Black History Month – plays to read or watch

Delive into black history with this round-up of texts

The upcoming Netflix film version of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The upcoming Netflix film version of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
© David Lee / Netflix

It's Black History Month – the perfect time to delve into the rich catalogue of plays and texts written by playwrights over the years (you can also do it all year round!)

And remember, if you're buying plays or audiobooks then, where possible, help support some of our wonderful independent publishers – providing a vital lifeline even when venues are closed.

Check out our dedicated and regularly updated Black Lives Matter guide

Check out these texts and writers:

Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard's devised Underground Railroad Game, which is about the legacy of slavery.

Janice Okoh's new play The Gift uses the real-life story of Sarah Bonetta Davies to explore the legacy of imperialism and race.

Selina Thompson's salt. had a number of runs and continues to be very relevant. It focusses on Afro-pessimism, the Black Atlantic, the forgetting of the UK's colonial history.

Rochelle Rose in Salt. at the Royal Court
Rochelle Rose in Salt. at the Royal Court
© Johan Persson

The Whip – Juliet Gilkes Romero's 2019 play explores the way in which slavers were reimbursed after the abolition of slavery. It's being performed as an audio play later this month.

The works of August Wilson – Wilson is a prolific playwright that should go down as one of the greatest of the last century. His play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, is set to be released as a film on Netflix in December

Antoinette Nwandu's Pass Over, which recently had its UK premiere at the Kiln Theatre and was adapted into a film.

A lot of Anna Deavere Smith's work including Notes from the Field and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is directly relevant to recent experiences of the Black community – especially ongoing protests and unnecessary killings.

debbie tucker green's work, including ear for eye, random, generations, hang and more are incredibly charged, vital texts.

Braden Jacobs Jenkins' An Octoroon, recently having its UK premiere, explores the legacy of slavery and how creatives tackle the issue in the present day.

Award-winning writer Jeremy O Harris has created waves with a number of new works in recent years, including Slave Play and Daddy.

Katori Hall's The Mountaintop, which won an Olivier Award when it first opened, is only one of her brilliant plays worth experiencing. We also spoke to Hall ahead of the UK premiere of Our Lady of Kibeho, which was nominated for an Olivier Award when it transferred to London.

Daniel Ward's The Canary and the Crow explores identity within both private education and, pertinently, UK drama schools.

Inua Ellams' Barber Shop Chronicles, which has toured a number of times and wowed. It follows a series of barber shops dotted across the world over the space of a single day to compare and contrast Black identities in different locations. His recent reimagining of Three Sisters at the National Theatre is also a blast.

Dael Orlandersmith's Until the Flood, based on the interviews she conducted in St Louis, in spring 2015, six months after the death of an 18 year-old African American black man Michael Brown who was shot down by a white police officer.

Lynn Nottage is the first (and remains the only) woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice, and her plays are a magnificent proof of what theatre can achieve to inform others. Intimate Apparel, Ruined, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and Sweat are each worth pouring over.

The Canary and the Crow
The Canary and the Crow
© The Other Richard

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's Emilia explores the supposed "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets. Its final speech is shatteringly good. Educational and galvanising.

Nouveau Riché's award-winning piece Queens of Sheba is excellent.

Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview is a Pulitzer Prize-winner of supreme excellence, exposing prejudices within both society and the arts community. She also explores the impact of European genocides in We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915.

Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs. Now 50 years old, the play's relevance has never wavered.

Ishmael Reed's The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda deconstructs the ideas within Hamilton, offering an alternative perspective on the founding fathers as slave-owners and their attitudes towards Native Americans.

Jeff Stetson's The Meeting imagines a meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during the civil rights movement.

© Marc Brenner

Malcolm X also reappears in Kemp Powers' One Night in Miami, which imagines the conversation during a real meeting between the activist, Jim Brown, Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke. It is about to be released in cinemas.

Michael R Jackson's musical A Strange Loop won the Pulitzer Prize following its run last year. It charts the life of "a gay, black writer" and the cast recording is special.

Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong and Simone Ibbett-Brown lambast the presence of racism in the arts industries in Shuck 'n' Jive, which had a powerhouse turn at the Soho Theatre.

Temi Wilkey's The High Table. Wilkey recently won a Stage Debut Award for her recent piece, which explores the intersection between LGBTQ identity and Nigerian ancestry.

Of course, there are score more – so please get in touch on editorial@whatsonstage.com for any suggestions and we will add them to the list.