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50 Best Plays for Young Audiences


A detailed listing of 50 plays by English playwrights chosen by their contemporaries which have most influenced those working professionally to make theatre for young audiences in England today.


50 Best Plays for Young Audiences

theatre-making for children & young people in England: 1965-2015

Edited by Vicky Ireland & Paul Harman

Foreword by Sir Ken Robinson

50 Best Plays is for students and lovers of theatre, parents and politicians, teachers and actors, a guide to progress over 50 years in a field of theatre dedicated to children and young people. 50 Best Plays is based on Vicky Ireland’s and Paul Harman’s extensive working knowledge of playwriting and production in England and celebrates the wonderful work created all over the UK.

At the book’s heart is a detailed listing of 50 plays by English playwrights chosen by their contemporaries which have most influenced those working professionally to make theatre for young audiences in England today.

It describes a journey during which many attitudes towards education and the arts have changed, much has been learned and maybe too much forgotten.

Today, worldwide, practitioners in participatory or immersive theatre are working with children and young people, exploring their real world with them and helping them to express that experience through theatre.

New generations of theatre-makers will find this book a useful signpost to sources of inspiration in their future work for young audiences.

Celebrates the pioneers who helped establish and nurture the Theatre for Young Audiences sector in England over 50 years of original theatre

Compiled by two leading practitioners, this one-stop resource is of interest to parents, teachers, theatre professionals and/or arts administrators, and others interested in professional theatre for young audiences.

Launched at the 2016 World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences, ‘On the Edge’, in Birmingham, UK.

2015 marked 50 years of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (known by its French acronym, ASSITEJ). From a handful of European countries, ASSITEJ has grown to be a presence in over 80 countries in every continent, promoting the right of every child to experience theatre.

1965 was also the year in which a remarkable and unique experiment combining drama, theatre and education, known as Theatre in Education, began in the UK, in Coventry.


“This is a must-have seminal resource.”

“This book has information about the variety of children’s theatre available in the UK. It is a testament to the vitality of the sector that it is able to continue despite the cuts. Ideal for anyone new to British Theatre or wanting to find out the kind of work on offer from different companies. Children’s Theatre is something we excel at and is a major cultural export – this guide gives contact info and other useful info for any would-be programmer.” Amazon review

“This useful book is likely to help anyone who wants to stage young audience work. Two people who really know (Ireland is a former director of Polka Theatre and Harman of Cleveland Theatre Company) provide the practical lowdown on plays ranging from David Wood’s The Gingerbread Man to Nick Wood’s Warrior Square and Peter Rumney’s Cosmos. What is the play about? How many actors does it need? Who premiered it? What do they say about it? Where can you get the script from? It’s all here along with advice about festivals, resources, sources of advice and a list of companies specialising in plays for young audiences.” Susan Elkin, The Stage

“The newly released 50 Best Plays for Young Audiences, edited by Vicky Ireland and Paul Harman… provides a rewarding counterbalance to Wooster’s focus on the companies and methods behind TIE, showcasing the diversity and range of writing over the last half-decade. Ireland and Harman have devoted almost their entire working lives to TYA and TIE respectively; their book, while brief, contains some key insights, particularly Gordon Vallins’ splendid insider’s take on the beginnings of TIE – born on Wednesday 15 September 1965, according to him!” Ben Fletcher-Watson, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance

“Used it for an assignment in uni, now full of notes and scribblings but helped me a lot and just a great read really!” Customer review (Amazon)


About the authors

Vicky Ireland MBE has worked as an actress and as a presenter on BBC TV’s Words and Pictures. She was Artistic Director of Polka Theatre (1988-2002) and has since adapted and directed six books by Jacqueline Wilson. Television includes two adaptations of Allan Ahlberg’s Happy Families for BBC TV receiving a Writers’ Guild nomination. Vicky is co-artistic director of A Thousand Cranes Theatre and Vice-Chair of Action for Children’s Arts.

Paul Harman started work as an actor in repertory theatres in 1963 and soon found his way to professional theatre for young audiences via the Coventry Belgrade Theatre in Education team. He was founder and Artistic Director of Merseyside Young People’s Theatre in Liverpool 1978-89 and Artistic Director of Cleveland Theatre Company in Darlington 1994-2008. His productions for young audiences have toured to many countries and he has translated plays for young audiences from French and German. Currently Chair of TYA-UK Centre of ASSITEJ (the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People), and a member of the Executive Committee of ASSITEJ International from 2008-2011.




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