Anthony Neilson has revealed the title and subject matter of his new play, specially created for 11 Royal Shakespeare Company actors (See News, 28 Jun 2007). God in Ruins - which runs from 5 December 2007 (previews from 29 November) to 5 January 2008 at Soho Theatre – is the first of five new plays commissioned by the RSC and opening in London over the next year.

At the heart of God in Ruins is a human story as a father attempts to communicate with his daughter, but the play touches on a variety of wider themes including elements of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, online technology, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, and men becoming gods in their own bedrooms as they try to recreate themselves in virtual worlds like Second Life, the online community now ‘inhabited’ by ten million people worldwide.

The 11 actors of the RSC ensemble - Jude Akuwudike, Richard Atwill, Thane Bettany, Sam Cox, Brian Doherty, Ryan Gage, Emmanuel Ighodaro, Jason Nwoga, Patrick O’Kane, Mark Theodore and Joel Trill – were seen earlier this year performing Macbeth and Macbett in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Swan Theatre. Neilson’s distinctive and instinctive working method – which has previously given rise to plays including The Wonderful World of Dissocia, seen earlier this year at the Royal Court - has involved getting to know the actors, discussing ideas, scripting them, seeing how they work and gradually working towards a finished play. There were two rehearsed readings of a work-in-progress during the company’s residency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in early September.

Written and directed by Neilson, God in Ruins is designed by Hayley Grindle, with lighting by Chahine Yavroyan and sound and music by Nick Powell.

In an appeal issued with the press release, Neilson commented on the new play: “This Christmas, spare a thought for all the thousands of single men out there, for whom Christmas is not such a joyous time. Every year, hundreds of these poor suicidal souls are slaughtered by about 10pm on Christmas Eve. Bereft of any useful military purpose or belief system and often excommunicated by their families, they have little to look forward to on the day itself but several hours of self-recrimination, Internet surfing and first-person shooting. Despite scrutinising Nigella Lawson’s programmes, many of these men are still unable to cook anything but pasta with pesto. Even less will have remembered to buy parmesan; it is a very grim picture indeed. Yes, Kylie Minogue is in the Doctor Who special but otherwise these men will spend Christmas Day totally alone.

“I understand that purse strings are tight at this time of year, but amidst the Christmas cheer please spare a thought for these genetically-hamstrung individuals and come see God in Ruins at the Soho Theatre, which stars eleven such men attempting to address the aforementioned social issue through comedy, drama and song. God bless you, one and all.”

The RSC’s schedule of new work continues in the new year, the Tricycle will receive two of the RSC’s “Responses to Shakespeare” plays commissioned as part of the Complete Works Festival - Leo Butler’s I'll Be the Devil (running 21 February to 8 March 2008), after The Tempest, and Roy Williams’ updated Days of Significance (12 to 29 March), after Much Ado About Nothing. Butler’s play is set in occupied Ireland in 1775; Williams’, directed by Maria Aberg, is set in market town England and the deserts of Iraq. Both plays will be performed by dedicated companies of actors.

In autumn 2008, though exact dates and venues have yet to be announced, the RSC will premiere two more new plays in London in 2008 (See News, 11 Sep 2007): Adriano Shaplin’s The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes, a debate on god and science, and Marina Carr’s two-hander response to King Lear, The Cordelia Dream, which will both have four-week seasons.

- by Terri Paddock