? Bring it on! Anne Boleyn carrying her decapitated head in a basket? No problem! And plays about the Second World War and forced adoption… surely this sounds like a bit of challenge to draw in an audience with these? Well, you made it happen!
And here are our most performed plays from 2013:
1 Arabian Nights by Dominic Cooke
2 Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington
3 Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
4 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Conan Doyle, adapted by Steve Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus
5 Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton
6 Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington
7 Lilies on the Land by the Lions part
8 The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, adapted by Stuart Paterson
9 Kindertransport by Diane Samuels
10 100 by Christopher Heimann, Diene Petterle and Neil Monaghan
Firmly in first place lies the dazzling story-telling feat of Arabian Nights adapted by Dominic Cooke. The young Queen Shahrazad saves her own life and wins the love of the King through her stories about adventures and magic, evoking worlds peopled with giant beasts, talking birds and crafty thieves.
Not far behind, in second place, comes the fun-filled Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington. Follow four fish-filletting friends from the factory, as they swap their hair nets for glad rags and fabulous hats – and join them at the races the year Ascot came to Hull, for a flirt and a flutter, and some strawberries and cream. There is a sequel to this play, Ladies Down Under, which comes highly recommended.
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth (who also wrote Mojo, recently revived in the West End) has become an instant classic with the iconic character of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron at its heart. This comic, contemporary vision of life in England’s green and pleasant land is set on St George’s Day outside the trailer of local waster and Lord of Misrule, the aforementioned Byron. His various friends and enemies dance a merry dance around it, revealing more and more facets of the man. This is our third most performed play, definitely worth a look, if you haven’t staged it yet.
Peepolykus’ very funny, fast-paced spoof version of The Hound of the Baskervillesby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steve Canny and John Nicholson, has shot to number four on the list. It was originally performed with just three men who play all of the characters, but it can be performed by a larger cast. It is a very clever, thoroughly theatrical vdersion of the classic story.
Now, a headless performance as Anne Boleyn (well, head in hand, anyway) anyone? – In fifth place, a play by Howard Brenton, packed with meaty characters, from the beguiling titular heroine through to the eccentric James I. This is a celebration of a great English heroine who helped change the course of the nation’s history.
Amanda Whittington makes it twice onto our list: in sixth place is Be My Baby, her a-cappella play about the heart-wrench of forced adoption in the Sixties, set entirely to music from the time and exploring the journey of a young woman who has to hide the fact she is pregnant out of wedlock, give birth in a mother-baby home and eventually give up her baby. Harrowing as this sounds, this is also the tale of a warm friendship forming amongst the four young women who find themselves in the same situation, albeit coming from very different backgrounds.
Many of you enjoyed performing Lilies on the Land by the Lions part, and helped it to seventh place on the list; a documentary drama about the women who joined the land army during the Second World War and helped with their grit and courage to win the war doing men’s work on the fields. The play was created from many real-life accounts of the so-called Land Army girls.
Stuart Paterson has adapted many children’s stories into plays for the stage, not least among them the physical and colourful Jungle Book, after Rudyard Kipling, which follows Mowgli in his adventures through the jungle, with his friends Baloo and Bagheera. Other plays by Paterson include Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Kensuke’s Kingdom, The Snow Queen and Treasure Island.
Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport is at ninth place: it is about the Jewish children saved from Nazi Germany during the Kindertransport, which helped Jewish children flee to Great Britain during the war, but without their parents, and follows one such girl into adulthood as she is conflicted between the country and culture of her parents and her adopted country and comes to terms with her past only, when her daughter discovers the long-buried secret of her mother’s journey to England all those years ago.
And finally, 100, by The Imaginary Body, which has long been a favourite especially with student groups across the world - a play which can be performed very simply in a black box theatre space with a few sticks but which explores the meaning of life and death.
Not bad to be going on with.
So which plays do you think will make it onto next year’s top ten list?
It’s up to you really, and depends on your choices, so I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.
My bet is on Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, which is off to a good start already. This is about the first female students at Cambridge and their struggle against a background of female suffrage.
Also doing incredibly well is Amanda Whittington’s The Thrill of Love, a dark and gripping drama about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England.
2014 might also be the year that My Boy Jack by David Haig makes it back into the top ten, as it is currently being picked up across the country to mark the 100-year anniversary of the First World War.
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies, adapted by our top adaptor Mike Poulton (Canterbury Tales, Don Carlos, Morte D’Arthur and Rosmersholm are available for performance) is also one to watch.
May I take this opportunity to thank all those theatre companies out there who have made 2013 such an exciting and vibrant year for us at NHB and for our authors, and we’re looking forward to working with you again!