History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/English Post-WWII

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The post-World War II British period began with yet another major work by Sean O'Casey (1880-1964), "Cock-a-doodle dandy" (1949). Another work of importance is a the history play, "A man for all seasons" (1960), by Robert Bolt (1924-1995), based on the life of Thomas More (1478-1535).

Some plays in the domestic tradition remained quite similar those of the pre-war period, notably Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) with "Separate tables" (1954). But then the Kitchen Sink School took over with Harold Pinter (1930-2008), John Osborne (1929-1994), Arnold Wesker (1932-?), Edward Bond (1934-?), Shelagh Delaney (1939-?), and the Irish playwright, Brendan Behan (1923-1964), most of whose best plays seem to arise from the start of their careers.

Vastly influential plays by Pinter include "The homecoming" (1965), "Old times" (1971), and "No man's land" (1975). In his first plays, Pinter describes a Kafka-like atmosphere of paranoid behavior. Pinteresque mannerisms in speech occur, in which little new information is conveyed and terms are needlessly repeated.

Of importance as well are the following plays: "Look back in anger" (1956) by Osborne, "Saved" (1965) by Bond, "Chicken soup with barley" (1958) by Wesker, "A taste of honey" (1958) by Delaney, "The hostage" (1958) by Behan.

More recent playwrights with worthy plays include Joe Orton (1933-1967) with "Loot" (1966), Peter Nichols (1927-?) with "A day in the death of Joe Egg" (1967), Peter Barnes (1931-2004) with "The ruling class" (1968), Simon Gray (1936-2008) with "Butley" (1971), David Hare (1947-?) with "The secret rapture" (1988), Martin McDonagh (1970-?) with "The cripple of Inishmaan" (1996), William Nicholson (1948-?) with "The retreat from Moscow" (1999), Mark Ravenhill (1956-?) with "Shopping and fucking" (1996).

"Cock-a-doodle dandy"[edit]

Time: 1940s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.

"A man for all seasons"[edit]

"A man for all seasons". Time: 1530s and 1540s. Place: London, England.

Thomas More was in conflict with King Henry VIII's view of separating from the papacy. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (ca 1497-1543)

To obtain a male heir to the English throne, Cardinal Wolsey requests Sir Thomas More's support of King Henry VIII's repudiation of Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn. More does not agree, specifying that when statesmen act against their conscience "they lead their country by a short route to chaos". Yet it is done. After Cardinal Wolsey's death, his secretary, Thomas Cromwell, rises in power. Against his wishes, More is named chancellor of England. King Henry specifies he will tolerate no obstruction in the succession. More will be silent in the matter. Although he does not support the king, he reveals to his family: "I truly believe no man in England is safer than myself." He will not write against the Act of Supremacy, as this may be got around by its wording and refuses any dealing with Spain, yet the severing with Rome prompts his resignation as chancellor. Cromwell seeks to trap him with charges of bribery. More refuses to receive money from the bishops, because charity is sometimes interpreted as payment. Cromwell is unable to trap him legally, but reveals that the king is displeased with him. Fearing for his friends, More requests the duke of Norfolk to see him no more. Norfolk is named on the commission to inquire about More's opinions along with Cromwell and Thomas Cramner, archbishop of Canterbury. More refuses to sign his agreement with the Act of Succession but without divulging why. He is imprisoned for over a year in a pitiful cell. Although the commission can never force him to say why, he is illegally condemned to death. On his way to the gallows, a woman reminds him of a false judgment he pronounced against her, to which he comments: "Woman, you see how I am occupied."

Terence Rattigan showed that people eating at separate tables sometimes join together for a cause, 1974

"Separate tables"[edit]

"Separate tables". Time: 1950s. Place: Near Bournemouth.

John, a journalist, unexpectantly meets his ex-wife, Anne, in a hotel. She has since divorced a second time, obtaining little, as she says, in the way of alimony. Because John had hit her head and sent her to a hospital, the divorce had destroyed his political career. Since then, he entertains amorous relations with Patricia, the proprietess of the hotel. Anne is lonely and with age this state is likely to worsen. Pointing to the dining-room, she says: "I can just see myself in a few years' time at one of those separate tables." She invites her ex-husband in her room, and, after some hesitation, he accepts, but on his way there he is impeded by Patricia, who reveals that Anne is on the telephone with his editor. When John confronts Anne, he learns she has lied about their apparently chance meeting, for she knew in advance where he would be. She also lied about the amount of the alimony, being twice the one mentioned. In spite of these lies, John is still subjugated to her, and accepts continuing their sexual relation. "You realise, don't you, that we haven't much hope together?" he queries, to which she answers: "Have we all that much apart?" Meanwhile, a man known as Major David Pollock is looking feverishly for a copy of the local paper belonging to Mrs Railton-Bell. Before he can take off with it, she enters with her daughter, Sibyl. He asks to borrow it and she accepts, until discovering the very same paper on the floor, which the major inadvertently dropped. The major is forced to give the paper back, in which she learns that David has been held over for sexual harassment towards a woman at a cinema-house. Moreover, the major is no major but a lieutenant. The indignant Mrs Railton-Bell consults with the other regulars at the hotel about what to do, she being in favor of chucking the major out. Three other people agree, only a medical student, Charles, being against it. Sibyl is the one most distressed by these news, she being a particular friend of the false major: "It makes me sick," she repeatedly says, in rising tones of hysteria. Though voting against him, Mr Fowler, a former housemaster, ruefully admits he regrets it. "The trouble about being on the side of right, as one sees it, is that one sometimes finds oneself in the company of such questionable allies," he says. David reappears with an air of pathetic jauntiness, until confronted by the despairing Sybil, who asks him pointedly why did he do such a thing. He answers he has always been shy towards the opposite sex. "It has to be in the dark, you see, and a stranger, because-" he says. To this, Sybil puts her hands to her ears. She then asks why he lied about his position. "I don't like myself as I am, I suppose," he answers, "so I've had to invent another person." Despite Patricia's mild protests, he announces his intention to leave the hotel. At dinner, each at their separate tables, everyone is silent as David enters. Charles defies the others by greeting him, as does a woman indifferent to these proceedings. Then Fowler imitates them, followed by Gladys, Mrs Railton-Bell's close friend, and finally Sybil, in defiance of her mother. Suddenly, the occupants of the separate tables are not so separate anymore.

Harold Pinter was the dominant playwright of late 20th century British drama, writing plays containing a mixture of both realistic and absurdist elements

"The homecoming"[edit]

"The homecoming". Time: 1960s. Place: London, England.

After a six-year absence in the USA, Teddy returns for a short holiday with his wife, Ruth, to the house of his father, Max. A retired butcher, Max cooks for his brother, Sam, and two other sons, Lenny and Joey. Without warning anybody of his arrival, Teddy enters at night with a key he still held on to. No family member is aware he is married with three children. Teddy having retired to sleep, Lenny finds Ruth alone. Although he tells her threatening stories of how he handles women, Ruth is unafraid. As he is about to take away her glass of water despite her objections, Ruth says: "If you take the glass, I'll take you." Lenny wonders whether that is "some kind of proposal". The next morning, Max immediately assumes that Ruth is Teddie's whore and wants to chuck both out. "You're an old man," Joey comments, which so infuriates his father that he hits him hard in the stomach and then strikes Sam's head with a stick. That afternoon, Max becomes suddenly reconciled to the couple's existence. "I want you both to know you have my blessing," he says. Lenny mocks at Teddy's knowledge as a university professor in the philosophy department. Altogether, Teddy feels threatened, suggesting to his wife that they should leave at once, but she does not want to. The bad feeling increases on seeing Lenny dance with Ruth and then kiss her. He defends himself only by boasting of his knowledge in philosophy. That evening, Lenny is upset at discovering Teddy stole a cheese-roll he prepared for himself, the latter adding he did it deliberately. They are interrupted by Joey, who has been with Ruth for two hours, though admitting he did not go all the way. "Perhaps he hasn't got the right touch," Teddy sarcastically comments. But Lenny denies this, having once accompanied his brother in the company of women. When Lenny comments that Teddy "gets the gravy" from his wife and Sam finds that normal, Joey denies it. "Perhaps it's not a bad idea to have a woman in the house," Max concludes. Lenny has the idea of having Ruth pay for her upkeep by allowing her an apartment where she can whore for them, to which Joey objects, but the father considers this a good idea. Intimidated, Teddy says little to this plan. When Ruth hears of it, she negotiates for the number of rooms and for new clothes. Feeling sickly on witnessing these events, Sam cries out that long ago Max' wife committed adultery in his taxi cab, then has a stroke, but is helped out by none. As Teddy prepares to return to his post, Ruth calls out to him. "Eddie! Don't become a stranger," she advises. Although his two remaining sons seem fairly content, Max weeps, likely because he is unable to participate directly in the action.

"Old times"[edit]

"Old times". Time: 1970s. Place: England.

Deeley and Kate are visited by the latter's girlhood friend, Anna. Deeley asks Anna questions about the young Kate and is surprised to learn that she sometimes would not know the day of the week, having the false impression of sleeping through entire days. They revive old times by singing songs. Deeley first met Kate in a cinema-house watching "Odd man out". He admits he was "off center and has remained so". Reviving the past, Anna comments: "There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place," notably about a man crying in the room she and Kate lived in at the same. This anecdote puzzles Deeley. As Anna's voice caresses Kate, Deeley warns her to stop. Not to be deterred and to mark a claim on her, Anna specifies she once saw a film with her called: "Odd man out", at which Deely quickly changes the subject. As Anna and Kate converse, Deeley tries to break up the conversation with absurd comments, but the two women ignore him and continue as if they had gone back to living together again in the past, as he helplessly looks on. As Kate takes a bath, Deeley reminds Anna that they once met at a tavern when he, short of seducing her, spent a good amount of time looking up her skirt. When Kate comes out fresh from her bath, he suggests that Anna might dry her or at least supervise his drying her. Deeley and Anna take turns singing again, but this time repeating the same song, resembling a serenade to Kate. In a short while, Anna and Kate are at it again, acting as if they are still living together as in the past. Anna reminds her- did it happen?- that she once borrowed Kate's underwear and that a man spent an evening looking up her skirt. A desperate Deeley starts to worry about Anna's husband: should she not go to him? Kate cuts him short. "If you don't like it, go," she tells him. Turning to Anna, she bluntly says: "I remember you dead," thus seeming to reject both. Deeley sobs, as perhaps he did in their room many years ago.

"No man's land"[edit]

"No man's land". Time: 1970s. Place: England.

After meeting each other for the first time at a pub, Hirst invites Spooner to his house to drink some more. A poet of limited financial means, Spooner is careful not to appear as a sycophant to his potential patron. "My only security, you see, my true comfort and solace, rests in the confirmation that I elicit from people of all kinds a common and constant level of indifference," he points out. Hirst switches from vodka to what Spooner is drinking, whiskey, but this change weakens his mental faculties. "I have never been loved. From this I derive my strength," Spooner continues. He questions Hirst about his wife. Angered, Hirst ineffectually throws his glass at him. "Tonight, my friend," he declares, "you find me in the last lap of a race I had long forgotten to run," to which Spooner ironically comments: "A metaphor! Things are looking up." Unable to retort, Hirst drops to the floor and crawls out of the room. A short time later, Hirst's friends and associates, Foster and Briggs, notice Spooner's presence and wonder who this stranger is and what is he doing in their home. Briggs recognizes him. "You collect the beer mugs in a pub in Chalk Farm," he affirms. Spooner explains away that matter by saying he is the proprietor's friend and only wished to help him out temporarily, but Foster knows the owner and has never heard of Spooner. When Hirst returns, he does not remember who Spooner is. Hirst recalls a dream of his about a man in the water. "It was I drowning in your dream," Spooner enthusiastically explains. After the other two men leave, Foster turns out the room-lights on Spooner. The next morning, a prudent Briggs serves Spooner toast and champagne for breakfast. Briggs is intrigued about Spooner's mention of an aristocratic acquaintance, thinking perhaps to make use of him. Spooner declares he must be off at a board meeting of a poetry magazine at Chalk Farm, interrupted by the arrival of a cheerful Hirst, who suddenly remembers Spooner, in particular how long ago he often seduced his wife. "I see a fellow reduced. I feel sorry for you. Where is the moral ardor that sustained you once? Down the hatch," Hirst reflects. To Foster and Briggs' disapproval, both eager to defend their territory, Spooner attempts to obtain a position as Hirst's personal secretary, but the latter's comments about that suggestion are not encouraging. In a final attempt to interest him, Spooner announces he is organizing poetry readings at a public house, the landlord being a friend of his, and invites Hirst there to read from his works, but the latter says he'll change the subject for the last time, then wonders about what he just said. Although Foster attempts to refresh his memory, Hirst is still unable to discover the meaning of what he just said. He hears sounds, sees himself walking by a lake, a man perhaps drowning, but there is no one. Bitterly disappointed, Spooner comments: "You are in no man's land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent." "I'll drink to that," approves Hirst.

John Osborne described the disillusionments of the young in post-World War II Britain. Drawing by Reginald Gray (1930-?)

"Look back in anger"[edit]

"Look back in anger". Time: 1950s. Place: English Midlands.

In an attic room rented from income derived from a stall in the market-place, Jimmy and his friend, Cliff, read newspapers while Alison, irons shirts. Jimmy belittles his girlfriend at every turn, mainly for being pusillanimous, and initiates mock-fighting till the ironing board overturns and she burns her arm. When he goes out to play the trumpet, Alison tells Cliff she is pregnant. He urges her to tell Jimmy. Instead, she tells Jimmy her friend Helena is coming to stay awhile at their apartment, a woman he hates. One week later, Alison reveals to Helena the nature of her relation to Jimmy, initially a defiant gesture against her upper-class family in accepting a lower-class man and his own defiant attitude to modern life. Helena suggests that she should defend herself against him in a better way than she has so far. Jimmy enters to complain and rant again about Alison, even more bitterly against Helena. When the women prepare for church, he feels betrayed and leaves before they do. Helena tells Alison she has called her parents to take her away from him, to which she agrees. As her father prepares to leave the room with her, Helena decides to stay, a surprising choice in Alison's view. Helena is still there when Jimmy reads Alison's farewell note. Helena informs him that his departed wife is pregnant. Jimmy and Helena argue as usual and even hit each other, but then kiss and fall on the bed. Several months later, Helena is ironing and laughing with Jimmy and Cliff. The latter decides to leave for a place of his own. As Jimmy opens the door for a final night out, he finds Alison there, not looking well, but leaves without speaking to her. Alison reveals to Helena she had a miscarriage. Saddened by Alison's unhappy state and her own, Helena decides to leave Jimmy, to which he sarcastically agrees. Jimmy and Alison decide to renew married life, reviving their old game of bears and squirrels.

Edward Bond depicted the troubles of the young adjusting to adult life, 2001

"Saved"[edit]

"Saved". Time: 1960s. Place: London, England.

Although their baby is crying, Pam and Len are too lazy to get up and do anything about it. Pam wants Len out, but because he is reliable in his payments as a lodger at the house of her parents, Harry and Mary, they do not want him to. When Pam suggests he go away with the baby, he refuses. Miffed at this attempt, she takes up with Fred as a lover, but he quickly loses interest in her. In an effort to make him stay with her, she says Len's baby is his, but he is not influenced. Angrily, she leaves the pram behind in the street for him to take care of along with his friend, Mike. Three other toughs (Colin, Barry, and Pete) arrive and look curiously at the baby inside the pram. Annoyed by Colin, Barry angrily projects the pram towards him but hits Pete instead, who violently pushes it back. Out of curiosity, Pete then pulls at the baby's hair. For fun, Barry pinches it, removes the diaper, and throws it in the air. Thinking that babies feel nothing, he punches it. Barry and Colin do the same. Then they all throw stones at it except Len, who watches at a distance all this while and does nothing. Mike then throws flaming matches inside the pram. Pam eventually returns without bothering to look inside the pram. "Lucky yer got someone t'look after yer," she murmurs to the baby. The baby dies from its injuries. Only Fred receives a jail-sentence. After being released from prison, he wants no more to do with her. Pam moves in with Len again, but eventually nags at him to go away. He ignores her. On her way out one evening, Mary notices a run in her stockings. Helpful Len mends it with his needle directly on her leg. Harry enters and watches the equivocal scene. "Go easy," he recommends to Len. Later, a quarrel develops between Harry and Mary, during which she throws a tea pot filled with boiling water at him. Len has had enough of this atmosphere. He decides to pack his bags and live elsewhere, but is dissuaded from that by a sympathetic Harry who once again prefers to have him stay.

Arnold Wesker depicted the changing attitudes of people with left-wing sympathies over the course of two decades

"Chicken soup with barley"[edit]

"Chicken soup with barley". Time: 1930s-1950s. Place: London, England.

In 1936, members of the socialist party and other groups seek to prevent a meeting among fascist members and are successful despite arrests and violence erupting. In 1946, Ronnie, only a child ten years before, carries on the family tradition by distributing leaflets announcing May Day demonstrations. But his older sister, Ada, is no longer interested in such activity. "The only rotten society is an industrial society," she states, and so she plans with her husband Dave, still in Spain to combat fascists, to move into a country-life. Their mother, Sarah, complains of the apathy she sees in her husband, Harry. "When did you last change your shirt?" she asks him. She remonstrates and nags until he suffers a stroke. In 1947, Harry cannot keep any job long and merely shuffles about. Ronnie has found a job as a bookshop assistant and plans to write poetry and novels, while Sarah is stuck with her apathetic husband. "He sits and sits and sits and all his life goes away from him," she complains even worse than before. When Harry holds a letter written to the hospital about his health status, not meant to be read by him, Ronnie tries to prevent his reading it, but then is frightened off on hearing him shout. After two strokes, Harry's condition is even worse off in 1955, being half-paralyzed, incontinent, and demented. Ronnie has gone off as a cook in Paris. When Sarah receives the visit of an old friend, Monty, a greengrocer, she learns he has abandoned the socialist party. "It's all broken up, then?" he asks. "What's broken up about it?" she resolutely answers. "The fight still goes on." In the midst of their conversation, Harry whines that he must go out, but is dragged back by Sarah to prevent an incontinence attack. In 1956, while playing cards, Sarah complains her glasses fall in her mouth but was told she could not exchange them since they are National Health ones. Nevertheless, she intends to fight the medical officials as she has always done. Ronnie returns from France, but admits he wrote all that time misleadingly cheerful letters. "I hated the kitchen," he bluntly says. "What has happened to all the comrades, Sarah?" he wonders, admitting to have lost his faith and ambition. Sarah complains that most are satisfied with "a few shillings at the bank" and a television set. Her belief rests on help once received from a friend when Ada was sick with diphtheria. The woman offered chicken soup and barley at a time when Harry refused to take her to the hospital. Seeing her Ronnie beginning to show similar signs of apathy, she cries out in fear. "Ronnie, if you don't care, you'll die," she warns.

"A taste of honey"[edit]

"A taste of honey". Time: 1950s. Place: Manchester, England.

Helen, a "semi-whore", enters a new apartment with her daughter, Jo. Helen is in ill temper because of a cold and Jo is no help, content to criticize the shabby state of the apartment. They receive a surprise visit from Peter, a brash car salesman, who seduces Helen in front of her daughter. Later, Jo is wooed by Jimmy, a black sailor, who asks her to marry him. Jo speaks favorably of him to her mother. She then learns that her mother and Peter intend to marry. She meets her sailor-boy a second time, who cuddles up to her more comfortably. But when Jimmy tries to embrace her more boldly, Jo warns him not to do so. "Why not?" he asks. "I like it," she responds. Later, Helen confronts her daughter about the ring she is wearing, the boy's wedding present. On discovering the real state of her daughter's relations with the boy, Helen is outraged, advising her not to repeat the mistakes of her own youth. Several months later, the sailor is forced to sail away and Jo is left pregnant. While Helen is off with Peter, Jo meets a new friend, Geoff, a homosexual who takes care of during the pregnancy. He even asks her to marry him, but she refuses. "I hate love," she specifies. Nevertheless, she is glad to have him as "a big sister". As Jo nears the moment of birth, a nervous Geoff requests Helen to help care for her daughter. Helen accepts but at the same time tries to get rid of him, an attitude aggressively supported by Peter, who "can't stand, 'em at any price". Later, Helen decides to leave Peter, move in with her daughter as before and send Geoff away indefinitely. Geoff declines to resist her wishes, so that, despite their mutual dislike, mother and daughter are reunited.

Brendan Behan described the results of the arrest of a British soldier on Irish patriots, 1960

"The hostage"[edit]

"The hostage". Time: 1950s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.

Pat and Meg, an unmarried couple, keep a brothel-house for Monseuwer, the owner, who mistakenly believes himself to be in charge of a military campaign. To Meg's disapproval, one of the tenants, Mulleady, has invited a Miss Gilchrist, inside his room. When called down, Miss Gilchrist says she must first complete her novena. Meanwhile, Pat harasses the homosexual Rio Rita for rent-money. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer and volunteer arrive to check out the house for their political purposes. An IRA member has been captured by British troops and is condemned to death in Belfast jail. In reprisal, the IRA capture a British soldier, Leslie, to be kept as hostage in the brothel-house. The British hostage is befriended by nearly every Irish tenant, especially Teresa, a skivvy (servant), who eventually sleeps with him. Pat asks the IRA officer for rent-money, but he is sarcastically answered. "The hearts of all true Irishman are beating for us," says the officer. At last the IRA member is condemned to die and is shot to death by the IRA members.

"Loot"[edit]

"Loot". Time: 1960s. Place: England.

Hall and Dennis have just robbed a bank next door to where the latter works as an undertaker. On the day of his mother's funeral, Hall takes out the corpse with Dennis' help and puts the money inside the coffin and the body in a wardrobe. A man named Truscott identifies himself as a member of the water board and starts to investigate the suspicious-looking case as an investigator. The dead woman's nurse, Fay, announces to the widowed husband, McCleavy, that his wife changed her will in her favor, then proposes marriage to him, to Dennis' disappointment as he himself felt love for her. By asking Hall a few questions, Fay quickly discovers his part in the bank robbery and where the money is, promising to keep quiet in exchange for one third of the loot. She takes out the corpse and wraps it in bandages, to be disposed of later. The suspicious Truscott orders the wardrobe to be opened, but finds it empty. When he discovers the disguised corpse, he does not understand what he is seeing and asks her what is. "It's not a mummy, it's a dummy," Fay answers, which she purports to use for sewing purposes. Truscott interrogates Hall in depth, and, not satisfied with his answers, hits him on the neck and kicks him when he is down on the floor. On the way to the cemetery, Hall and Dennis have a road-side accident and are forced to come back. Truscott finds a glass eye on the floor, which he assumes dropped from the dummy. He interrogates Fay further and concludes that she murdered Mrs McCleavy. However, he is unable to prove it, because, during the road-site accident, the contents of the casket containing the remains were destroyed. When told about the glass eye, McCleavy also assumes it dropped from the corpse. When he unscrews the coffin lid, he staggers in disbelief on discovering what is inside, a huge amount of money. With Truscott and McCleavy temporarily away from the premises, the robbers agree to put the money in the casket and the corpse in the coffin, but their plot is foiled when Truscott asks for the casket to certify it as being empty. He discovers the money, but Hall succeeds in bribing him. For their own safety, Hall suggests he may arrest his father on a trumped-up charge, to which Truscott agrees.

"A day in the death of Joe Egg"[edit]

"A day in the death of Joe Egg". Time: 1960s. Place: England.

On returning home from work, Brian wishes to make love to his wife, Sheila, but she has no time, all the more so since their 10-year-old daughter, Josephine, a blind spastic quadriplegic susceptible to epileptic seizures, must be fed, bathed, exercised, and put to bed. Sheila notices she is wet below and wonders how in the special daycare center they could have left her daughter "sit like Joe Egg in the damp all day". The couple remind themselves of her slow birth. "Though not a religious man- for everyday purposes the usual genuflections to Esso Petroleum and M.G.M.- I don't mind admitting it, I prayed," admits Brian. In his anguish, preferring his child to die rather than his wife, he imagined God saying: "I'll fix that bastard." "And he did," notes Brian. He play-acts their German doctor. "Do you know vot I mean ven I say your daughter vos a wegetable?- Still is, still is. I have trouble with vis Englisch werbs," mimics Brian. Then he play-acts the vicar, who proposed the "laying on the hands bit", which he declined. The couple's friend, Freddie, proposes that they should send her to an institution, but Sheila refuses. During the rehearsal of an amateur theatrical production, Sheila breaks down because of Brian's jealousy over the innocent Freddie. One day, Brian suddenly announces that after Josephine's latest seizure, he has smothered her to death with a cushion, but this turns out to be false. However, Sheila notices that the anticonvulsant is suspiciously unavailable. When Brian proposes to get some more, Freddie discovers him sitting in his car doing nothing. While Freddie's wife leaves for the medication, Freddie calls an ambulance at seeing Josephine unconscious and unresponsive. While no one is looking, Brian lifts the child up and goes away. On her return, Sheila frantically searches for them, finally discovering him outside in wintertime "running about": When Brian returns, he stoically announces: "Its all over." But it is not. They reach the hospital in time. When they return home, Brian decides to leave, but when Sheila tempts him back with sex and proposes occasional respites for up to a month per year, believing she has asked too much of her husband, Brian yields. "Aren't we lucky?" Sheila asserts.

"The ruling class"[edit]

"The ruling class". Time: 1960s. Place: England.

The mad 14th earl of Gurney thinks he is Jesus-Christ. Painting of Jesus by Titian (1490-1576)

The 13th earl of Gurney commits suicide. According to his will, there is no provision of any guardian appointed for the 14th earl of Gurney, although his family knows he is insane, considering himself "the one true God, the God of love, the Naz," sometimes seen suspended on a cross. Claire, wife to his half-brother Charles, nervously sees him greet society ladies and then eat the artificial fruit on one of their hats. Jack may be got rid of provided he produces an heir, which to Claire's disgust, Grace, Charles' mistress, agrees to, as did Marguerite, lady of the camellias. They wed. Dr Herder, a medical research worker on schizophrenia confers with Claire on the possibility of curing Jack. He confronts him with another madman thinking he is God, so that at the moment a baby boy is born Jack suddenly regains his senses. Receiving another visit from the two society ladies, it is obvious that Jack has switched from being the God of love into a very conservative aristocrat. In the hope of manipulating Jack, Claire attempts to play the role of a seductress, but he murders her. Thanks to a misleading detail given to the investigator, the butler is blamed for the murder and arrested. Unaware of her husband's guilt, Grace attempts to play the same role Claire did. On cuddling up to him, she becomes his second victim.

"Butley"[edit]

"Butley". Time: 1970s. Place: London, England.

Butley tries to wing his way through alcoholism, conflicts at work, and conflicts in marriage. Played by Nathan Lane at the Huntington Theatre Company, 2012

A student asks Ben Butley, university teacher of English literature, about tutorials on Wordsworth. He sends her off for the following week, shuddering at the thought. Ben's roommate and colleague, Joey, returns from a visit with his homosexual friend, Reg. Ben asks to be invited to their dinner party, but Joey tries to discourage him by saying Reg does not like him. Looking at the essays he must read and mark, Ben lets them drop one by one on the floor. He learns from Anne, his estranged wife, that she intends to re-marry with Tom. He reminds her she had once named him: "the dullest man you'd ever spent an evening with". She responds he is now "the dullest man I've ever spent the night with". Ben intends to make difficulties for her about this matter. Another student, Carol, corners him to read aloud to him her essay on Shakespeare's "The Winter's tale". As she goes, her essay in hand, he pinches his nostrils and gags, which she, returning, notices and runs off in tears. To make trouble, Ben calls up the headmaster of the institution where Tom works, informing him of who he is and his situation with Anne, specifying she intends to work as teacher there. He seethes in anger concerning Joey's failure at informing him about his relation with Tom. A colleague of theirs, Edna, is equally angry at Ben for allowing a "feathered youth" to believe he could leave her seminars for his. She is also angry at Joey for supporting him, which he denies, because he needs her support for a promotion. "Toadying is the sincerest form of contempt," Ben comments. When Reg informs Ben that Joey is leaving him for himself, Ben heaps insults and abuse on Reg's parents and background, to which Joey sputters while stifling laughter. However, they do not achieve their aim because of Joey's lies about his friend's background. Reg hits Ben as he goes away. Ben receives the feathered youth, asks him to read aloud TS Eliot's poetry, and without a word sends him away.

"The secret rapture"[edit]

"The secret rapture". Time: 1980s. Place: England.

Marion and Isobel's father has just died. To prevent her stepmother, Katherine, from taking a valuable ring, a gift to her father, Marion removed it from his finger. She resents her sister's silent disapproval of the deed. Frightened and lonely, Katherine asks Isobel for a position at her small firm specializing in book designs. Despite her qualms about Katherine's usefulness, she agrees, approved by Marion, but her qualms become all too justified on discovering her incompetence and bad judgment. Isobel agrees with Irwin, her lover and co-owner of the firm, that she should sack Katherine, but while speaking to her, she hesitates, at which Irwin forcibly expresses their decision, but then Isobel changes her mind, keeping Katherine after all. Marion's husband, Tom, reveals to Isobel that the company he works for has the means to invest in her company, but Isobel hesitates, since this implies that the real owner will be his company. Marion is hurt and infuriated at her sister's indecision, a sign of a lack of trust in her husband. When Isobel turns to Irwin for advice, she discovers that he is offered twice his salary if the deal is accepted, and so the matter is done. One day, in her effort to gain a new client who does not seem interested in her proposal, the unstable Katherine lunges towards him with a knife and in a highly nervous state is taken to the hospital. Keeping Katherine causes turmoil in the relation between Isobel and Irwin. She says she no longer loves him. He counters that this is mainly because he sided with Katherine, insinuating that she loved him only while he was subservient. "You saw me as poor and under your spell," he specifies. Because Irwin cannot accept her rejection of him, Isobel is now rarely present at work. Meanwhile, Tom's company receives an advantageous offer to sell Isobel's workplace. He offers her a new place rent-free, but since it appears dilapidated, she refuses, which angers Marion, who blames her for messing up the expansion. "You spoil everything you touch," she concludes. Isobel blocks the selling of her father's house, wishing to live in it, but she has no money to buy it. One night, Irwin returns to make up. She rejects him again. He becomes aggressive. When she heads outside to call for help, he shoots her dead. In the aftermath, Marion feels more disoriented than ever. "I can't interpret what people feel," she moans.

Martin McDonagh described how a cripple in a remote area can still be of interest to Hollywood producers, 2012

"The cripple of Inishmaan"[edit]

Time: 1934. Place: Island of Inishmaan, Ireland and Hollywood, USA.

Billy, a man crippled at the arm and leg, learns that a crew from Hollywood has arrived for filming at Inishmore. He asks Bobby to ferry him over from the Island of Inishmaan where he lives. Bobby at first refuses, considering it bad luck to carry a cripple, but changes his mind after reading a letter from Billy's doctor, stating that the man may die of tuberculosis within three months. Johnny, the news-carrier, insists on seeing this letter, but is quickly discouraged when Bobby throws a rock at his head. Johnny next brings over Dr McSharry to his house for a specious reason, but without any luck of learning more about it. He angrily accuses him of harming his patient, who left for Inishmore early on a cold morning. Bobby returns with the news that Billy has been taken to Hollywood for a screen test in a film with a cripple in a minor role. In a squalid Hollywood hotel room, Billy deliriously talks to his dead mother about his miserable state. "I do wonder would they let cripple boys into heaven at all. Sure, wouldn't we only go uglifying the place?" he wheezes out. Having no news of him, Billy's two aunts think he died as they view the completed film. However, at the end of the viewing, Billy walks out towards them. He forged the doctor's letter but refused Hollywood's offer as a consequence of being home-sick, not so difficult a choice, he says, considering "the arse-faced lines they had me reading for them." One of his friends, Bartley, informs him that his Aunt Kate has been talking to stones in his absence to the amusement of almost the entire island, including himself, at which Billy reproves. "You shouldn't laugh at other people's misfortunes, Bartley," he declares. "Why?" asks a confused Bartley. Though relieved to see him, Aunt Eileen strikes him on the head for not writing. Billy then admits to Bobby that he lied to his aunts about his experience in Hollywood, having been rejected as an actor in favor of a blond-haired American. Because Bobby was also was taken in by him, he strikes his friend several times with a lead pipe. While being examined by the doctor as a result of the beating, it turns out Billy has tuberculosis after all. He asks a woman he is fond of, Helen, whether she would be interested in walking with him one evening. Helen sniggers and walks out, but then comes back to say she would. On her way out again, his coughing becomes worse and there is blood on his hand.

"The retreat from Moscow"[edit]

"The retreat from Moscow". Time: 1990s. Place: England.

In Alice's mind, losing Edward is like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, depicted by Adolph Northen (1828–1876)

Both dissatisfied after 33 years of marriage, Alice pushes Edward to express himself more about their troubles, but he is unable to and says at last it is her problem. She slaps his face. Edward turns to his son, Jamie, and reveals he is in love with another woman. When Edward finally starts to talk about their marriage problems, Alice is relieved but then aghast at learning he intends to leave her. She accuses him of sneaking out without making the least effort to improve the marriage. "You'll kill me," she warns. Then she begs to do anything he wishes, but Edward says if he comes back it would not be in the form of his own person but another man. He must change his phone number because she calls him up without saying a word. As with Napoleon's army, Alice says to Jamie it is her husband's retreat from Moscow. "It's his rotten stinking cowardly way of making out it's alright to dump me in the snow," she says. When she notices her son's non-committed attitude, she bitterly accuses him of taking his father's side. Looking back though many years, Edward can only say he got on the wrong train. She sends scathing letters to his place of work with no name on the envelope so that the secretary can read what she says, in his view a "power play" on her part, she being used to have her own way with him almost every time. Alice next buys a puppy called "Eddie", and teaches him to lie dead in the yard. She also develops a habit of going out in the in her pyjamas, looking like a "clown", in Jamie's view. Edward provides for a handsome settlement for her, including the house. "How can you sit there and say I get the entire value of the family home, when the entire value of the family home is precisely what you've taken from me?" she responds. In her view, she would have been better off as a widow in every way, for he has poisoned all her memories. "I'm sunk, I'm done for. I want to get out," she admits to her son. He begs her not to give up. "I'll know that, however bad it gets, I can last it out, because you did, before me," he says. Though understanding his viewpoint, Jamie is disappointed about his father's manner throughout the marriage, especially his pretenses. As Edward prepares to move away to Scotland, Alice offers him an anthology of love-poems she collected. While he examines the collection, she takes a knife from it, then puts it down: "But I suppose I'll go on," she concludes. The question of another man for her never comes up.

"Shopping and fucking"[edit]

"Shopping and fucking". Time: 1990s. Place: England.

"Shopping and fucking" text at ?

Lulu and Robbie try to make Mark eat, but he vomits. Knowing that his health is deteriorating because of a drug addiction, he seeks medical treatment. Short on funds, Lulu applies for a position as a television announcer for a commercial product, but Brian, the man who is interviewing her, reveals himself as a drug dealer instead. She agrees to sell 300 tablets of a stimulant, "Ecstasy". Mark returns from rehabilitation sooner than expected. When Robbie kisses him, he turns away, intent on working through his addiction alone. He meets Gary, to whom he offers money for sexual favors, desiring to avoid emotional attachment. Gary accepts, but Mark stops licking his buttocks when he notices blood on them, the result of sexual abuse on the part of Gary's stepfather. When Lulu returns from shopping at a corner store, Robbie notices blood on her face, the result of a violent encounter when a customer stabbed an employee. She feels guilty on having done nothing to interfere during the conflict, even going away with a stolen bar of chocolate. When Mark meets Gary again, he admits to placing excessive demands on his lover. "I attach myself to others as a means of avoidance- of avoidance knowing the self," says Mark. In contrast, Gary's needs stem from losing a father at an early age and wanting his lover to compensate for it. "I want a dad. I want to be watched," says Gary. To help Lulu, Robbie goes to a dancing place to sell her drugs. Feeling sorry for a customer without money, he gives him some tablets and asks to be paid later. Soon several people come over for free drugs. "And I felt good," Robbie later explains to Lulu. "I felt amazing from just giving, you see?" When only two remained, an irate stranger told Robbie that two were not enough and hit him till he found himself in the emergency room of a hospital. When Robbie and Lulu explain the matter to Brian, he shows them a video of a man tied up to a chair with a drill advancing towards his face and gives them one week to make up for the money. They make money by means of pornographic telephone conversations. Although Gary gives Mark expensive gifts, he realizes his love leaves him cold. "You're not what I'm after," he says. When they visit Robbie and Lulu, a jealous Robbie insults and tries to strangle Gary until Mark intervenes. Eager to take Gary's money, Robbie and Lulu blindfold him and act out his sexual fantasies. Robbie penetrates him anally and invites Mark over to do the same, which he does. But when Gary wishes to be penetrated by a knife, they back away. Over the course of the week, Robbie and Lulu come up with the money. Brian is so pleased that they have learned their lesson that he lets them keep it.