Five great plays where no set or props are necessary

Isabelle Tyner
Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Each issue of D&T, we bring you five suggested plays for studying or mounting with your students. This issue Isabelle Tyner looks at plays which don't need you to invest in sets or props.

Antigone by Sophocles (adaptations available)

Age recommendation: 12+

Cast: 4f, 7m, chorus

Synopsis: King Creon promises that anyone who tries to bury Polynices will be punished. Antigone goes against her uncle's words and is caught trying to bury Polynices. Creon then orders Antigone to be buried alive in a cave, while his son Haemon (Antigone's fiancé) tries to persuade him not to kill her. Tiresias later appears and tells Creon it is too late to forgive Antigone, as she has killed herself and Haemon has done the same.

Why it's great: This play is a Greek tragedy, analysing individual freedom vs obedience to the state. Greek plays famously have a lot of action and deaths that occur off stage, which means Antigone provides ample opportunity to focus on character interaction, instead of set and props.

Stoning Mary by Debbie Tucker-Green


Age recommendation: 16+

Cast: 6f, 7m

Synopsis: Three stories are presented to us: Mary is the youngest sister who has killed a child soldier and is awaiting her stoning. A mother and father try to connect with their son, who is the child solider that Mary later kills. A husband and wife are trying to decide who should take a lifesaving prescription while they are both dying of AIDS.

Why it's great: The dialogue is unapologetic and gripping as Tucker-Green strips away the geographical and racial contexts to set this play ‘in the country it is performed in’. Though a machete is referenced for the child soldier, this can be changed by the director for another dangerous prop, or simply mimed. Apart from this, all that will be needed is a piece of paper for the prescription.

Contractions by Mike Bartlett

Age recommendations: 15+

Cast: 2f

Synopsis: Emma is new to her job in a sales company and has a work review meeting with her manager. This quickly becomes an interrogation, with her manager using ‘duty of care’ as an excuse to ask increasing questions about Emma's personal life and relationship. Emma must decide how much she will disclose in order to keep her job.

Why it's great: This play is a short and punchy two hander, perfect for young female actors. The set-up of Contractions is inherently minimal – even in high-budget productions, the set is stripped back, often only using two chairs, a stack of paper, a pen and a table. Anything extra is a stylistic choice. The excitement and grit of this play lies within the dialogue and character interaction, allowing two actors to explore the tension and humour in the text.

Island Town by Simon Longman

Age recommendation: 16+

Cast: 2f, 1m

Synopsis: A small town. Kate's dad is an alcoholic. Sam is trying to protect her little sister from their parent's volatile relationship. Pete lives with his brother, ‘the angriest man in the world.’ There is nothing to do and nowhere to go. Though they all have big dreams, Kate is the only one who dreams of escaping. When Kate turns up drunk with a stolen car, she convinces Sam and Pete to get in with her, but instead of driving off into a utopia, Kate crashes, crushing her dreams and her best friend's lives.

Why it's great: At the heart of Island Town is friendship, which means that set and props become secondary to the emotional journeys of the characters when you're staging this play. The small number of moments where props are mentioned can be directed using mime and not having any set supports the idea of the dead-end town. This script is perfect for pairs or trios for text exams and edits can be made to the language to suit students of 14+.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Age recommendation: Any

Cast: 3f, 10m (with other unspecified gender roles)

Synopsis: Viola and her twin brother Sebastian encounter a storm while at sea and become shipwrecked on the island of Illyria, losing each other. Viola decides to disguise herself as a man called Cesario to serve Duke Orsino, who she begins falling in love with. Sent from Orsino, Viola (dressed as Cesario) delivers a love letter to Countess Olivia, leading her to fall in love with Cesario. After mix ups and love triangles, Viola and Sebastian are reunited.

Why it's great: This play is perfect for children who haven't encountered Shakespeare before, due to its comedic genre and engaging plot. Like many Shakespearian plays, the action moves quickly and so set is not necessary for the story to be coherent. The only prop that would be necessary is a letter for Malvolio, which can be represented by any plain piece of folded paper. Touching on themes of love and identity, Twelfth Night is a timeless play for younger or older pupils to explore.