Choosing a play


Choosing a play for a one-act play festival is no easy task. There are just so many out there!  If you have no desire to write your own, tracking down a published play is the only option. But short of spending all your spare time [and cash!] going to every festival around, or trawling the internet until 3 a.m., or reading scripts until your eyes fall out on stalks, how can you find that perfect play?

There are umpteen ways of going about this which gave the team at hjHQ a bit of fun on a rainy afternoon coming up with the criteria we might use:-

There’s the ‘I saw it and it blew me away’ play. [That’s an easy one; at least you know it’s a good’n and you know what it’s called!] The ‘I can’t find a one-act I like so I’ll pick the first half of a two-act’ play. Or the ‘it’s a comedy and comedies always win….don’t they?’ play. Or even the ‘it’s the best of a bad bunch as it’s the only one I can find with 17 men, 2 dogs and a budgie – which I can cast’ play [or variations thereof!].

But the one we reckon is quite a good guide is the ‘It won the British Final so it must be pretty good’ play. [We know there’s a heck of a lot more to it than just that, but it’s not a bad place to start, right?]

So, to help make the choosing process a teeny bit easier, we decided to run a little series on past winning plays. Having proved successful already, their calibre has already been tested.  We’ll skip back a few years as it’s probably best not to focus on something that did well in the last year or two, for obvious reasons.

Here’s a few super-champs from the past that we hope you’ll find inspiring:

[synopses and details as per the publishers ‘blurb’]

WINNERS by Brian Friel

A dark comedy, 2m, 2f

‘Winners’ tells the story of Mag and Joe. Young and in love, they spend a glorious summer’s day laughing and talking together and planning their future. But for Mag and Joe there is to be no future.

‘Winners’ won the British Final Festival of One-Act Plays in 1984 and was performed by Bangor Drama Club

Find it at Samuel French HERE contained in a larger volume entitled ‘Lovers’

ISBN: 9780904011647


LONE STAR by James McLure

Comedy, 3m

Lone Star takes place in the cluttered backyard of a small-town Texas bar. Roy, a brawny, macho type who had once been a local high-school hero, is back in town after a hitch in Vietnam and trying to re-establish his position in the community. Joined by his younger brother, Ray (who worships him), Roy sets about consuming a case of beer while regaling Ray with tales of his military and amorous exploits. Apparently Roy cherishes three things above all; his country, his sexy young wife, and his 1959 pink Thunderbird. With the arrival of Cletis, the fatuous, newlywed son of the local hardware store owner, the pillars of Roy’s world begin to collapse as it gradually comes out that Ray had slept with his brother’s wife during his absence and, horror of horrors, has just demolished his cherished Thunderbird. But, despite all, the high good humour of the play never lapses, and all ends as breezily and happily as it began.

‘Lone Star’ won the British Final Festival of One-Act Plays in 1998 and was performed by The Wick Players

Find it at Josef Weinberger HERE

ISBN: 9780822206859


LEARS DAUGHTERS by The Women’s Theatre Group from an idea by Elaine Feinstein

Drama, 5f

Lear’s daughters is a ‘prequel’, portraying what happened to the three daughters of King Lear before they made their entrances in Shakespeare’s classic. Using modern English in an indeterminate time frame, Cordelia, Regan and Goneril are raised by a mother who’s too exhausted to love them, a Nurse who’s too distant to care, a father too busy to notice them and a ‘Fool’ who nobody listens to when perhaps they should.

‘Lear’s Daughters’ won the British Final Festival of One-Act Plays in 2000 and was performed by the Runnymeade Drama Group. Read about their production HERE

Find it at Amazon HERE contained in a larger volume entitledAdaptations of Shakespeare: An Anthology of Plays from the 17th Century to the Present’

ISBN: 9780415198943


BALL BOYS by David Edgar

Dark Comedy, 3m

The basic theme of this hilarious but thought provoking play is revolution. It takes place in the ball-boys locker room at Wimbledon where its two occupants, Rupert and One-Eye, angrily discuss their outrageous treatment on court at the hands of the temperamental so-called superstars, a ruthless breed whose dominance of the public through the media they see as a greater menace than class. They plan and eventually execute a horrible revenge against one of their tormentors, Sven, an arrogant and self-opinionated Scandinavian tennis star. David Edgar’s dialogue bristles with broad humour and savagery.

‘Ball Boys’ won the British Final Festival of One-Act Plays in 1994 performed by Reigate Amateur Theatrical Society and again in 2004 performed by The Young Theatre (at Beaconsfield).

Find it at Amazon HERE

ISBN: 9780861042029


EQUUS (Act 1) by Peter Shaffer

Drama, 2m, 1f

When a deranged boy blinds six horses with a metal spike he is sentenced to psychiatric treatment. Dr Dysart is the man given the task of uncovering what happened the night Strang committed his crime, but in doing so will open up his old wounds. Dysart struggles to define sanity, and justify his marriage, his career, and his life of normality; ultimately he must ask himself: is it patient or psychiatrist whose life is being laid bare?

‘Equus’ (Act 1) won the British Final Festival of One-Act Plays in 1979 performed by Tryst Theatre, Falkirk.

Find it at Amazon HERE

ISBN: 9780141188904

This is books scramble. Many books on white background.

We’ll feature more winning plays in the weeks to come.

Also, don’t forget you can find more play finding resources on our website HERE

Meanwhile, do you have a favourite one-act play?  Do you write your own? What criteria do you use when searching for a one-act festival play? What are your thoughts on staging just one act of a two-act play? Have you seen something lately that knocked your socks off?  Is there a play you absolutely wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole? Let us know in the comments section below.


NEXT UP: Our Adjudicator answers your questions


If you have a story you’d like us to include here in our blog, or if there’s something you’d like us to write about, let us know at  So long as it’s festival/drama/local theatre centred, we’ll definitely give it a look!

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Posted in 2015, Plays

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