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But the text allows more sympathetic readings Medea too, as a woman fighting for justice in an unjust world. With a monumental lead part, and a chorus who react and comment on the action, the play has always been one of the most popular of the Greek tragedies. Taut and tense, you see the horror coming but feel desperately compelled to look.

The mother of a murdered child. Her imprisoned paedophile killer.

A criminal psychologist attempting to understand what drove him to do it. Through first monologues, and then dialogue, this modem classic has much to say about the extremes of human anguish, but also our capacity for change, and for forgiveness. Has there every been such a reliably delightful comedy? The improbable plot of tangled engagements, lost handbags, invented wicked relatives, and real monstrous aunts runs like clockwork.

There are innumerable blissful one-liners, the characters are delicious upper-class twits, and at every turn Wilde has a fine old time pricking societal niceties. You invest in the relationship between Max and Rudy, a decadent gay couple in Berlin in — but after the Night of the Long Knives they flee, before being caught and sent to Dachau. Ian McKellen originally played Max, but Richard Gere and Alan Cummings have also taken on the role in what is now seen as seminal gay text — one that proves truth and love may flower in the most horrific, hopeless circumstances.

It has fun sending up the pretensions of theatre, but ultimately uses it as means for talking about empathy, communication, and understanding, as relations between the reviled prisoners and the cruel officers thaw. A direct piece of storytelling with a huge heart. Lucy Prebble made her name with ENRON, charting the hubris of the financial giant, but while it may be less flashy, The Effect is still dazzlingly good. And given all interactions in the brain are just chemical, does it even matter?

Her characters are fun to spend time with, her dialogue is snappy, but she digs deep too, into both scientific theories and human emotions, taking us from the grey lows of depression to the technicolour highs of new love. A state-of-the-nation show powered by anti-establishment brio, it also precisely captures a contemporary rural community very sweary, and very funny.

Jerusalem became a ridiculously big hit, with audiences camping out round the theatre for tickets. But a recent revival suggests the play can still crow, whoever plays Rooster. What makes a great play? A lot of critics, academics, and playwrights themselves will point to form matching content. A stage hypnotist encounters the father of a girl he killed in a car accident. The father truly believes his daughter has been transformed into oak tree. The actor is transformed before us; we accept that they are now the father.

An Oak Tree has a radical honesty which has made it hugely influential among younger generation. Athol Fugard came to see that the righteous anger of didactic anti-apartheid drama was not as effective as the subversive laughter of the black townships when it came to getting across the harshness of the conditions there. Certainly, there is nothing moralising or solemn about this piece which was developed by Fugard from improvisations with the great John Kani and Winston Ntosha who first performed it.

A mischievous shaggy dog story, it pulls the audience into an atmosphere of good-humoured sociability. Sizwe is a work-seeker in Port Elizabeth who can't get a job because he doesn't have a permit. It turns out that he has found a dead man's pass book and has substituted his own photo, killing off Sizwe Bansi. A deceptively light and humane play that outlasts the apartheid era. The plays use a bold collage technique instead of linear narrative, and she had penetrating insights into its vicious pack mentality and conformist claustrophobia.

In Purgatory, she evokes a stifling Catholic ethos: we see two very different rebels one girl seeks in vain for an abortion who suffer the humiliation of having to crawl back to the pack. Brecht effectively hijacked her second play Pioneers about the contact between the inhabitants and a visiting squad of bridge-builders. He imposed overt anti-militarism and sensationalising sex, and Fleisser was denounced as a traitor to German womanhood. Stephen Daldry and Annie Castledine directed a superb version of these plays at the tiny Gate Theatre in Since when, nothing.

It's high time Fleisser was given her due. It imagines a real meeting between nuclear physicists, the Dane Niels Bohr and German Werner Heisenberg, in Copenhagen in , to discuss developments that will lead to the atomic bomb.

Then he reimagines the meeting, and reimagines it again — after all, no-one really knows what happened. Hoping for a mutual pact to prevent the atomic bomb?

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Seeking absolution? This play was a theatrical explosion. Who committed the first infidelity?

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Was it a man, or was it a woman? You can bet it was a man who first thought of this prurient question. The court in Marivaux's dark comedy thinks it has created the right laboratory conditions for finding out the answer. The play incisively shows how easy it is to turn a stage into an experimental blank slate.

But it feels a bit pervy — the Enlightenment's idea of reality television. Marivaux is elegantly conscious of the objections. It's easy to make Pirandello sound like a forbiddingly cerebral writer. All his life he played tricksy games with philosophical problems such as the deceptiveness of identity.

Henry IV is about madness, the appearance of madness, and the consequence of deciding to become trapped within the appearance of madness.


The protagonist is an Italian nobleman who falls from his horse at a pageant and comes round, convinced that he's the medieval German Emperor. For 20 years, he has been allowed to live this illusion, attended by flunkies in period-costume. Richard Harris and Ian McDiarmid were the last pair to play Henry in the West End and they relished the chance to interweave the quizzicality and raw pain that the part requires.

The predicament of the central character feels more tragicomically stimulating than far-fetched. Caryl Churchill has been called the Picasso of modern playwrights.

Crawling Towards the Light

Today, at the age of 80, the British playwright continues startlingly to reinvent herself. Far Away is a twisted fairy tale that demonstrates her matchless gift for merging the apocalyptic and the fantastical.

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It unfolds in three episodes that shelve steeply. In the first, Joan is quizzing her aunt about what she has just accidentally witnessed. It sounds as if she has espied a bloody act of ethnic cleansing. Then the play escalates into a blackly hilarious vision of cosmic warfare. Partisan brutality has now spread from humans to the animal and mineral world. A sliver of genius. Tom Stoppard sometimes gets accused of being all head and no heart — but this play proves otherwise. Two stories, set in the same country house, in and the present day, intersect and eventually overlap beautifully.

The mathematic theorising forecasts hope as well as disaster for the universe, and the story offers the same for its characters.

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Prince Charles recites favourite poem Quoting Shakespeare for National Poetry Day

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