Discover the Most-Performed Plays of 2019

What a fantastic year 2019 was for NHB! We were shortlisted for an award at the IPG Independent Publishing Awards; celebrated awards success for loads of our authors including Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antony Sher, Frances Poet and Lynn Nottage; launched our new series Multiplay Drama (which is up for a prize at the Music and Drama Education Awards), and of course published over one hundred fantastic new plays and theatre books.

We know that you’ve been incredibly busy yourselves, as we licensed thousands of performances of Nick Hern Books plays over 2019! We’ve crunched the number of performances across the year to find out which were your favourites. Let’s take a look and get inspired by our Top 10 Most-Performed Plays of 2019, in reverse order…

10. The Children by Lucy Kirkwood
Cast: 2f 1m

The Children performed by Criterion Theatre, Coventry, England, in January 2019
Photo: Criterion Theatre

New to our Top 10 is Lucy Kirkwood’s pressingly topical tragicomic The Children, following two ageing nuclear scientists in an isolated cottage on the coast, as the world around them crumbles. This beautifully written three-hander was named Best Play at the 2018 Writers’ Guild Awards. ‘Sly, gripping, darkly funny… this is sci-fi kitted out with real people, real dilemmas, real scope’ The Times

Loved this play? Take a look at: Foxfinder

9. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, adapted by Laura Eason
Cast: 3f 5m, doubling (very large cast possible)

AROUND THE WORLD, Caldicott School, November 2019, Neale Blackburn

Around The World in 80 Days performed by Caldicott School, Slough, England, in November 2019
Photo: Neale Blackburn

Laura Eason’s celebrated version of Verne’s classic novel packs in more than fifty unforgettable characters. This imaginative adaptation was written for an ensemble cast of eight, but can be performed by a much larger cast – making it perfect for any theatre company or drama group looking for a high-spirited adventure. ‘Bursting with imagination, this exuberant whistle-stop tour through Verne is a trip worth making’ The Stage

Loved this play? Take a look at: The Three Musketeers

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Cast: 3m

HOUND, Stockton Heath Methodist Amateur Drama Society, May 2019

The Hound of the Baskervilles performed by Stockton Heath Methodist Amateur Dramatic Society, Cheshire, England, in May 2019
Photo: Stockton Heath Methodist Amateur Dramatic Society

A gloriously funny makeover of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated Sherlock Holmes story, from the hit comedy team Peepolykus. The Hound of the Baskervilles is an energetic spoof, offering abundant opportunities for silly comedy and slapstick for three male performers. ‘A masterclass in madcap energy… a fun and fresh Sherlock Holmes romp’ The Stage

Loved this play? Take a look at: Dracula: The Bloody Truth

7. Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore
Cast: 3f

Di and Viv and Rose, Questors, June 2019, Carla Evans 01

Di and Viv and Rose performed by The Questors, London, England, in June 2019
Photo: Carla Evans

A firm favourite with amateur companies, this warm and funny play about friendship offers three great roles for female performers. Crackling with wisdom and wit, Di and Viv and Rose is a humorous and thoughtful exploration of a relationship spanning 30 years. ‘Brims over with warm, effervescent humour and sharp perceptiveness’ Independent

Loved this play? Take a look at: Little Gem

6. Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale
Cast: 5-7f 7m

NELL GWYNN, Masquerade Theatre Company, October 2018 01

Nell Gwynn performed by Masquerade Theatre, Kent, England, in October 2018
Photo: Masquerade Theatre

Holding a place in our Top 10 ever since its release, this explosive, extravagant, warm-hearted comedy is an unending delight. Boasting a large cast and a charming lead role for a female performer, Nell Gwynn won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. ‘Bawdy and brilliant… a wonderful, warm-hearted and generous piece of theatrical history’ The Stage

Loved this play? Take a look at: Anne Boleyn

5. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, adapted by Mike Kenny
Cast: 5f 6m, doubling (6f 9m)

The Railway Children performed by Ysgol Bae Baglan, Port Talbot, Wales, in July 2019
Photo: Ysgol Bae Baglan

This story of a prosperous Edwardian family who nearly lose everything captures the anxieties and exhilarations of childhood with great tenderness and insight. Mike Kenny’s imaginative adaptation of the much-loved children’s classic offers three plum roles for young performers, and is eminently suitable for schools, youth theatres and drama groups. ‘This glorious adaptation never for a moment runs out of steam’ Guardian

Loved this play? Take a look at: The Machine Gunners

4. Bull by Mike Bartlett
Cast: 1f 3m

Bull performed by the Woodhouse Players, Leytonstone, England, in March 2019
Photo: Woodhouse Players

Storming on to the list in the first year of its performing rights re-release, Mike Bartlett’s razor-sharp play about office politics and playground bullying has been an instant hit with amateur companies. Witty and unflinching, Olivier Award-winning Bull offers ringside seats as three employees fight to keep their jobs. ‘Short, slick and emotionally unflinching… delivers a decisive punch’ The Stage

Loved this play? Take a look at: Contractions

3. The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington
Cast: 4f 1m

The Thrill of Love performed by Anglisten Theater, Augsburg, Germany, in December 2018
Photo: Anglisten Theater

A gripping, female-led drama about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Holding a place in our Top 10 for the fifth year running, The Thrill of Love dramatises an absorbing true story and takes a fresh look at the woman behind the headlines. ‘Tense and engaging throughout… a triumph’ The Stage

Loved this play? Take a look at: Machinal

2. Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington
Cast: 4f 1m

Ladies’ Day performed by Hyde Heath Theatre Company, Bucks, England, in June 2019
Photo: Richard Caslon

Amanda Whittington’s fantastic, female-led plays always hold a deserving place in our Top 10. This high-spirited comedy about four likely lasses from the Hull fish docks on a day trip to the races has been a hit with amateur companies for years. With its warm heart, relatable soul and fabulous roles for women, it’s not hard to see why. ‘Exuberantly up-to-the-minute comedy’ Guardian

Loved this play? Take a look at: The Nightingales

1. Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale
Cast: 8-10f 8-14m

Blue Stockings performed by the Department of Drama, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, New York, USA, in May 2019
Photo: Justin Chauncey

Jessica Swale holds the top spot in our Top 10 list for the third year running. Her moving, comical and eye-opening historical drama Blue Stockings is a defiant story of four young women fighting for education against the backdrop of women’s suffrage. ‘Cracking… leaves you astonished at the prejudices these educational pioneers had to overcome’ Guardian

Loved this play? Take a look at: Emilia

Check out more of our popular titles over on our Most Performed page, rounding up our Top 20 Plays to Perform. From Andrew Bovell’s bold and complex family portrait Things I Know To Be True, co-produced by renowned physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, to the explosive, award-winning teen drama Girls Like That by Evan Placey, to Ella Hickson’s twist on J. M. Barrie’s classic, Wendy & Peter Pan, which puts Wendy firmly centre-stage, we hope that these hit plays will inspire your search for your perfect next play to perform!


Congratulations to all of our wonderful authors who have made it into the Top 10 this year, and to all of you whose performances have been such a success. And thanks to all the companies who provided us with photos of their amazing productions. It’s always a pleasure to help so many of you stage ambitious, accomplished and triumphant productions of the fantastic plays on our list, and we hope to continue to work together for many years to come.

We have over 1,000 plays available for amateur performance on our website, where there’s a handy Play Finder tool to help you find the perfect play to perform. Our friendly and knowledgeable Performing Rights team is available to discuss your requirements with you in person (email us at rights@nickhernbooks.co.uk, or give us a call on 020 8749 4953). And make sure you sign up for our newsletter to get notifications of the latest releases.

Whatever your plans for 2020, we hope to hear from you soon!

A female Scrooge: author Piers Torday on adapting Dickens for today’s stage

PIERS TORDAY, writer of the acclaimed Last Wild series of children’s novels, has adapted Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for Wilton’s Music Hall. Here, he explains why his version, Christmas Carol: A Fairy Tale, reimagines the familiar story, placing Ebenezer’s sister Fan at the heart of the action…

When Charles Dickens published his ‘little Christmas book’ in 1843, it took just six weeks for the first adaptation to reach the stage. It played in London for more than forty nights before transferring to New York. In the year of publication alone, there were nine separate theatrical adaptations, including the first-ever musical version. Dickens himself was famous for his own public readings of the story, giving over 127 such recitals in England and America. And the process of retelling has continued for 176 years. From stage to screen, cartoon to musical, from the RSC to the Muppets, there are nearly thirty published adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and dozens more are written every Christmas. There was even a mime version by Marcel Marceau in 1973.

So why another? Well, whilst the tale has been retold for puppets and toys, and Scrooge performed by men young and old, the central role has remained resolutely masculine. What happens when we re-examine this classic fairy tale from a woman’s perspective, and reimagine the complex central character? And why?

The book is, at heart, a story about injustice. Dickens was horrified by the desperate destitution, especially in children, that he witnessed on his many legendary walks through industrial London. He initially drafted a political pamphlet in reply to an 1843 parliamentary report on working-class child poverty. But the Carol made his point more plangently.

Christmas Carol: A Fairy Tale | Want (Chisara Agor), Meagre (Yana Penrose), Ignorance (Joseph Hardy) | Wilton’s Music Hall, 2019 (photo by Nobby Clark)

Yet he was also no saint. It is perhaps telling that Catherine, his long-suffering wife (who was also a writer), titled her sole publication What Shall We Have for Dinner? She endured twelve pregnancies, bearing him ten children. These took their toll on her body, about which Dickens was privately offensive, and on her mind. Catherine was afflicted by what appears to have been severe post-natal depression, and Dickens responded by first taking up with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, then trying to persuade a doctor that his wife was insane, and should be put away in an asylum so he could continue his philandering unhindered.

Charles Dickens’s daughter Katey said that her father never understood women, and some of his excessively sentimentalised young female characters, like Little Nell in the Old Curiosity Shop, or the long parade of unattractive or damaged older women, such as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, do not offer a very compelling counterargument to this analysis. But he was also a product of his age, a time of unstinting male power that frequently marginalised the voices of the poor, the indebted, the weak, the vulnerable – and women of all classes.

Christmas Carol: A Fairy Tale | Sally Dexter as Scrooge | Wilton’s Music Hall, 2019 (photo by Nobby Clark)

Christmas Carol is set in an intensely patriarchal society. The most powerful member of it, Queen Victoria, may have been a woman, but she also thought her own sex ‘poor and feeble’, and called for suffragists to be whipped. Her female subjects were expected to put ‘home and hearth’ before all else (often including any education and professional advancement). When she married, the rights of a woman were legally given to her husband. He took control of her property, earnings and money. If he wished to spend her money on his business or his debts, he did not require her consent. In exchange for this, she took his name. And until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, divorce allowing remarriage was only possible by the passage of a private act through the Houses of Parliament.

Early nineteenth-century daughters, like the Fan Scrooge that Dickens imagines, were meant to get in line behind their brothers, like Ebenezer. In Dickens’s version, Fan dies early, leaving Ebenezer distraught.

But what if it had been the other way around? What if Fan Scrooge had tried to make her way in a man’s world of power and profit? What would have happened to Fan then?

Dickens wrote this enduring and uplifting story to try to heal the divisions of his own age. He yearned to create ‘a better common understanding among those whose interests are identical and who depend upon each other’. He wanted, in other words, to bring all people together, at a precious time of year, united in a love of the common good. And so do we. Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one.

Christmas Carol: A Fairy Tale | Want (Chisara Agor), Ignorance (Joseph Hardy) and the Fezziwigs (Yana Penrose & Edward Harrison) | Wilton’s Music Hall, 2019 (photo by Nobby Clark)


Tamara von WerthernFrom the Nick Hern Books Peforming Rights Manager: Piers Torday’s version of A Christmas Carol is a particularly wonderful offering for amateur theatre companies. By putting a woman centre-stage as Scrooge, and swapping the nephew for a niece, he creates two central roles to be played by women. And it’s not just a matter of cross-gender casting – we’re talking about rich and varied female characters who can (in this version) only be played by women. It sticks closely to the spirit of the original, while questioning the historical treatment of women and children (and even animals). I went to see it with an 11 year old, who thought it was brilliant too, and remarked, ‘It’s really clever that Fanny Scrooge actually exists in the original’.

The first production had a cast of 5 women and 3 men, but this can be extended to a very large cast, and one that is weighted towards female performers.

So, if you’re after a fresh take on Dickens, one that celebrates the spirit of Christmas and remints the familiar story so that it speaks directly to us now, this is for you!

If you want any further information, do contact me and my team here, or tel. +44 (0)20 8749 4953.

Tamara von Werthern, Performing Rights Manager, Nick Hern Books


Christmas Carol: A Fairy Tale by Piers Torday is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

To buy your copy for just £7.99 plus postage and packing (20% off the RRP), visit our website.

Christmas Carol is at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, until 4 January 2020. Buy your tickets here.

Production photos by Nobby Clark. Author photo by James Betts.

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2019: Amateur companies lighting up the Fringe

As attention shifts from the drama at Westminster to the drama in Edinburgh, we hear from three intrepid amateur companies performing plays licensed by Nick Hern Books at this year’s Festival Fringe. From macho corporate politics to brilliant youth theatre via the Ballet Russes, they demonstrate the resourcefulness and the eclecticism of the Fringe at its very best…

Bull by Mike Bartlett
Arbery Productions
theSpace @ Niddry St, 12-24 August

In the struggle for survival, no blow is too low.

One of three office workers is about to lose their job. As Tony, Isobel and Thomas wait for their boss to deliver the verdict, the three discuss each other’s chances of survival.

One of our actors suggested Mike Bartlett’s play Bull to Arbery Productions. He had performed scenes from it while he was training, and he loved the play. I read it and thought it could be really powerful. I just felt gripped by it. I said yes after only two days.

We rehearsed in quite a lot of depth and detail. We began by brainstorming our reactions to the script. We tried to figure out what we felt were the main themes, and what Bartlett was trying to present. To a degree, Bull speaks for itself. You have the analogy of the bullfight and that image is very rich. It gives you a lot of scope to apply choreography and style to the piece, but it’s also suitably minimalistic. We kept it very simple. I decided to strip everything back and keep the focus on the actors.

We had a great success with the production at the 2019 Scottish Community Drama Association One-Act Festival, where we were selected as a finalist.

Bull by Mike Bartlett, performed by Arbery Productions at the Scottish Community Drama Association One-Act Festival 2019

We’re going even more minimalistic for the Fringe. There are nine other shows in the same space as us, so we have a very tight turnaround and a tiny cupboard for storage. We’ll be using one white chair and marking out a big circle with hundreds of white plastic cups (the ones you get from an office water cooler) to represent our bull ring/office space. It’s very stark and very abstract.

We’re excited to get started. We’ve got cast members from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cyprus! This is my first production with Arbery and we can’t wait to take it to the Fringe after its success earlier this year.

– Adam Tomkins, Director


Rattigan’s Nijinksy by Nicholas Wright
KGS Theatre Company
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, 18-24 August

In a hotel room, lauded playwright Terence Rattigan meets Vaslav Nijinsky’s elderly widow, Romola, to fight over his latest play. Meanwhile in the same room, the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the young Romola fight over the tormented Nijinsky.

In 1974, Terence Rattigan wrote a television script for the BBC about the relationship between Diaghilev, the impresario behind the Ballets Russes, and Nijinsky, the most renowned dancer of all time, which Rattigan described as ‘the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet‘. But the playwright withdrew the play and it was never produced…

We are a theatre company of young adults from Kingston Grammar School who have had fantastic success on the Fringe – including a sell-out production  of Joseph K by Tom Basden in 2017. Taking a show to Edinburgh really is an experience none of us forget. Past company members have returned to the Fringe producing, writing and performing in their own work – such is the strength of their experiences.

KGS Theatre Company flyering at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe

Preparations for this year’s production of Nicholas Wright’s play Rattigan’s Nijinsky are well underway and we have one of our most talented casts. We are hoping to bring both the world of Rattigan and the world of the Ballet Russes to life on the stage simultaneously. We are also learning a great deal about historical perceptions of sexuality as we analyse the stigmas around homosexuality and the circumstances that prevented people living their lives as freely as we do today.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky by Nicholas Wright, performed by KGS Theatre Company

We are greatly looking forward to performing at the Fringe and hope to impress audiences as we have in the past.

– Stu Crohill, Director


Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy
PQA Edinburgh
PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court, 2-6 August

You’re born a girl. You grow up. You grow old. You die. But who is in control of your life story? Can you actually choose your destiny? And how do you forge your own identity along the way?

We are PQA Edinburgh, a weekend children’s performing arts academy based in Scotland’s beautiful and historic capital. This is our second year performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as we had the most spectacular time last year!

PQA Edinburgh rehearsing Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy

The play we have chosen to perform at this year’s Fringe is Second Person Narrative by Jemma Kennedy. We chose this play not only for its fantastic story and wonderful text, but also for the vast array of characters. In the past we have struggled to find great writing for a large predominantly female cast, but with Second Person Narrative we have hit the jackpot!

We’ve been working on the play for several months – as we have only one session a week, we need to spread our rehearsal process out. The rehearsal process has been really enjoyable as the play allows the students to create well-rounded and believable characters and has also given every student the challenge of creating more than one character across the piece. We also decided that this was a wonderful opportunity for our students to use this play for their Trinity College Grade 4 Plays in Production Group exam. I was so proud of the professionalism shown by every student and I was over the moon to announce to the group that they had passed with Merit!

Why not come along and see us in this brilliant production – we’d love to see you!

– Leonna McGilligan-Dix, Principal of PQA Edinburgh


Good luck and break a leg to all the brilliant amateur companies taking NHB-licensed shows to the Edinburgh Fringe this year!

Are you looking for a show to take to the Fringe next year? Take a look at our dedicated Plays to Perform site, where you can search for plays by genre, theme and/or cast size, and sign up for our Plays to Perform newsletter.

Or get in touch with our Performing Rights team – we’re always happy to help you find the perfect play to perform. Call us on 020 8749 4953, or email rights@nickhernbooks.co.uk.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @NHBPerforming.

Our previous Edinburgh Fringe Reports are still available here:

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2018
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2017
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 1: Final Preparations
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 2: The Reckoning
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 1: Cutting it at the Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning

Big new plays for great big casts: the exciting new Multiplay Drama series

As Nick Hern Books launches its new Multiplay Drama series – a great range of plays with large casts that are perfect for older teenagers and young adults to perform – series editor John O’Donovan explains why it’s a boon for any group looking for an ambitious play to perform with roles for all the company.

Every year, a great number of original plays are commissioned and performed by drama schools, educational institutions, and youth, student and amateur-theatre companies. Reading them, talking to their writers, seeing them in production, we are always struck by the complexity of their themes, the invention of their storytelling and the calibre of their playwrights.

Some of these plays are revived in professional productions – for instance, Growth by Luke Norris was first seen at the Royal Welsh College before being revised and produced on tour by Paines Plough in their pop-up theatre, Roundabout, and winning a Fringe First Award in Edinburgh – but most haven’t yet had a further life. It seems like the very raison d’être of many of these plays – the creation of large-scale complex pieces for young, large casts – has meant theatre companies, hamstrung by ever-shrinking budgets, haven’t been able to find a way to give the plays the continuing existence that they deserve.

That’s why Nick Hern Books has created Multiplay Drama – a new series aiming to bring back to the fore some of the best plays for large casts we’ve read. Offering ten high-quality plays that originated with various drama schools and youth-theatre companies, it provides a selection of ambitious, complex, dramatic and theatrical plays with one common factor: large casts of rich, exciting characters for teenagers and young adults to perform.

No one-person shows. No knotty two-handers. No triptychs. These are plays with big ideas and need big companies to put them across. From the relatively modest seven-hander Blue to the 75+ speaking characters in katzenmusik, these plays offer multiple perspectives and clamorous takes on some of the most important issues of today.

In making these plays available to read and perform, we’re hoping to see a legion of other drama schools, youth theatres, student-drama societies, sixth-form colleges and amateur-theatre companies gaining ready access to the kinds of plays that interrogate theatrical storytelling form as vigorously as they question the world we live in today. In every play in this first season of the initiative, actors will find roles that are fleshed out and demand self-reflection, that justify their time on the stage and find their place within a larger set of characters.

If your performance group is looking for a play that builds a post-apocalyptic world and focuses on a large group of identifiable characters navigating through a dystopian vision of Britain – we have the play for you; if you prefer a play where a Chorus comes and narrates across time zones and locations, splitting up voices to tell a fragmented story – we have the play for you; if you want to wonder what it’s like to spend every day in a psychiatric unit; or in mourning for a loved one; or even what it’s like to metamorphose into an animal – we have the plays for you…

Multiplay Drama is a great way for plays with large casts to find even larger audiences. Commissioned by some of the most illustrious educational and youth groups in the country, and featuring playwrights whose work has been seen on the most celebrated of stages, these ten plays offer rigorous storytelling, unflinching explorations of contemporary issues, and a willingness to experiment with theatrical form and invest even the smallest of roles with significance and dignity. They are ideal for companies with a lot of performers looking for fresh, modern and dramatic stances on the world we live in today.


John O’Donovan is Consultant Editor at Nick Hern Books.

The first ten titles in the Multiplay Drama series are out now, published by Nick Hern Books. For more information and free extracts, visit www.multiplaydrama.co.uk.

All ten plays are available to buy as ebooks from Nick Hern Books and from most ebook retailers.

Top 10 Most-Performed Plays of 2018

2018 saw the thirtieth anniversary of Nick Hern Books – and it was certainly a year to remember, with more plays published than in any previous year in the company’s history, a shelf-load of awards, and the inaugural Amateur Theatre Fest in September. Plus, we licensed many brilliant productions of Nick Hern Books’ plays to amateur companies up and down the country, and further afield. We’ve done some number-crunching, and can now announce our official Top 10 Most-Performed Plays of 2018, together with some of our favourite posters and production shots from the productions we’ve licensed over the year…

10. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny
Cast: 5f 6m doubling (6f 9m possible)
Staging: can be simply staged (with or without a steam train!)

At number ten on our list comes this delightful period drama, adapted by Mike Kenny from E. Nesbit’s much-loved book. It’s the heart-warming story of a prosperous Edwardian family forced into penury in the rural north of England. This imaginative adaptation captures the anxieties and exhilarations of childhood with great tenderness and insight. It offers three plum roles for young performers, and is eminently suitable for schools, youth theatres and drama groups. ‘This glorious adaptation never for a moment runs out of steam’ Guardian

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, adapted by Mike Kenny, performed in 2018 by Doncaster Little Theatre


9. Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington
Cast: 6f
Staging: multipurpose set

This poignant and moving drama is set in a 1960s Mother-and-Baby Home, where young, unmarried women are sent to have their babies. It revolves around a central character who has to cope with the dawning realisation that she will have to give her baby up for adoption, whether she likes it or not. Yet despite their plight, the girls’ youthful effervescence keeps breaking through as they sing along to the girl-group songs of the period. Amanda Whittington’s ever-popular play has a cast of 6f, making it our most-performed all-female play in 2018. ‘Immensely touching’ The Times

Be My Baby by Amanda Whittington, performed in 2018 by Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society, Lancashire


8. Handbagged by Moira Buffini
Cast: 4f 2m
Staging: minimal requirements

A fresh and funny drama about two of the most powerful women of the twentieth century, Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, Handbagged undoes the clasp of history and takes us right into the royal chamber, exposing the antipathy between Queen and Prime Minister as they battle for supremacy. Featuring two exceptional roles for female performers, the play is also available in a  one-act version suitable for festivals and shorter time-slots. ‘Hilarious and moving… raises serious questions about the balance of power’ Guardian

Handbagged by Moira Buffini, performed in 2018 by Chads Theatre Company, Cheadle Hulme


7. Arabian Nights by Dominic Cooke
Cast: 4f 5m doubling (large cast possible)
Staging: flexible staging, minimal requirements

A simple and delightfully inventive re-telling of the stories from the Arabian Nights, with an original music score by Gary Yershon that can also be licensed for performance. Dominic Cooke’s enchanting Arabian Nights was originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and has been hugely popular with amateur companies ever since. It was our highest-ranking family show in 2018. ‘A truly magical piece of theatre that delights all the senses’ WhatsOnStage

Arabian Nights by Dominic Cooke, performed in 2018 by Falls Church High School, Virginia, USA


6. Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
Cast: 5f 8m plus 1 boy
Staging: single built set (mobile home in a woodland clearing)

This hugely acclaimed powerhouse of a play by Jez Butterworth centres on local waster Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron and his disreputable retinue, a constant source of irritation to the local council, who want him evicted from his illegal encampment in a woodland clearing. The play offers an outstanding lead role for a male performer, with plenty of additional roles for a cast of 14 (plus chickens, if available). ‘Unarguably one of the best dramas of the twenty-first century’ Guardian

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, performed in 2018 by The Norwich Players

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, performed in 2018 by Swan Theatre, Bedford


5. The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington
Cast: 4f 1m
Staging: various interior and exterior settings (can be simply staged)

A gripping, noirish period drama about Ruth Ellis, who became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Holding a place in our Top 10 for the fourth year running, Amanda Whittington’s The Thrill of Love dramatises an absorbing true story, with a female-led cast and a 1950s setting. ‘Tense and engaging throughout… a triumph’ The Stage

The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington, performed in 2018 by Bedford Drama Company

The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington, performed in 2018 by Nantwich Players, Cheshire


4. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Cast: 3m (playing various roles)
Staging: minimal requirements

Not a standard period whodunnit, but a gloriously funny makeover of the Sherlock Holmes story, from the hit comedy team Peepolykus. This Hound of the Baskervilles is an madcap and zany spoof, offering abundant slapstick opportunities for three male performers. ‘A masterclass in madcap energy… a fun and fresh Sherlock Holmes romp’ The Stage

The Hound of the Baskervilles adapted by Steven Canny & John Nicholson, performed in 2018 by Bersted Arts in Bognor Regis


3. Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington
Cast: 4f 1m doubling (or up to 6m)
Staging: flexible staging

The third play by Amanda Whittington in the Top 10 is this high-spirited comedy about four likely lasses from the Hull fish docks on a day trip to the races. Ladies’ Day has been a hit with amateur companies for years, and with its warm heart, relatable soul and fabulous roles for women, it’s not hard to see why. Plus, there’s the option of performing the equally brilliant sequel, Ladies Down Under. ‘Exuberantly up-to-the-minute comedy’ Guardian

Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington, performed in 2018 by Tanat Theatre Club, Llanrhaeadr, Powys

Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington, performed in 2018 by Bradford Players


2. Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale
Cast: 8-10f 8-14m (plus 2 extras)
Staging: various interior and exterior settings

Jessica Swale’s moving, comical and eye-opening historical drama Blue Stockings is the defiant story of four young women fighting for education against the backdrop of women’s suffrage. Set in 1890s Cambridge, it has plenty of opportunities for a large cast with female leads. ‘Cracking… leaves you astonished at the prejudices these educational pioneers had to overcome’ Guardian

Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale, performed in 2018 by Between the Bars Theatre Company, Cambridge (photo by Timothy Winn)

Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale, performed in 2018 by Commonwealth Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


***Our most-performed play in 2018***

1. Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale
Cast: 5-7f 7m
Staging: can be simply staged

In the top spot for the second year running, Jessica Swale’s warm-hearted historical comedy about the young Drury Lane actress who won the heart of the king is a truly popular champion. Boasting a large cast and a wonderfully charming lead role for a female performer, Nell Gwynn is a proper crowd-pleaser with strong box office appeal, and the chance to show off some spectacular frocks. Congratulations to the hugely talented Jessica Swale for holding first and second places in our Top 10 of 2018! ‘Bawdy and brilliant… a wonderful, warm-hearted and generous piece of theatrical history’ The Stage

Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale, performed in 2018 by the University of Southampton Theatre Group

Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale, performed in 2018 by Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City


Congratulations to all of our wonderful authors who have made it into the Top 10 this year, and to all of you whose performances have been such a success throughout the year.

We have over 1,000 plays available for amateur performance on our website, where there’s a handy Play Finder tool to help you find the perfect play to perform. Our friendly and knowledgeable Performing Rights team is available to discuss your requirements with you in person (email us at rights@nickhernbooks.co.uk, or give us a call on 020 8749 4953). And make sure you sign up for our newsletter to get notifications of the latest releases.

Whatever your plans for 2019, we hope to hear from you soon!

Nick Hern Books at 30

This year, Nick Hern Books celebrated thirty years of theatre publishing. As the year draws to a close, we take a look at some of the things that have made it a year to remember…

We published 100 new plays over the year, two-thirds of them by female writers.

They included the exhilarating debut play from Natasha Gordon, Nine Night, which premiered at the National Theatre in April, went on to win the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award, and is now in the West End.

Featuring alongside Nine Night on many critics’ review-of-the-year lists were Ella Hickson’s The Writer, which premiered at the Almeida Theatre in April, and Annie Baker’s spellbinding John, which had its UK premiere at the National Theatre in January.

Arinzé Kene followed up his acclaimed performance in Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country with a play of his own, Misty, performed by Kene at the Bush Theatre in March before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios in September.

There was Josh Azouz’s unsettling Buggy Baby at The Yard in March; Joe White’s ethereal family drama Mayfly at the Orange Tree in April, along with Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth’s headline-grabbing The Assassination of Katie Hopkins at Theatr Clwyd, winner of Best Musical Production at the UK Theatre Awards; Stephen Karam’s The Humans at Hampstead Theatre in August; Alexis Zegerman’s Holy Sh!t, opening the renovated Kiln Theatre in Kilburn in September; Nina Raine’s Stories at the National Theatre, debbie tucker green’s ear for eye at the Royal Court, and Iman Qureshi’s Papatango Prize-winning The Funeral Director at Southwark Playhouse, all in October; Jessie Cave’s Sunrise at Soho Theatre in November; and, in December, Mike Bartlett’s Snowflake at the Old Fire Station in Oxford, as well as Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse.

In January, we published a collection of plays from the annual VAULT Festival in Waterloo, as well as a selection of award-winning monologues from the inaugural Heretic Voices competition. In June, there was a volume of short plays by and about women, from the Women Centre Stage Festival. And in July, we published Vicky Featherstone’s selection of monologues, Snatches: Moments from 100 Years of Women’s Lives, as well as a collection of plays by Stephen Jeffreys, who very sadly passed away this year.

It was also a year of major revivals, with Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s superlative musical Caroline, or Change at Hampstead Theatre in March, and now in the West End; in May, Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking at the Bush, and Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios with Orlando Bloom; Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal at the Almeida and Rona Munro’s Bold Girls at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, both in June; David Edgar’s Maydays revived by the RSC in September, alongside his new one-man show, Trying It On; and Martin Crimp’s Dealing with Clair at the Orange Tree in October, thirty years after it premiered there in 1988 – when it was the second play ever published by Nick Hern Books!

Dealing with Clair by Martin Crimp (left, the 2018 edition; right, the original 1988 edition, also published by Nick Hern Books)


Awards

Many of our playwrights won awards this year, and we’ve got space here to mention only a few…

Jez Butterworth’s magnificent play The Ferryman won Best New Play at this year’s Olivier, Critics’ Circle and Whatsonstage Awards.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins won Most Promising Playwright at the Critics Circle Awards for his plays Gloria and An Octoroon, while Andrew Thompson won Best Writer at The Stage Debut Awards for In Event of Moone Disaster.

There were awards aplenty for the revivals of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Stephen  Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies.

And at the Writers Guild Awards, Lucy Kirkwood won Best Play for The Children, Sarah McDonald-Hughes won Best Play for Young Audiences with How To Be A Kid, and Caryl Churchill was recognised for her Outstanding Contribution to Writing.


Some key stats….


Essential theatre books

This year we published Antony Sher’s account, in his own diary entries, paintings and sketches, of his portrayal of King Lear for the RSC. Year of the Mad King follows his classic of theatre writing, Year of the King, in offering a close-up study of a great actor at work on one of Shakespeare’s most challenging roles ­– a fascinating read for actors and theatre-lovers.

Amongst our other publications, there were invaluable resources for actors, including a selection of audition monologues from the National Youth Theatre, and a series of vocal warm-ups on CD from the National Theatre’s Head of Voice.

We published books on Brecht and Ibsen, as well practical guides to puppetry, verbatim theatre and long-form improvisation.

For budding playwrights, there was an indispensable career guide, Being a Playwright, from the team behind new-writing theatre company Papatango, destined to guide and inspire a new generation of playwrights.

Being a Playwright authors Chris Foxon and George Turvey with (centre) NHB Managing Director Matt Applewhite


30 Years / 30 Plays

In July, we published 30 Years / 30 Plays, a fabulous book of postcards featuring a selection of covers from some of the most successful plays published by NHB over our first thirty years.

Copies quickly sold out at HQ, though there may still be a few available from other retailers.


Birthday Party

Also in July, we joined many of our authors and friends for a party at the Royal Court Theatre, to celebrate the anniversary of the company’s launch in July 1988. There were speeches from NHB author Jack Thorne (whose completely delightful speech is reproduced on our blog here) and the Artistic Director of Kiln Theatre, Indhu Rubasingham, as well as from NHB Publisher Nick Hern and Managing Director Matt Applewhite. It was wonderful to bring together some of our newest authors with those who have been with Nick Hern Books since the very beginning.

Jack Thorne, Indhu Rubasingham, Nick Hern and Matt Applewhite at Nick Hern Books’ 30th birthday party at the Royal Court Theatre in July 2018 (photo by Dan Wooller)


Amateur Theatre Fest

NHB author Mike Bartlett (right), interviewed by Matt Applewhite at Amateur Theatre Fest 2018 (photo by Ben Copping)

On 8 September, a capacity crowd gathered at The Questors Theatre in Ealing for an all-day event of talks, workshops and performances focussing on amateur theatre. Taking part were over four hundred actors, directors, producers and many others involved in amateur theatre up and down the country. Highlights included the keynote speech from actor and NHB author Simon Callow, interviews with NHB playwrights Jez Butterworth, Amanda Whittington and Mike Bartlett, and masterclasses from actor Oliver Ford Davies, director Stephen Unwin and fight director Roger Bartlett. Thank you to everyone who came and made it such a success!

Nick Hern Books is one of the UK’s leading licensors of amateur performing rights, and we look forward to helping more amateur drama and youth theatre groups find their perfect play to perform, over the years ahead.

Nick Hern Books staff at Amateur Theatre Fest 2018 (photo by Ben Copping)


Playwriting Then and Now, National Theatre panel event

We staged a panel event at the National Theatre on 8 November with NHB playwrights Howard Brenton, Conor McPherson, Alecky Blythe and Natasha Gordon, to explore how playwriting has – and hasn’t – changed over the 30 years of Nick Hern Books. It was a lively event, attended by many budding and emerging playwrights, who came away full of hope and inspiration, even if there was a consensus that playwrights still face daunting challenges when it comes to making a living from their work.

Clockwise from top row centre: Alecky Blythe, Howard Brenton, Conor McPherson, Nick Hern, Natasha Gordon


Anniversary Interviews

Over the course of the year, we published a series of Anniversary Interviews with some of our leading authors and playwrights, specially commissioned for our blog. Launching with Harriet Walter on the unique challenges facing actresses, particularly in finding mature roles for women in the Shakespeare canon, the series included interviews with playwrights Rona Munro, Lucy Kirkwood, Jack Thorne and Howard Brenton.

Drawing the series to a close this month, NHB’s Publisher Nick Hern and Managing Director Matt Applewhite reflect on the company’s thirty-year history, and what lies ahead. Catch up with all the interviews, over on our blog.

Left to right: NHB authors Jack Thorne, Lucy Kirkwood, Harriet Walter, Howard Brenton, Rona Munro


And finally…

Thank you to everyone who has come along to one of our events this year, or who has bought a book from us. We look forward to seeing more of you in the next thirty years. But for now, have a very happy Christmas, from all at Nick Hern Books.

The Nick Hern Books team at the anniversary party, July 2018 (photo by Dan Wooller)

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2018: Tackling the Fringe

Whether you’re taking a show to the Fringe this year, planning on doing so in the future, or just going along for the ride, check out these four talented and intrepid amateur companies as they prepare to take on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Each of them has chosen to perform a play licensed by Nick Hern Books. We asked them what lay behind their choice, and what they’re hoping to get out of The Fringe…

Jumpers Poster

Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells
Kite in the Storm Theatre
theSpace on the Mile, 5-25 August

Viv has a mission: to turn five-a-side LGBT football team, Barely Athletic, into league winners. They’ve started well with a victory over Tranny United (who were playing in stilettos), but with distractions like handsome librarians and a love of pot noodles, things look set to go downhill. Can they pull themselves together in time?

Kite in the Storm Theatre was created to offer an escape to those who need it. We may not be able to stop a nuclear bomb but we can stop you worrying about it for an hour or two. We chose Tom Wells’ play Jumpers for Goalposts for our first production at the Edinburgh Fringe as it’s perfect for the Fringe: it’s blissfully funny and at times deeply affecting. Our company brings together graduate students from Edinburgh Napier and Queen Margaret University, and we’re all so excited to experience the Fringe, and hopefully make a success of it.

We’ve worked exceptionally hard on this play and it’s been incredibly rewarding, both for our own development as actors and in the way we build our characters. We performed a preview show at our university on 25 April, and ever since we’ve been counting down the days to bring this to the Fringe. It’s an LGBT-interest play, and we’ve been getting a huge amount of support from the local community.

Rehearsals 3

Kite in the Storm Theatre performing Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Wells

We’re now in our final weeks of rehearsals and pleased we finally get to put this fantastic play in front of an audience. At the same time, we’re feeling a little sad as we know it’ll all be over so quickly – we’ve grown so close to these characters in the months we’ve been working on the play, and it’ll be a wrench to leave them behind when it’s all over.

We hope to see as many people as the venue can hold, and we’re excited to meet other creatives and people who care about the theatre and arts.

– Richard Lydecker, General Manager and cast member


FREAK Ed Fringe DIGITAL.jpg (1)Freak by Anna Jordan
Bullet Theatre
theSpace on the Mile, 20-25 August

‘They think I am the most beautiful thing in the world. And I don’t mind being a thing. I don’t want their respect. I want only their animal desire.’

Freak by Anna Jordan explores female sexuality, self-image and sexual exploitation in a comedic, relatable and sometimes shocking manner. We follow Leah, who is fifteen, and Georgie, who is thirty – two women at very different stages of their lives who are both trying to juggle their own sexual desires with the constantly contradicting pressures society places on them. Our production combines physical theatre and devised ensemble work with Anna Jordan’s powerful and provocative text.

Bullet Theatre is a Bristol-based company formed by three women (graduates of the University of Bristol). After a sell-out run of the show in March, we decided to bring Freak to the Fringe to spread its unapologetic message to a wider audience. We are passionate about the play and sharing it with more people because of the way it bravely and hilariously addresses the all-too-common taboos of female sexuality such as waxing, masturbating, or having sexual relations with the same gender.

Having already debuted the show in March, rehearsals are focusing on improving and tightening up movement, as well as delving deeper into character motivations. The ensemble cast acts as a visual projection of the protagonists’ inner thoughts and feelings, yet also symbolise all women, conveying the ongoing desires and struggles all women experience daily.

FREAK Fringe 1 med. res.jpg

Bullet Theatre perform Freak by Anna Jordan

As the director, I have sought to make rehearsals an open, empowering environment where we can comfortably discuss the serious issues tackled in the play and collaboratively choreograph movement. Having worked on this show for many months now, it still never fails to shock us, and make us laugh and cry. We can’t wait for people to see it in Edinburgh!

– Katherine Latimer, Director


HowMyLightIsSpentHow My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris
Aaron Kilercioglu
Greenside @ Nicolson Square, 3-18 August

How My Light Is Spent is a captivating two-hander exploring loneliness, vulnerability and longing in a world of phone sex-workers and drive-through doughnut restaurants.

The play centres on Jimmy, a 34-year-old employee at a doughnut restaurant, and Kitty, an adult chat-line operator, who Jimmy calls every Wednesday evening. Trying to come to terms with his recent redundancy, his estrangement from his daughter and also the fact he is becoming literally invisible, Jimmy turns to Kitty. Before long, a friendship blossoms between them, until Jimmy realises that he has fallen deeply in love with Kitty.

Whilst Kitty tries to advise Jimmy on his encroaching invisibility, she tackles similar feelings of being out-of-place, pinning her hopes of finding purpose on the psychology course she’s always dreamed of doing. Together, this unlikely duo succeed in turning each other’s world upside down and find in each other a sense of purpose and belonging.

We are a group of Cambridge students bringing Alan Harris’ play to Edinburgh for its Fringe debut, which were really excited about, especially as this will be our first time performing there! Our company chose the play as it explores important contemporary issues, from the injustice of zero-hour contracts to the way in which sex work is viewed, in a thought-provoking yet light-hearted manner. It delves into the solitude and isolation of modern life in an engaging and comic way, making it a must-see for all. Participating in the Fringe gives us the chance to perform at a fantastic venue in front of large and varied audiences each day, which are really unique opportunities.

Aside from a few read-throughs in Cambridge, rehearsals for the play have just begun but our performance already seems promising. We’ve done quite a lot in terms of preparations, such as building our minimalist set and working on our publicity campaign, but of course there still remains a lot to do in these last two weeks before the festival.

We’re feeling really enthusiastic about the festival, if a little nervous, and can’t wait to begin our performances soon!

– Olivia Kumar, Producer


posters_newAntigone by Sophocles, adapted by Owen McCafferty
Amplify Time Productions
theSpace on the Mile, 5-25 August

All eyes are on the city of Thebes. In defying the powerful Creon, Antigone takes civil disobedience to a very dark place. What is she? In the eyes of Creon, she’s a terrorist. Or is she a moral crusader? A loving sister? A freedom fighter? Or a death-driven woman who sacrifices all for a principle?

Amplify Time Productions is a collective of students and graduates from both Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University. Our focus is to produce classical plays in exciting and unique settings, highlighting issues in the modern day. We also strive to showcase upcoming Scottish talent.

We formed last year with our debut production Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Following its success, this is our second performance as a company and our Edinburgh Fringe debut. We’ve also received the QMU Student Development Award for the second year in a row.

Antigone Rehearsal Photo 1

Amplify Time Productions rehearsing Owen McCafferty’s version of Sophocles’ Antigone

The rehearsal room has been an incredibly fun and exciting place for us all. We get to take on Owen McCafferty’s great contemporary adaptation of Sophocles’ iconic Greek tragedy, Antigone. Developing the unique characters of Creon, Antigone and Ismene, as well as exploring the identity of the chorus as a whole, has given us all great ideas and allowed us to develop the way we present our telling of this story.

It’s a very exciting time for us all as new, upcoming talent and we are really eager to get to the Fringe and have our very first experiences of it as a company.

– Harry Jackson, Director


Good luck and break a leg to all the brilliant amateur companies taking NHB-licensed shows to the Edinburgh Fringe this year!

Are you looking for a show to take to the Fringe next year? Take a look at our dedicated Plays to Perform site, where you can search for plays by genre, theme and/or cast size, and sign up for our Plays to Perform newsletter.

Or get in touch with our Performing Rights team – we’re always happy to help you find the perfect play to perform. Call us on 020 8749 4953, or email PerformingRights@nickhernbooks.co.uk.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @NHBPerforming.

Our previous Edinburgh Fringe Reports are still available here:

Edinburgh Fringe Report 2017
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 1: Final Preparations
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2016 Part 2: The Reckoning
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 1: Cutting it at the Fringe
Edinburgh Fringe Report 2015 Part 2: The Final Reckoning