Plays are truly a magical thing, and the best ones capture you without even having to come to life on the stage. But (unfortunately) we don't have all the hours in the world to sit down and read everything that's gone to print - so how do you decide where to start?
That's where we step in! While we know there are hundreds (or thousands) of plays that you'll fall in love with over the course of your life, these are the ten that have blown us away, and given us an appreciation of the myriad of stories that are waiting to be told.
How many of these have you read?
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Named by the New York Drama Critics' Circle as the best play of 1959, and by The Independent and Time Out as one of the best plays ever written, Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is a penetrating psychological study of a working-class black family in the late 1940s. Mirrored from Hansberry's own experiences of racial discrimination after moving to a white neighbourhood with her family, the play examines racism during a period of assimilation and the battle to maintain your culture when trying to survive. A Raisin in the Sun continues to be produced throughout America, and its relevance is still painfully salient.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Although the live production is a seven-hour feat, reading this story is well worth the investment. Winner of the 1993 Tony Award for Best Play and 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, the play is a heartbreakingly honest examination of AIDS and homosexuality in America during the 80s. Professor of theatre studies at Columbia University, John M. Clum, labelled the play "a turning point in the history of gay drama, the history of American drama, and of American literary culture."
Far Away by Caryl Churchill
Confronting our deepest fears, Caryl Churchill's Far Away depicts a world where everyone is at war, and no one - not even the birds - can be trusted. Written as a response to what Churchill saw as an increasing lack of humanity in the world, Far Away conjures a 'dystopia of incomprehnesible proportions', yet one that seems eerily close to home. It's hard to believe that this one was written 20 years ago. Churchill's writing is visceral and plunges us deep into a dystopia rich with madness and metaphor.
The Oresteia by Aeschylus
Written in 458 BC, The Oresteia is the only surviving full trilogy of Greek tragedies. The trilogy traces the impact of violence and revenge down a Royal family, in a story filled with murder, tragedy, and a dark curse. It's considered to be Aeschylus' greatest work, and perhaps the greatest Greek tragedy. Reading this one will make it clear why this work continues to be staged to this day.
Bent by Martin Sherman
Set in Nazi Germany, Bent follows two gay men who are hunted down by soldiers and forced into a concentration camp after Hitler issued an order to purge all homosexuals from the army. Before Bent premiered, there was little to no research or awareness in theatre about the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust, and it's believed that this work helped increase education and conversation around this issue during the 80s and 90s. A devastating but important read about identity, loss and redemption.
Blasted by Sarah Kane
Blasted is an exceptionally divisive play. Violence pervades this controversial work in many forms - from military to sexual - and much of the content is challenging to stomach. The initial performance in 1995 at the Royal Court Theatre was viciously attacked by most critics, suggesting the story was nothing more than shock value. However, after Kane's suicide in 1999, critics revisited the work and recanted their statements, suggesting that it was 'a play with a fine, moral purpose.' A work many are scared to stage, but a work many should read as an examination of how divisive theatre can be.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
With The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion brings an incredibly personal yet universal story to the stage - one of love, life and loss. When Didion loses her husband and only daughter in the same year, she is forced to reevaluate everything around her. This brilliant work is Didion's attempt to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself."
Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan
Every Brilliant Thing is a unique play for a solo actor. When a child's mother is hospitalised following a suicide attempt, he compiles a list of every brilliant thing in life - from eating ice cream to the sound that rain makes - reasons to keep mum going. This is a tender story that uses the audience to create the world of the play, inviting audience members to play the role of the Doctor, the parent, the lover. Also a definite must-see if it hits a theatre near you.
Stolen Jane Harrison
Stolen is a vitally important work in understanding the history of Australia. Based on true events, it tells the story of five young Aboriginal children part of the Stolen Generation, forcibly removed from their parents and assimilated into White Australian culture. Stolen dramatises the fear, persecution and anguish felt by the children and their families, as well as displaying the ongoing effects the Stolen Generation has had on First Nations Australians physically, psychologically and culturally. A powerful work that brings this tragic history to the stage and continues an important conversation around Australia's relationship with its First Nations communities.
The Jungle by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson
Writers Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson don't present The Jungle to you - rather, they plunge you headfirst into it. The play sucks you in and lands you in the centre of Jungle refugee camp, which was created in 2015 in Calais, France, and lasted less than a year when it was dismantled by French police. The Jungle starts at the end of the story, in a space of destruction and chaos, then returns to the beginning to give us an unfiltered look at what happens when people fleeing from all parts of our unforgiving world come together to make a home. A fantastic work that looks at the refugee experience from all angles, including government inactivity and voluntourism, and gives a voice to those often silenced in their own stories.
How many of these have you checked off the list? Let us know in the comments below!