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The 101 Greatest Plays

Michael Billington

The essential companion to the greatest plays ever written.

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Having surveyed post-war British drama in State of the Nation, Michael Billington now looks at the global picture. In this provocative and challenging new book, he offers his highly personal selection of the 101 greatest plays ranging from the Greeks to the present-day.

But his book is no mere list. Billington justifies his choices in extended essays- and even occasional dialogues- that put the plays in context, explain their significance and trace their performance history. In the end, it’s a book that poses an infinite number of questions. What makes a great play? Does the definition change with time and circumstance? Or are certain common factors visible down the ages? It’s safe to say that it’s a book that, in revising the accepted canon, is bound to stimulate passionate argument and debate.

Everyone will have strong views on Billington’s chosen hundred and one and will be inspired to make their own selections. But, coming from Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic, these essays are the product of a lifetime spent watching and reading plays and record the adventures of a soul amongst masterpieces.

Critic Reviews

Michael Billington's profoundly informed passion about the theatre is wonderful and touching.

Simon Callow
Critic Reviews

Lucidly written and argued this is a seriously pleasurable book, founded upon a life spent valuably in theatres.

Critic Reviews

[T]he elegance and vigour of [Billington's] writing ... backed by his unparalleled banks of theatrical knowledge and wisdom - makes these essays a joy to read, even while we rage and quibble over Billington's choices, and set about compiling lists of our own.

The Scotsman
Critic Reviews

Billington's book challenges readers to disagree - not just with his choices, but with the reasons behind his choices - and will perhaps inspire some to compile their own lists. . . Greatness may be reserved for 101 plays, but the brief biographies here of so many exceptional dramatists open the doors to further exploration.

Critic Reviews

[A] pleasure to read ... there is probably nobody currently living who has the knowledge, experience and memory of Michael Billington when it comes to writing a book of this type ... Its value lies not only in its historical and geographical sweep but also the quality of the research and writing ... Michael Billington has written a book that is simultaneously important and enjoyable. Who could ask for anything more?

Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide
Critic Reviews

[T]he essays are not just about playtexts and the way the words read on a page. The performances Billington has seen of each play feed inexorably into the choices he has made in the book. It's a tribute to actors, directors and theatre buildings as well - that's what makes it theatre.


Michael Billington has been theatre critic of the Guardian since 1971 and of Country Life since 1986. He is the author of biographies of Harold Pinter and Peggy Ashcroft, critical studies of Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn, of a celebration of Ken Dodd, a collection of reviews, One Night Stands, State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945, which won…

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