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!

Adapting classic children’s literature for the stage – by playwright Mike Kenny

Playwright Mike Kenny

Mike Kenny

Adapting classic children’s novels for the stage is no easy feat. But British playwright Mike Kenny has proven that when it works, it can go down like a treat. With a string of roaring successes over the last two years, including current Waterloo Station Theatre smash hit The Railway Children (recently nominated for the Evening Standard‘s ‘Best Night Out’ Theatre Award), last year’s The Wind in the Willows and this year’s Peter Pan for York Theatre Royal. Here, he reflects on the timeless quality of a ‘golden era’ in British children’s literature where his inspiration stems from…

Rob Angell (Father) in The Railway Children. Photo: Karl Andre Photography

Rob Angell (Father) in The Railway Children. Photo: Karl Andre Photography

‘Career’ has always felt like a good word for my life as a playwright, in so much that it has been like a plummet down a mountainside without the benefit of brakes, or steering. I’ve never really been in control of it and often a bit hazy about what’s coming next. One thing that has consistently characterised it is that the majority of my work has been for children and their families, though sometimes that has meant writing for teens in youth clubs, and sometimes for the very young, nursery age and under, sometimes working with contemporary material and at others with traditional tales and fairy stories.

Sarah Quintrell (Roberta) in The Railway Children. Photo: Karl Andre Photography

Sarah Quintrell (Roberta) in The Railway Children. Photo: Karl Andre Photography

Of late it has taken an increasingly fascinating turn. It began when Damien Cruden, the director of the York Theatre Royal, asked me to think about adapting The Railway Children. 

The Railway Children was a revelation to me. It really was. I know people loved the film, but I confess I didn’t. I was 18 when it came out. Its longing for the steam age and its lasting shining sun made me slightly sick. And although Bernard Cribbins is fantastic, Mrs Perks’ comedy Yorkshire accent put the working classes somewhere back in the thirties. It was about posh kids, again. Yawn. The doctor appeared to live in the Parsonage museum in Haworth. Bizarre, did nobody think we’d notice? I didn’t hate it, but I thought it was sentimental tosh and completely irrelevant. It was 1968 for God sake. Think of what was happening in the world! When it was proposed to me for adaptation I was not keen. Then I actually read the book.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS production shot

The Wind in the Willows (2011). Photo: Dublinstones photography

Humble pie was duly eaten. The book is great and reads today as fresh and relevant (bad word I know, but it is) as then. I loved it and I loved working on it. I have since been given credit for all sorts of things which are actually there in the original book. Basking in its glow, I became fascinated by other Edwardian children’s classics. I went on to adapt The Wind in the Willows, and this year did a version of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan (both premiered at York Theatre Royal). They were all originally written within a very few years of each other in that strange time between the end of the long reign of Victoria and the start of the First World War, which swept it all away and with it the generation that read those books as children. There is a moment in Peter Pan (cut from the Disney film and the recent movie) when Wendy says ‘we hope our sons will die like English gentlemen’, and we watch the Lost Boys walk the plank singing the National Anthem. In the play where Peter says that death would be an awfully big adventure, it really is a chilling moment. The play grasps a truth about its time and unknowingly predicts an imminent future. Similarly, The Wind in the Willows seems to turn a cool gaze on the near future, when you consider Toad’s obsession with the internal combustion engine. The addiction to motors, such a rarity then, and such a profound threat to the natural world now, becomes the heart of the book. Messing about with boats doesn’t stand a chance.

The Wind in the Willows, 2011 production shot

The Wind in the Willows (2011). Photo: Dublinstones photography

It was a golden age for children’s art. I’m so envious. There was a collection of original works for children that put them at the centre of the action and both entertained and had prophetic force. The train and the car were much the Internet of their day: they changed the world forever, and these writers incorporate them with such ease in forms that embrace realism and fantasy. I suppose I feel that we struggle to match those days, particularly in theatre. So maybe I’m finally trying to influence the onward plummet of my work. Peter Pan was a theatre piece before it was anything else. It, like the other pieces of its time, entered our culture and has never been out of print in the hundred plus years since. I am now minded to take up the gauntlet and try to write something for our own time, which will hopefully have the same longevity. In the meantime, I’ve got my sights set on Little Lord Fauntleroy.

The Railway Children (jacket)

The Railway Children (£8.99)

York Theatre Royal’s production of The Railway Children is currently running at Waterloo Station Theatre in London to January 2012 – ‘Mike Kenny’s adaptation shows his mastery of playwriting for children and families… adults and children alike are enthralled by the clever mix of imagination and reality’ Financial Times – click here for more information and to purchase tickets. The NHB publication of The Railway Children is available now, click here to purchase your copy for just £8 with free UK P&P – add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).

The Wind in the Willows will publish late November 2011. To pre-order your copy for just £8 with free UK P&P please email your required quantity and contact details to orders@nickhernbooks.demon.co.uk and NHB will be in touch shortly!