Best Plays of the 21st Century – A Comprehensive List

Playwriting remains the cornerstone of all drama in the 21st century. It is crucial for all writers to master the art of writing dialogue and story for characters on stage. This article presents 10 of the best plays of the 21st century that offer a modern take on classic themes.

Playwriting remains the basis of all drama in the 21st century.

From global epics to intimate family dramas, plays showcase the power of live dramatic storytelling and provide a vital reminder of its primary importance.

Our selection of 10 plays explore a range of themes and issues, including:

  • rebellion,
  • dementia,
  • power dynamics,
  • individual identity, and
  • family legacy.

The Evolution of Theatre and Best Plays of the 21st Century

The 21st century has seen a significant evolution in theatre, with:

  • new voices,
  • innovations in stage production, and
  • plays that have had a profound social impact.

Let us explore these three areas in more detail.

Emerging Playwrights and New Voices in the 21st Century

Many talented playwrights have emerged in the 21st century who have brought new and diverse perspectives to the stage. These voices have challenged traditional theatrical forms and pushed the boundaries of what theatre could be.

Caryl Churchill’s play Love and Information (2012) consists of over 50 short scenes that explore the nature of human communication and relationships. The play is a masterful example of experimental theatre and it showcases Churchill’s unique voice.

Innovations in Stage Production

Advancements in technology and stage design have allowed for innovative and immersive stage productions in the 21st century. Technological projection mapping and 3D printing have allowed for new and exciting ways to bring stories to life on stage.

An example is the National Theatre’s production of War Horse (2007). War Horse used life-size horse puppets to tell the story of a young boy and his beloved horse during World War I. The production was a technical marvel and showcased the power of modern puppetry in theatre.

The Social Impact of 21st Century Plays

Many plays have tackled important social issues in the 21st century, such as race, gender, sexuality, and politics. They have not only entertained audiences but have also raised awareness and provoked conversations about important topics.

For example:

  • Appropriate (2013) – Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play deals with the discovery of their late father’s racism by three Arkansas siblings. It explores issues of race and family in a thought-provoking and nuanced way.
  • Fleabag (2012) – Phoebe Waller-Bridge tackles themes of grief, guilt, and sexuality in a darkly comedic way.

10 of the Best 21st Century Plays

The 21st century has seen some incredible plays that have left audiences spellbound. Here are 10 of the best plays of the 21st century that have received critical acclaim and captivated audiences worldwide.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003)

Written by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a play adapted into a highly successful stage play by Simon Stephens. The play has won numerous awards, including seven Olivier Awards and five Tony Awards.

Like the novel, the play is a poignant and innovative exploration of the mind of Christopher Boone. A 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome who is exceptionally talented in mathematics and logic, Christopher struggles with social interactions.

When Christopher discovers his neighbour’s dead dog he is determined to solve the mystery of its death. As he investigates, he embarks on a journey that takes him well beyond the confines of his comfort zone. He discovers family secrets that challenge the boundaries of his world.

The play is a heartwarming coming-of-age story that delves into:

  • the complexities of family relationships,
  • the challenges of living with autism, and
  • the pursuit of truth.

Social Impact

  • Autism Awareness: A most significant impact of the play is its contribution to raising awareness and understanding of autism. It provides audiences with a glimpse into the inner world of someone with Asperger’s syndrome. And it highlights their unique perspective, talents, and struggles.
  • Empathy and Acceptance: The story encourages empathy and understanding of people with neurodiverse conditions. It promotes acceptance and appreciation for the different ways people experience the world. And it challenges stereotypes and stigmas associated with autism.
  • Family Dynamics: The play explores the complexities of family dynamics, especially the strained relationship between Christopher and his parents. It emphasises the importance of communication and understanding within families facing unique challenges.

Innovative Stage Production

The stage production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is renowned for its groundbreaking and innovative elements:

  • Immersive Set Design: The stage is designed to resemble a mathematical grid. It provides a visual representation of Christopher’s logical and systematic thinking. The set features interactive elements which include projections and LED lights. These help convey the sensory overload and emotional experiences of the protagonist.
  • Physical Theatre: The play incorporates physical theatre techniques, such as choreographed movements and non-verbal communication. They convey Christopher’s emotions and experiences. These techniques help the audience better understand his perspective.
  • Strong Cast and Acting: The play demands exceptional acting from its cast, particularly the actor playing Christopher. The performance of this character requires a deep understanding of autism and a nuanced portrayal of his character’s unique traits.
  • Narrative Structure: The play’s narrative structure is driven by Christopher’s perspective. It allows the audience to experience the story through his eyes. This creates a deeply immersive and engaging theatrical experience.
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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has had a profound social impact by increasing awareness of autism and promoting empathy and acceptance. Its innovative stage production, characterised by immersive set design, physical theatre, and a unique narrative perspective, has made it a groundbreaking and memorable theatrical experience that continues to inspire and educate audiences.

Hamilton (2008-2015)

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is a musical that tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. It is a groundbreaking musical that reimagines the American Revolution and the founding of the United States through a diverse and contemporary lens. It combines hip-hop and traditional musical theatre to tell the story.

The play has won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has been praised for its innovative use of hip-hop music and diverse casting. It follows Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean. He rises from obscurity to become one of the most influential figures in American history.

The story explores his life, from his early years in the American colonies to his role in the Revolutionary War. Then continues with his contributions to the writing of the Constitution, and his tenure as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

The musical delves into his complex relationships with other historical figures, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr.

Social Impact

  • Diversity and Inclusion: Hamilton is celebrated for its diverse cast and inclusive portrayal of American history. It features actors of racial and ethnic backgrounds playing the roles of predominantly white historical figures. The diversity enhances the storytelling and sends a powerful message about the inclusivity of the American identity. Also the contributions of immigrants and people of colour to the nation’s history.
  • Historical Relevance: The play rekindles interest in American history and politics. It educates audiences about key events and figures in a captivating manner. Hamilton makes history more accessible and engaging to a wide range of people. And it includes young audiences who might not otherwise have been interested.
  • Musical Innovation: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s use of hip-hop, R&B, and rap was groundbreaking. It modernised the traditional musical theatre genre and made it more appealing to a contemporary audience. This innovative fusion of music styles also helped Hamilton appeal to a younger demographic and reach a broader audience.
  • Educational Tool: Hamilton has been embraced as an educational tool. Its educational programme allows students to see the play and then discuss American history. It’s popularity has led to the development of classroom resources and curriculum based on the show.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Revolutionary Set Design: Hamilton employs minimalistic and versatile set design. The rotating stage and use of two-level turntables provide a dynamic backdrop for the action. It allows seamless transitions between scenes and locations.
  • Costume Design: Costume design by Paul Tazewell combines 18th-century aesthetics with a modern twist. It reflects the characters’ personalities and the overall theme of blending history with contemporary relevance.
  • Choreography: Thomas Kail’s choreography is highly innovative. It incorporates intricate and energetic movements, often in sync with the music. Thus, adding to the show’s visual and auditory appeal.
  • Storytelling and Character Development: Miranda’s masterful writing and use of lyrical rap provide a unique and effective method of storytelling. It allows for the deep exploration of characters and their motivations. And makes the historical figures relatable and multidimensional.
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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has left an indelible mark on the world of theatre and American culture. It is a powerful example of how storytelling and art can be used to explore complex historical themes. And it promotes diversity and inclusion, and captivate audiences through innovative stage production. It has sparked discussions about history, politics, and the American identity while pushing the boundaries of musical theatre.

The History Boys (2004)

Written by Alan Bennett, The History Boys is a play that follows a group of students preparing for their university entrance exams with the help of their eccentric teachers. The play has won numerous awards, including three Olivier Awards and six Tony Awards.

It explores themes of education, class, and the pursuit of knowledge. Set in a British grammar school in the 1980s, The History Boys revolves around a group of bright, unruly, and academically ambitious students preparing for university entrance exams. Their education is overseen by teachers with their own unique teaching styles and philosophies.

The play primarily focuses on the clash of teaching methods between the educators. Hector, an eccentric and unorthodox teacher, imparts a love for literature and culture through unorthodox methods, including bawdy French poetry and motoring trips. While, Irwin, a younger, more pragmatic teacher, emphasises exam strategies and prioritises results over knowledge and intellectual curiosity.

The students, caught between teaching approaches, grapple with their personal ambitions and desires. While striving for success in their exams they navigate issues of sexuality, personal identity, and societal expectations. The play digs into the teachers’ lives, exploring their insecurities, motivations, and past regrets.

Social Impact

The History Boys looks at social themes, making it a thought-provoking and socially relevant piece of literature. It explores the British education system, the value of education, and the pressures on students to excel. The play raises questions about the purpose of education and the role of teachers in shaping young minds. It also touches on issues related to class, sexuality, and the pursuit of personal happiness.

Innovative Stage Production

Alan Bennett’s play has received acclaim not only for its content but also for its innovative stage production. The play combines humour, drama, and thought-provoking dialogue in a way that engages the audience emotionally and intellectually. It features a non-linear narrative and employs flashbacks and fourth wall breaking, making it a unique and engaging theatrical experience. The play’s innovative use of language and interwoven cultural references, including literary and historical allusions, enriches the audience’s experience.

The History Boys has been praised for its use of music, including classical compositions and popular songs from the 1980s. They underscore the emotional and thematic elements of the story. Notable set design and staging creates a believable school environment by using minimalistic props and scenery changes. The whole effect maintains a dynamic and engaging performance.

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The History Boys is a socially impactful play that addresses important educational and societal themes. Its innovative stage production, including its narrative structure, use of language, and incorporation of music, contributes to its lasting popularity and critical acclaim.

Clybourne Park (2010)

Written by Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park, which premiered in 2010, is a play that explores the issues of race and gentrification in Chicago. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011 and has been praised for its sharp wit and incisive commentary on contemporary society.

A thought-provoking and socially impactful play, it serves as both a spin-off and a thematic sequel to Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play – A Raisin in the Sun. The play is structured into two acts, each set in the same house in a Chicago neighbourhood in 1959 and 2009. The play’s title references the neighbourhood, which has undergone significant demographic and social changes over the decades.

Social Impact

  • Racial Dynamics: Clybourne Park tackles the complexities of race, discrimination, and gentrification. The first act, set in 1959, explores the racial tensions of the era. The second act, set in 2009, highlights how these tensions have evolved over time. The play forces the audience to confront the persistence of racial prejudices and their contemporary manifestations.
  • Housing and Gentrification: The play delves into issues related to housing and gentrification. It shows how neighbourhoods transform and how property values affect different racial and socio-economic groups. It challenges the audience to reflect on the consequences of urban development on marginalised communities.
  • Interplay of Past and Present: Norris uses the same house as a backdrop for both acts. Thereby demonstrating how history repeats itself and revealing the cyclical nature of societal issues. This interplay between past and present allows the audience to draw parallels and witness the enduring impact of discrimination.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Single Setting: The play’s innovative use of a single set remains consistent throughout both acts. It emphasises the continuity of the neighbourhood and serves as a visual reminder of the play’s central themes. The set design plays a pivotal role in conveying the passage of time and the evolving social landscape.
  • Reverse Chronology: The decision to present the acts in reverse chronology is a unique storytelling technique. This structure challenges the audience to reevaluate the events and characters they encounter, shedding new light on the unfolding narrative.
  • Sharp Dialogue: Norris’s sharp and witty dialogue keeps the audience engaged, while also highlighting the characters’ flaws, prejudices, and absurdities. The humour is used effectively to confront uncomfortable truths and provoke self-reflection.
  • Interconnected Characters: The play features characters who are connected to the events of the past. This tiestying both acts together in a compelling way. This technique adds depth to the storytelling and underscores the persistence of social issues.
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Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris is a socially impactful play that engages with issues of race, housing, and gentrification. Its innovative stage production, including the use of a single setting, reverse chronology, sharp dialogue, and interconnected characters, creates a dynamic and thought-provoking theatrical experience. It challenges audiences to grapple with the enduring legacy of discrimination and social change. And it stands as a powerful commentary on the complexities of American society and the ongoing conversations about race and property.

Jerusalem (2009)

Written by Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem premiered in 2009. It is set in the fictional village of Flintock in Wiltshire, England. It follows the exploits of Johnny (Rooster) Byron, a charismatic and rebellious figure living in a caravan in the English countryside. The play explores themes of rural life, the clash between tradition and modernity, and the tension between personal freedom and societal conformity.

Jerusalem is a hilarious and deliberately provocative examination of what it means to be a rebel in the modern, corporate-dominated age. It can be summarised as a modern, thought-provoking play that delves into the complexities of contemporary British society.

Through the character of Johnny Byron, it presents a mesmerising and enigmatic portrayal of an outsider. He resists societal norms and seeks to maintain a sense of freedom in the face of encroaching urbanisation and conformity.

The play highlights the dichotomy between rural traditions and the relentless march of progress, embodied by housing developments and government regulations. It prompts the audience to reflect on:

  • the loss of communal spaces,
  • the disconnect between generations, and
  • the erosion of a once-proud way of life.

Jerusalem has won numerous awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Play.

Social Impact

Jerusalem has had a significant social impact by shedding light on the struggles of marginalised, rural communities in the face of urbaniation and governmental control. It sparked discussions about the preservation of cultural heritage and the value of communal spaces in a rapidly changing world. The play raises questions about the treatment of individuals who don’t fit the societal mold and the impact of government policies on their lives.

In addition, Jerusalem has been praised for its strong character development and dialogue, making it a powerful platform for actors to showcase their talents. It has generated interest in British theatre and contributed to the broader conversation about the importance of the arts in addressing societal issues.

Innovative Stage Production

Jerusalem is known for its innovative stage production, featuring a detailed and immersive set design that recreates the woodland where Johnny Byron’s caravan is located. This set design not only creates a realistic backdrop but also symbolises the encroachment of civilization into the rural landscape.

The play’s immersive elements, such as the use of live animals and the incorporation of local folklore and music, contribute to the audience’s engagement with the story and its characters. These elements have set a new standard for creating a sensory and emotional connection with the material, enhancing the overall theatrical experience.

dramatic impressionist oil painting of a silhouetted man in a hat walking towards the sun

Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem is a socially impactful play that explores the clash between tradition and modernity in rural England. Its innovative stage production, with a highly detailed and immersive set design, has elevated the audience’s connection to the story and contributed to its critical acclaim and popularity. The play has had a lasting impact on theatre and has sparked important conversations about the preservation of rural culture and the treatment of outsiders in society.

The Ferryman (2017)

Also written by Jez Butterworth, The Ferryman is a critically acclaimed play that tells the story of a family living in rural Northern Ireland in 1981 during the troubles. It had a significant social impact and featured innovative stage production. The play explores the complex dynamics of the family caught amid political conflict, secrets, and historical turmoil.

The Ferryman has won numerous awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Social Impact

  • Humanising the Troubles: The Ferryman offers a humanising portrayal of individuals living through the troubles, a violent and divisive period in Northern Ireland’s history. It delves into the everyday lives of ordinary people impacted by political strife, showcasing the universality of human emotions and struggles during turbulent times.
  • Complex Characters: The play features a diverse range of characters with conflicting loyalties and personal demons. It highlights the moral dilemmas and emotional toll experienced by those entangled in a political and social quagmire.
  • Family Dynamics: A central theme of the play is the intricacies of family relationships. It underscores the impact of the larger socio-political context on the dynamics within a single family, offering a lens through which to examine the broader impact of the troubles on the people of Northern Ireland.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Realism: The play employs a highly detailed and realistic set design, including a working kitchen and live animals. This attention to detail immerses the audience in the world of the play, enhancing the storytelling and making the experience more vivid.
  • Large Cast: The Ferryman features a substantial cast, including children and animals, which adds depth and complexity to the production. This challenges traditional notions of what can be achieved on stage and contributes to a rich and immersive narrative.
  • Musical Score: The play incorporates traditional Irish folk music and dance, enhancing the atmosphere and cultural authenticity. The music becomes an integral part of the storytelling, evoking emotions and further connecting the audience with the characters and the setting.
  • Choreography: The play includes scenes of lively dance and physical movement that evoke the spirit of Irish culture. These sequences are not only visually stunning but also contribute to the overall narrative and character development.
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The Ferryman is a socially impactful play that humanises the troubles and explores complex family dynamics in Northern Ireland. Its innovative stage production, marked by realistic sets, a large cast, traditional music, and choreography, contributes to its immersive storytelling. And it has redefined what can be achieved in live theatre. The play’s success lies in its ability to engage audiences emotionally while shedding light on a tumultuous period in history.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2015)

The two-part play is based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is set 19 years after the events of the final Harry Potter book. It serves as the eighth installment in the Harry Potter series, continuing the adventures of the now famous characters created by J.K. Rowling.

The play has won numerous awards, including six Tony Awards and nine Olivier Awards. In it we follow Harry Potter, an overworked Ministry of Magic employee, who struggles as a father to his younger son Albus Severus Potter. Albus in turn grapples with the weight of his family’s legacy and the expectations placed upon him.

The story takes a dramatic turn when Albus, with his friend Scorpius Malfoy, becomes entangled in a time-traveling adventure. The pair attempt to right past wrongs as they confront dark forces.

Social Impact

  • Nostalgia and Continuity: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child provides an opportunity for fans to revisit the magical world they grew up in. Its significant social impact reignites the nostalgia of the original series and fosters a new generation of Harry Potter enthusiasts.
  • Character Development: The play explores themes of parenthood, identity, and the weight of family legacies. It encourages discussions about the challenges of growing up, the relationship between parents and children, and the importance of individual choices in shaping one’s destiny.
  • Diversity and Representation: The casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger challenged traditional portrayals and added an important dimension of diversity to the story. This was a significant step in promoting inclusivity in the theatre and broadening the appeal of the Harry Potter series to a more diverse audience.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Special Effects: Cursed Child is renowned for its groundbreaking use of stage effects, including illusions, choreography, and magical sequences. These create a sense of wonder and amazement, immersing the audience in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.
  • Two-Part Play: The decision to present the story as a two-part play allows for a more extensive and immersive experience. Audiences can attend both parts on separate days, or in a single day, providing a unique and engaging theatre experience.
  • Seamless Scene Transitions: The play’s staging seamlessly transitions between scenes and time. Characters and objects appear and disappear in a way that captures the magic and wonder of the Harry Potter universe, keeping the audience enthralled.
  • Complex Choreography: The choreography and coordination required for the magical sequences and fast-paced action are intricate and visually stunning, contributing to the play’s uniqueness and theatrical innovation.
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has had a significant social impact by continuing the magical world of Harry Potter, encouraging discussions on important themes, and promoting diversity in casting. Its innovative stage production, with its special effects, two-part format, seamless scene transitions, and intricate choreography, has set a new standard for theatrical experiences and brought the wizarding world to life in a captivating and memorable way.

August: Osage County (2008)

Written by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County is a critically acclaimed play which premiered in 2007. The play is a dark comedy-drama that explores the dysfunctional relationships within the Weston family who live in rural Osage County, Oklahoma.

The Westons come together after the disappearance of the family’s patriarch, Beverly Weston. His absence forces the family to confront their turbulent history and deeply buried secrets. A family reunion leads to emotional confrontations, revelations, and a series of intense, often darkly humorous, and deeply personal interactions.

August: Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008. It has been praised for its dark humour and powerful performances, exploring themes of family, addiction, secrets, and the impact of trauma.

Social Impact

  • Exploration of Family Dysfunction: August: Osage County sheds light on the often painful and messy aspects of family relationships. It portrays the dysfunction, conflicts, and suppressed emotions that can fester within families, encouraging audiences to reflect on their own familial experiences.
  • Addiction and Mental Health: The play does not shy away from addressing addiction and mental health issues. Violet Weston, the family matriarch, is addicted to prescription drugs, and her struggles with addiction are depicted with raw and unflinching honesty, contributing to a broader societal conversation about these issues.
  • Dark Humour and Catharsis: The play’s dark humour provides a cathartic release for the audience, allowing them to be amused in the midst of the family’s turmoil. This mix of laughter and discomfort underscores the complexity of the human experience and resonates with those who have experienced similar family tensions.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Single Setting: August: Osage County primarily takes place in a single, sprawling house, which is meticulously designed to reflect the family’s emotional and psychological disarray. The setting is crucial in conveying the feeling of confinement and entrapment within the family dynamic.
  • Large Ensemble Cast: The play features a large ensemble cast, including multiple family members and supporting characters, which adds to the complexity and depth of the storytelling. The interactions between the characters create a rich tapestry of emotions and conflicts.
  • Extended Running Time: The play has a relatively long runtime, often spanning over three hours with two intermissions. This extended format allows for a deep exploration of the characters and their relationships, immersing the audience in the family’s world and drawing them into the narrative.
  • Intense Monologues and Dialogue: August: Osage County has some lengthy, emotionally charged monologues and dialogue. And the powerful language and intense exchanges between characters demand strong performances from the cast to captivate the audience’s attention.
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August: Osage County is a socially impactful play that delves into the complexities of family dynamics, addiction, and mental health. Its innovative stage production features a single setting, a large ensemble cast, and extended running time. Intense monologues, create a gripping and immersive theatrical experience that invite audiences to engage with the challenging themes and emotions portrayed in the play.

Dear Evan Hansen (2015)

Premiering in 2015 and written by Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen is a poignant and critically acclaimed musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The play has won numerous awards, including six Tony Awards and a Grammy Award.

The story revolves around Evan Hansen, a high school student struggling with social anxiety disorder. Set against a backdrop of contemporary teenage life, Levensen explores themes of social isolation, mental health, and the consequences of deception.

Evan becomes inadvertently entangled in a family’s grief after a classmate, Connor Murphy, takes his own life. The act of creating a fictitious friendship with Connor through a letter sparks a lie that spirals out of control.

And as Evan becomes a beacon of hope for the Murphys, he must navigate the complexities of authenticity, the consequences of deception, and his own struggles with mental health.

Social Impact

  • Mental Health and Loneliness: Dear Evan Hansen is a groundbreaking work that addresses the critical issues of mental health and loneliness among teenagers. It resonates with audiences who have experienced or witnessed these struggles and fosters important conversations about seeking help and understanding those who are suffering.
  • Youth and Social Media: The musical delves into the impact of social media on young people’s lives. It portrays how the digital age can exacerbate feelings of isolation and provide a platform for connection and expression. And it highlights the complexities of navigating this terrain.
  • Parent-Child Relationships: Levensen explores the dynamics between parents and their children. And he emphasizes the importance of communication, understanding, and support in a family context. He encourages audiences to reflect on their own family relationships and the challenges of parenting.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Multimedia and Digital Aesthetics: Dear Evan Hansen uses an innovative blend of multimedia and digital elements, including projections and social media interfaces, to immerse the audience in the contemporary world of the characters. These elements are seamlessly integrated into the staging, adding a unique visual dimension to the storytelling.
  • Intimate Storytelling: The musical maintains an intimate and character-driven focus, despite its technological aspects. It connects audiences emotionally to the characters’ experiences, allowing them to relate to the emotional journeys of Evan and the Murphys.
  • Emotional Music and Lyrics: The show’s music and lyrics are moving and memorable. The songs – You Will Be Found and Waving Through a Window – have become anthems for those struggling with loneliness and mental health issues.
  • Character-Driven Narrative: Dear Evan Hansen relies heavily on character development, using personal monologues and intimate scenes to create empathy and understanding for the characters’ experiences. The narrative unfolds through the characters’ perspectives, allowing the audience to connect with their struggles.


dramatic impressionist oil painting of a silhouetted man in a hat walking towards the sun

Dear Evan Hansen has had a significant social impact by addressing mental health, loneliness, and the role of social media in the lives of young people. Its innovative stage production, featuring multimedia elements, intimate storytelling, emotionally resonant music, and character-driven narratives, provides a moving and thought-provoking theatrical experience that continues to engage audiences in important conversations about these critical societal issues.

Fun Home (2006)

Premiering in 2013, the book and lyrics were written by Lisa Kron, with music by Jeanine Tesori. The Fun Home musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name and explores themes of family, identity, sexuality, and self-discovery. It tells the story of a woman coming to terms with her father’s suicide and her own sexuality.

The title Fun Home refers to the family’s nickname for their funeral home, which serves as a symbol of both the family’s quirks and its underlying secrets. It is a coming-of-age story that revolves around Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist, and her recollections of her family and her own journey to self-acceptance.

The narrative alternates between three different stages of Alison’s life.

  • Her childhood.
  • Her college years.
  • Her adulthood.

As Alison grapples with her sexual orientation, she has to deal with the complexities of her relationship with her father, Bruce.

The play won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and has been praised for its emotional depth and innovative storytelling techniques.

Social Impact

  • LGBTQ+ Representation: Fun Home is notable for its portrayal of a lesbian protagonist and her journey of self-discovery. It contributes to LGBTQ+ visibility in the arts, providing a relatable and empathetic perspective on coming out and the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals and their families.
  • Family and Identity: The musical delves into the intricate dynamics of family relationships, particularly the father-daughter bond, and how they influence one’s sense of identity. It encourages audiences to explore their own family histories and understand how they shape personal growth.
  • Gender and Sexuality: Kron addresses questions of gender and sexuality in a way that challenges societal norms and expectations. The musical emphasises that one’s identity is complex and not bound by conventional definitions.

Innovative Stage Production

  • Narrative Structure: The musical’s innovative narrative structure, which shifts between different stages of Alison’s life, provides a multifaceted perspective on her experiences. The use of three actors to portray Alison at various ages adds depth to the storytelling and allows the audience to connect with her journey at different life stages.
  • Intimate Staging: Fun Home employs an intimate and minimalist set design that creates a sense of proximity between the characters and the audience. This closeness intensifies the emotional impact of the story and allows the audience to connect deeply with the characters.
  • Musical Score: Jeanine Tesori’s music incorporates a blend of musical genres, including folk, pop, and classical styles, enhancing the emotional resonance of the story. Ring of Keys and Changing My Major, are emotionally evocative songs that propel the narrative forward.
  • Symbolism and Imagery: The use of visual and symbolic elements in the staging, such as the ornate family home, represents the contrast between appearances and hidden truths. These elements create a visually rich and thematically complex production.
dramatic impressionist oil painting of a silhouetted man in a hat walking towards the sun

Fun Home has had a significant social impact by exploring LGBTQ+ representation, family dynamics, and the complexities of identity and sexuality. Its innovative stage production, with its unique narrative structure, intimate staging, evocative music, and symbolic elements, provides a moving and thought-provoking theatrical experience that encourages empathy, self-reflection, and a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Final Thoughts

The 21st century has seen some remarkable plays that have captured the attention of audiences and critics alike. As the world continues to change, the importance of theatre remains constant. These plays have pushed the boundaries of what theatre can achieve.

Theatre has the power to challenge our assumptions, to make us think, and to inspire us to action. The plays of the 21st century have shown us that theatre is alive and well. And that there is still so much to explore and discover.

Looking to the future, the prospects for theatre are bright. As new voices emerge and new stories are told, theatre will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing world around us. Whether it’s through new technologies, new forms of storytelling, or new ways of engaging with audiences, theatre will always find a way to remain relevant and impactful.

The best plays of the 21st century, so far, have left an indelible mark on the world of theatre, and their influence will be felt for generations to come. As we look to the future, we can be confident that theatre will continue to play a vital role in our lives, challenging us, inspiring us, and bringing us together as a community.

Frequently Asked Questions

How have themes and styles in theatre evolved in the 21st century?

The themes and styles in theatre have evolved significantly in the 21st century. Plays now often explore complex and controversial issues such as identity, race, gender, and sexuality. There has also been an increase in the use of technology and multimedia elements in theatre productions. Many contemporary plays also experiment with form and structure, incorporating non-linear narratives and unconventional storytelling techniques.

Which 21st-century plays have won the most awards?

Several 21st-century plays have won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, and Olivier Award. Some of the most notable award-winning plays are:

  • August: Osage County by Tracy Letts,
  • The Humans by Stephen Karam,
  • The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth, and
  • Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

How do 21st-century plays differ from those of the 20th century?

21st-century plays often differ from those of the 20th century in terms of themes, styles, and subject matter. Many 21st-century plays explore contemporary issues and use technology and multimedia elements in their productions. Additionally, there has been an increase in the use of non-linear narratives and unconventional storytelling techniques.

How have global issues like climate change, technology, and political unrest been portrayed in 21st-century plays?

Global issues such as climate change, technology, and political unrest have been portrayed in various ways in 21st-century plays. Many plays use these issues as a backdrop to explore larger themes such as power, identity, and social justice. Others directly address these issues, offering commentary and critique on the state of the world.

How has the rise of digital theatre and streaming platforms impacted the traditional theatre scene?

The rise of digital theatre and streaming platforms has had a significant impact on the traditional theatre scene. Many theatre companies have embraced digital technologies as a way to reach wider audiences and engage with new forms of storytelling. However, some argue that the rise of digital theatre threatens the traditional theatre experience and the unique sense of community that it provides.

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