History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/English Post-WWII
- 1 Sean O'Casey
- 2 Robert Bolt
- 3 Terence Rattigan
- 4 Harold Pinter
- 5 John Osborne
- 6 Arnold Wesker
- 7 Edward Bond
- 8 Shelagh Delaney
- 9 Brendan Behan
- 10 Joe Orton
- 11 Peter Nichols
- 12 Peter Barnes
- 13 Simon Gray
- 14 Stephen Poliakoff
- 15 David Hare
- 16 William Nicholson
- 17 Mark Ravenhill
- 18 Brian Friel
- 19 Gary Mitchell
- 20 Martin McDonagh
- 21 Roy Williams
The post-World War II British period began with yet another major work by Sean O'Casey (1880-1964), "Cock-a-doodle dandy" (1949).
The play "seems to me an incomparably vivid and powerful play, a really tremendous hymn to the joy of life and the perdition of its enemies" (Allen, 1957 p 164). O'Casey "created, if not the sturdiest, surely the most entrancing and incisive of his non-realistic plays. This folk comedy, enlivened with breezy fantasy, pokes glorious fun at provincial philistinism and constitutes a high-hearted, if also rueful, affirmation of love of life and freedom of spirit. The wholesome young exponents of a full life wage war in Cock-a-Doodle Dandy against calculating and superstition-ridden middle-aged proponents of village puritanism. The latter, forming a vigilante group under Father Domineer to oppose 'the onward rush of paganism', finally score a victory by driving out a spirited girl, Loreleen. She is joined by Lorna, the young, life-loving wife of one of the girl’s persecutors, and together they go away 'to a place where life resembles life more than it does here'. One by one, the representatives of life depart the village, leaving it to desiccated provincials, among whom are a pair of dimwitted and blustering codgers worthy of O’Casey’s earlier imperishable booze-companions 'Captain' Boyle and Joxer" (Gassner, 1954a p 728).
“The cock, the central symbol of the play, broadly signifies vitality, the life force, fertility. The play itself chiefly seems to be a conflict between a morality which is symbolized by the cock and a view of life which is promulgated by Father Domineer and acceded to by most of the men in the play. Father Domineer's view principally concerns itself with keeping women dowdy, drab, subservient, sexless. The Cock, Robin Adair, Jack the lorry driver, and the three women of the play— Lorna, Michael Marthraun's young second wife, Loreleen, his daughter by his first wife, and Marion, a maid—have, on the other hand, a lusty and vital O'Caseyan world-view...There is conflict throughout between earth life and religious life. Instead of miracles appearing on behalf of the church, miracles appear against it" (Hogan, 1960 (p 118).
Daniel (1969) believed "that when the play is read as a loose reversal of the Fortunate Fall...Michael Marthraun becomes an ingenious character creation in his ironic contrast to Archangel Michael in 'Paradise lost'. For whereas in Milton's explanation of Adam's future, how man's fate is decided and the prophecy of the Second Coming so overwhelm Adam that he explains the essence of the Fortunate Fall, O'Casey's Michael causes the Lovers of Joy to be banished from a false Paradise, leaving himself, not them, to ponder the paradox. He learns from those whom he banishes what it means to live; and he realizes that he, alone, is left in his 'priest-ridden domain', fully aware that the undefined Green World to which his adversaries are going will bring them more happiness than he can ever find in his False Paradise" (p 138).
Time: 1940s. Place: Nyadnanave, Ireland.
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Michael Martbraun, a farmer, argues over the cost of moving turf with Sailor Mahan, owner of a fleet of lorries. Michael is equally frustrated about the light ways of Loreleen, daughter of his first wife. When Sailor's lorry drivers arrive to find out whether a deal has been struck between the two men, they are frightened away on seeing Loreleen transformed into a cock before their very eyes. Michael is all the more perturbed when his servant, Marion, comes running out of his house in a panic over the disturbance caused by the cock on a rampage inside. When it appears at the window, Michael and Sailor lay flat on the ground in fear. It is eventually lassoed by a messenger who leads him off. As the cock crows, thunder strikes. More relaxed with the cock away, Michael and Sailor flirt with Marion until they see her headgear rise in the form of a devil's horn. Michael is even more alarmed after hearing her say that she is ready to offer the cock a wreath of roses. Michael and Sailor turn to the comforts of whiskey, but the liquid stays in the bottle. "You'd think good whiskey would be exempt from injury even be th'lowest of th'low," a bemused Michael comments. He buys a new hat to replace the one destroyed during the cock's rampage inside his house, but a porter informs him that it was shot through by the civic guards aiming at the evil spirit in the shape of the cock. When a sergeant shows up to hunt it down, there is a flash of lightning and the hat is transformed into the cock. Even worse, the whiskey bottle turns hot in the sergeant's hand so that he is unable to drink. When Michael's wife, Lorna, tells him his new hat arrived an hour ago, he wants no part of it. Along with Loreleen and Marion, Lorna drinks to the cock and entices the men to join them until Father Domineer interrupts the party to insist that Sailor dismiss from work a lorry driver living with a woman outside the bonds of marriage, but Sailor refuses. The incensed priest strikes the lorry driver, but is then stunned on discovering him dead. Before leaving the village as the result of the murder, the priest conducts an exorcism of Michael's house and is confident of its success. He next attempts to shame Loreleen into leading a more virtuous life after she had been pelted with stones by a crowd angry at her wayward life and had her money stolen, borrowed from Sailor when she attempted to leave the village forever. On her way out of town conducted by the hostile crowd, she is joined by Lorna and Marion. While Michael glumly murmurs over the loss of his wife, her sister returns on a stretcher from Lourdes, still suffering from the same chronic illness.
Another work of importance a the history play, "A man for all seasons" (1960), by Robert Bolt (1924-1995), based on the life of Thomas More (1478-1535).
”The style of the play is determined by the author’s confidence in his hero’s ability to win our admiration without rhetoric...It is epic in the narrow sense of being a chronicle unified by an idea- here, the idea of a humane man trying to retain his integrity in a world of opportunists and hyenas” (Gassner, 1968 pp 508-209).
Bolt “dramatizes the heroism of the man who refuses to yield to the dictates of expediency, and he exposes the common man (most of us) who fails to fight in defense of such a person as More…What emerges from all this, artistically speaking, is a certain probity- spare, sober, honorable” (Clurman, 1966 pp 49-50). “Despite the religious vocabulary and tone of discourse...Bolt is not concerned with the historical issue of belief...he is concerned with ‘morally accountable individuals, trying to hold true to their [humanistic] beliefs against the mindless violence of ideological genocide or religious fanaticism’. So...the demands of church and state are not the opposite their functionaries proclaim, but equal threats to the protagonist’s integrity” (Innes, 2002 pp 116-117).
"A man for all seasons"
Time: 1530s and 1540s. Place: London, England.
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To obtain a male heir to the English throne, Cardinal Wolsey requests Sir Thomas More's support in King Henry VIII's repudiation of Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn. More disagrees, specifying that when statesmen act against their conscience "they lead their country by a short route to chaos". Yet it is done. After Cardinal Wolsey's death, his secretary, Thomas Cromwell, rises in power. Against his wishes, More is named chancellor of England. King Henry specifies he will tolerate no obstruction in the succession. More will be silent in the matter. Although he does not support the king, he reveals to his family his confidence. "I truly believe no man in England is safer than myself," he says. He will not write against the Act of Supremacy, as this may be got around by its wording and refuses any dealing with Spain, yet the severing with Rome prompts his resignation as chancellor. Cromwell seeks to trap him with charges of bribery, but More refuses to receive money from some bishops, because charity is sometimes interpreted as payment. Although Cromwell is unable to trap More legally, he reveals that the king is displeased with him. Now fearing for his friends, More requests the duke of Norfolk to visit him no more. Norfolk is named on the commission to inquire about More's opinions along with Cromwell and Thomas Cramner, archbishop of Canterbury. More refuses to sign his agreement with the Act of Succession without divulging why. It is an insufficient compliance, so that he is imprisoned for over a year in a pitiful cell. Although the commission can never force him to say why he is against the act, he is illegally condemned to death. On his way to the gallows, a woman reminds him of a false judgment he once pronounced against her. "Woman, you see how I am occupied," he laconically answers.
Some plays in the domestic tradition remained quite similar to those of the pre-war period, notably Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) with "Separate tables" (1954).
In “Separate tables”, “the image contained in the title suggests the difficulty humans have in making authentic or lasting connections with one another. We pass through life like residents of a hotel, transients, each of us at our own separate tables unable to join with one another except for brief times and on limited terms… Anne terrifies herself with the specters of decay and death, and to her the idea of growing old means losing the power her looks provide to make men protect her…Such urgency as exists in the scene comes only from John, as when he asserts…a more confident prediction of failure…Rattigan then conveys the fragility of their reunion…Rattigan is often complimented in a backhand way with praise for his depiction of the English as a race that suppresses its emotions…In Rattigan’s world, every necessary condition of human existence, the inevitable process of physical decay especially, divides us from the other…Normally, old people take delight in the society of younger and youthfully more vital people, but we perceive at first Miss Meacham’s dislike…as mere characteristic orneriness…Yet the entire speech has built to the reversal of the last sentence…’I don’t want to remind them of what they’ve got to become’ Rattigan…conveys the alienating operation time performs on her, on us all…In an exchange between the major and the retired master, Fowler, the major…makes two errors while referring to the quotation, errors that Fowler notices and is shocked by and that makes him suspect the major as being a fraud…after Sybil informs the major that his secret has benn found out, Rattigan works his art of restraint and understatement to the maximum…the utter commonness and minimalism of his expressions do more than any rhetorical exposition of his sense of despair and doom could. He then attempts to explain,,,in a wholly new style…where we see the birth of a new human being…He finally becomes ‘I’ through his confession…When the major sees Sybil’s dining room heroism, he feels he is not completely isolated, and he decides to say at the hotel” (Bertolini, 2016 pp 144-153).
Anne and John’s “illusions and lies are brought into the open and confronted in discussions lacking in previous plays. Furthermore, their ability to articulate their feelings and attitudes enjoys an equality not there in earlier characters…Unequal as the basis for the relationship may be, need in one case and passion in the other, both have a rational, verbalized understanding of their emotions. The human is extended into the humanistic. Both are equal victims of themselves…In their shaky reconciliation, they do have each other and they become, curiously, like the other residents of the Beauregard, reconciled to the human community of the hotel. John Malcolm had already made his peace with himself in his pseudonity before Anne’s arrival. His belonging is rooted in the strong friendship with Miss Cooper and in a perverse rapport with the conservative residents with whom he argues his liberal politics…It is Miss Cooper who functions as Rattigan’s raisonneur in the drama…In her quiet manner, she makes him feel welcome to stay on at the hotel even before she says so…In Separate Tables, Rattigan has finely spun the stories of four lonely people damaged by life, lost, and then redeemed by the same forces” (Rusinko, 1983 pp 89-93). The human impact of the final scene as the beneficial effect of social tolerance is denied by Innes (2002) as being “almost anticlimactic” when judging David and Sybil to be “two sexually repressed emotional cripples”, the former being in addition “a fearful nonentity whose boasts of sexual prowess and upper-class extrovert appearance are fake” (pp 78-79).
Time: 1950s. Place: Near Bournemouth, England.
John, a journalist, unexpectedly encounters his ex-wife, Anne, in a hotel. She has since divorced a second time, obtaining little in the way of alimony, she says. Because John had hit her head and sent her to a hospital, the divorce had destroyed his political career. Since then, he has entertained amorous relations with Patricia, the proprietess of the hotel. Anne is lonely and with advancing age this state is likely to worsen. "I can just see myself in a few years' time at one of those separate tables," she says, pointing at the dining-room. She invites her ex-husband in her room, and, after some hesitation, he accepts, but on his way there he is intercepted by Patricia, who reveals that Anne is on the telephone with his editor. When John confronts Anne, he learns she has lied about their apparently chance meeting, for she knew in advance where he would be. She also lied about the amount of the alimony, being twice the one mentioned. In spite of these lies, John is still subjugated to her, and accepts continuing their sexual relation. "You realise, don't you, that we haven't much hope together?" he queries, to which she answers: "Have we all that much apart?" Meanwhile, a man known as Major David Pollock is looking feverishly for a copy of the local paper belonging to Mrs Railton-Bell. Before he can take off with it, she enters with her daughter, Sibyl. He asks to borrow it and she accepts, until discovering the very same paper on the floor, which the major inadvertently dropped. The major is forced to give the paper back, in which she learns that the man has been held over for sexual harassment towards a woman in the darkness of a cinema-house. Moreover, the major is no major but a lieutenant. The indignant Mrs Railton-Bell consults with the other regulars at the hotel about what to do, she being in favor of chucking the so-called major out. Three other people agree, only a medical student, Charles, being against it. Sibyl is the one most distressed by these news, as a particular friend of the false major. "It makes me sick," she repeatedly says in rising tones of hysteria. Though voting against the abuser, Mr Fowler, a former housemaster, admits he now regrets his vote. "The trouble about being on the side of right, as one sees it, is that one sometimes finds oneself in the company of such questionable allies," he ruefully comments. David reappears with an air of pathetic jauntiness until confronted by the despairing Sybil, who asks him pointedly why he committed such a despicable act. He answers that he has always been shy towards the opposite sex. "It has to be in the dark, you see, and a stranger, because-" he tries to explain, but Sybil puts her hands over her ears and asks why he lied about his position. "I don't like myself as I am, I suppose," he answers, "so I've had to invent another person." Despite Patricia's mild protests, he announces his intention to leave the hotel. At dinner in the common room, each at their separate tables, everyone is silent as David enters. Charles defies the others by greeting him, as does a woman indifferent to these proceedings. Then Fowler imitates them, followed by Gladys, Mrs Railton-Bell's close friend, and finally Sybil, in defiance of her mother. Suddenly, the occupants of the separate tables are not so separate anymore.
With Pinter and others, the Kitchen Sink School of playwriting took over, which refers to Wilson Knight’s 1963 comments on Harold Pinter, John Osborne, and Arnold Wesker: “it is remarkable how many of these plays contain a kitchen sink and there are continual reminders of food”.
The influential plays of Harold Pinter (1930-2008) include "The homecoming" (1965), "Old times" (1971), and "No man's land" (1975). In his first plays such as "The caretaker (1960), Pinter described a Kafka-like atmosphere causing paranoid behavior. Pinter's predecessors in inane repetitions occurring in dialogues include Elio Vittorini's novel, "Conversation in Sicily" (1941). In addition to the Kitchen Sink School, a term often used to describe more specifically Pinter plays is “comedies of menace”, first coined by David Campton in 1957 on his own plays and then used by critics (Dukore, 1982 p 23), in which the reader feels two seemingly incompatible emotions, fear and laughter, in response to the same dramatic situation. A fearful situation has comic elements, a funny situation has fearful elements, as when McCann and Goldberg interrogate Stanley in Pinter's “The birthday party” (1958).
In "The homecoming", “when she first appears, Ruth seems to be diffident and unsure of herself but is actually extending her strongest pole, the feminine mother-whore, which attracts the infantile males who think they are seducing her...Ruth’s desertion leaves Teddy, who has displayed the gloss of masterful maleness all through the play, free to swing to the female pole of his nature as he returns to America to mother his three children” (Wellwarth, 1971 p 240). Ruth is the "most ambiguous and difficult character in the play...Ruth enters a situation in which the normal family relationships have failed. It is a parody of a family. Father and son, brother and brother, are set snarling against each other...Ruth's first appearance conveys the impression of stillness and quiet. Her inactivity is set in contrast to Teddy's agitated excitement...The dialogue suggests that her stillness comes from her withdrawal from the family symbolized by the room in which she finds herself...Is she shy? frightened? bored? Then, suddenly, in the business over the water glass, our impression is undercut by a new and contradictory element. She unexpectedly shifts from passivity to aggressiveness...We judge her to be an unhappy woman whose alternating stillness and aggression come from her imperfect adjustment to her circumstances...We may at first try to reconcile them with our sympathy: her dance and her kiss with Lenny may be the natural actions of a frustrated woman whose husband is weak. But her treatment of Joey is less excusable. Not only does she turn promiscuously to the third brother, but she turns out to be 'a tease'. The final destruction of our sympathy comes with the cold-blooded way in which she accepts their proposition that she become the family prostitute...At the end of the play, she is in command, the situation turned to her advantage" (Free, 1969 pp 2-4). “Lenny’s proposition to Ruth and her husband’s placid acceptance of her as a whore…are the only elements in the play which appear impossible in a realistic setting...But...Ruth...may well have been a prostitute, or very nearly one, before Teddy met and married her. If she was unable to adjust herself to a life of respectability in America (being a nymphomaniac, as she is clearly shown to be), she must have caused poor Teddy a lot of embarrassment on the campus” (Esslin, 1974 pp 251-252). "By the time Sam, the outraged representative of traditional morality, exclaims against the family's proposal to keep Ruth, 'But she's his wife', the label 'wife' has become meaningless, and the marriage dramatically devalued by the family's attack on it...Ruth's freedom, more accurately a stoic freedom, derives from having nothing more to lose. Teddy's inability to defend his marriage against the family and claim his wife ends in his betraying her...Teddy's concern is almost exclusively with his own wants...Only after Ruth has been wholly betrayed by her husband does she turn against him to gain dominance over the family by attaching to their proposal a series of conditional demands for clothing, a personal maid" (Prentice, 1980 pp 463-465). "Max, Lenny, and Joey accept Ruth in the family, but they move to control her, to prostitute her for their benefit. She, however, is more cunning than they and hence soon dominates the family scene in a manner advantageous to herself...she reigns supreme over a household of abject men" (Wertheim, 1985 p 157). Although "a degenerate patriarch, Max nevertheless continues to command a grudging respect from his family because of the strength of his affirmation of the passional life over economic or rational values...In contrast with Lenny's freewheeling pursuit of philosophic inquiry, Teddy, the professional philosopher, can only stiffly reply that such questions don't fall within his province. Pinter satirizes the academic philosopher whose profession has become so specialized that he can no longer respond to basic questions about the nature of man's existence" (Warner, 1970 pp 345-348). "Joey...an amateur boxer is dull, brutish, functioning almost entirely in terms of the physical...Throughout the play Sam...is at odds with his brother. When, for example, Max greets the newly arrived Teddy with a barely disguised challenge to physical combat, Sam extends to him the only sign of genuine affection in the play, telling him that he had been his mother's favorite and offering him companionship if he will stay in England" (Ganz, 1969 pp 181-184). “Beside having been deprived of the attention he desires, Max is beginning to show the insecurity of old age and fears he may be too old for anyone to be interested in him...By introducing his shocking information, [Sam] hopes to keep the family from replacing Jessie with Ruth...Joey is a picture of impotence...does not seem overly upset by his lack of success. He just does not want anyone else to get the credit...Lenny has been shown incapable of satisfactorily coping with situations in which women are involved...Teddy, by his own admission, has withdrawn (because of his failures- the only real threat he poses is to cheese-rolls)...he is the furthest removed from the human sphere and cannot even take part in the game any more...Ruth has not been satisfied by her husband or children and seeks attention from her husband’s family” (Gale, 1977 pp 150-151). Esslin (2000) speculated that in the far past “Sam might have been the driver of prostitutes run by Max and Macgregor...Jessie herself might have been one of prostitutes involved”. This explains why Lenny’s proposal to Ruth’s future job is accepted so casually by the family. Before being married to Teddy, Ruth might also have been a prostitute, at least, as she admits, a nude photographic model. “For Ruth sees herself- has resigned herself to be seen- as a passive object of desire. Having failed in her marriage, Ruth is in a state of existential despair...She has tried to fight her own nature and she has been defeated by it” (pp 139-145). Coe (1975) singled out "three types of communication...The first is communication...that information is transmitted...the second...is the successful, conscious transmission of trivial information...The third and most important type of communication occurs on the level relationship...[For example]...Ruth knows that if she allows Lenny to take her glass she will have allowed him to assert dominance. She is concerned not with the use-value of the glass, but with its exchange-value as a signifier of power" (pp 488-489).
In "Old times", the “action develops into a duel of wits between Deeley and Anna; each sees to be using his memories and reminiscences to put the other at a disadvantage...Kate’s bath and the way Deeley and Anna discuss it stands at the very centre of the action. Kate found Anna dead when she found her dirty- i.e. sexually polluted. She dirtied Deeley’s face when he wanted her to be sexually compliant. Kate thus has the superiority of the frigid wife for whom sensuality has no meaning” (Esslin, 2000 pp 172-177). “Anna requires confirmation of past and therefore self, and her long opening speech is sprinkled with questions appended with assertions...By contrast the independent Kate requires no confirmation by another person” (Dukore, 1982 p 93). "[In the bath-scene, Anna] and Deeley go into descriptions of Kate's washing and soaping so that her nakedness, unseen, becomes a voluptuous presence. They discuss the drying of Kate, an experience they have both had; then in a small quiet frenzy Deeley says that he'll do the drying, he's the husband. He adds ironically that Anna can supervise and give him some 'hot tips'. He pauses, then mumbles bitterly 'Christ!' Some counterattack against Anna, some territorial defense, seems urgent. He looks at her slowly, and comments about her advancing age" (Kauffmann, 1974 p 40). "In Old Times Pinter...the past is no longer fixed; it is no longer a certitude but a fabrication, a fiction which is more mutable than the present...By constructing a past, by 'remembering' old times, the characters manipulate each other, create the play's action (its present) and play out the dynamics of triangular desire....The opening sequence of the first act, a kind of prologue which precedes Anna's entry into the action, immediately establishes one of the two triangles (the second becomes apparent once Anna enters the action). Right from the beginning of the play, we witness the struggle between two rivals for the possession of Kate. This rivalry is the consequence of the operation of the two imitative triangles: both Deeley and Anna desire Kate, but this desire for her is subordinate (as the second act clearly reveals) to another desire to possess, to conquer the rival or mediator who stands between the subject (Deeley/Anna) and the object (Kate), and whose desire serves as a model for that of the other subject. Deeley and Anna are both desiring subjects and each is also the other's mediator, or rival, who copies the other's desire. Thus we discern the two superimposed triangles in which the other (both model and rival) bestows worth on the object: Kate is valued because the other desires her. This can be seen from the very beginning of the play when Deeley's relationship to Kate becomes visible only as Anna is revealed as a rival, as someone who has been close to Kate in the past" (Savran, 1982 pp 43-44).
“Are the four characters in ‘No man’s land’ poets, servants, or cricket players? Who serves whom; who is trapped by whom? Who had whose wife? Is this a reunion of old Oxford chums or a chance meeting on Hampstead Heath? What Pinter appears to do in ‘No man’s land’ is to resist at every opportunity, the narrative coherence of agent and act” (Rayner, 1993 p 93). “Hirst invites Spooner home and then can’t remember who he is; Foster appears without introduction and produces a dizzying variety of unconnected information; Briggs supplies an elaborate version of his first encounter with Foster prefaced by the acknowledgment that Foster will deny it; Hirst recalls different pasts at different times and addresses the other characters by different names...For much of the play the characters adopt a strategic stance of disengagement that registers their evident uncertainty about the nature and implications of the reported past and about the consequences of the present for the emerging future” (Quigley, 1990 pp 35-36). Hirst “attempts to construct an alternative life-style...and Spooner...common ground with a man to whose friendship he aspires. It is when...Spooner is carried away into asserting his superiority over Hirst that Hirst realizes that Spooner, if taken into the household, would be as domineering as Briggs and Foster; and that is why he rejects him. Hirst, as he says in the first scene, is in the last lap of a race he has long forgotten to run. His impulse to ask Spooner to come to his house is a last attempt at breaking out...In that last race he loses...Hirst was dreaming about a drowned man whom perhaps he might have rescued. Spooner felt that he might have been that drowned man. But in the end he too acknowledges that there was no one there“ (Esslin, 2000 pp 187-188).
Pinter’s language exhibits frequent use of repetitions and tautologies (Esslin, 2000 p 235). The same words are needlessly repeated, which creates a deliberate numbing effect on the mind. For example, at breakfast time, Meg asks Petey in “The birthday party” (1958) about his cornflakes: Meg. Are they nice? Petey. Very nice. Meg. I thought they’d be nice. In “The caretaker” (1960), Davies redundantly changes his choice expression without adding any new information: ‘The pan for vegetables it was, the vegetable pan’. Such a linguistic vice is justified whenever serving a dramatic purpose, as a window into the speaker’s mind, but is often misused by lesser authors for cheap laughter or merely to exhibit an ear attuned for the real way real people really talk. There is also in such dialogue "the delayed action effect resulting from differences in the speed of thinking between people...the misunderstandings arising from inability to listen, incomprehension of polysyllabic words...mishearings, and false anticipations" (Esslin, 1974 p 240).
Time: 1960s. Place: London, England.
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After a six-year absence in the USA, Teddy returns for a short holiday with his wife, Ruth, to the house of his father, Max. A retired butcher, Max cooks for his brother, Sam, along with two other sons, Lenny and Joey. Without warning anybody of his arrival, Teddy enters at night with a key he still held on to. No family member is aware he is married with three children. Teddy having retired to sleep, Lenny finds Ruth alone. Although he tells her threatening stories of how he handles women, Ruth is unafraid. As he is about to take away her glass of water despite her objections, Ruth says: "If you take the glass, I'll take you." Lenny wonders whether that is "some kind of proposal". The next morning, Max immediately assumes that Ruth is Teddie's whore and wants to chuck both out. "You're an old man," Joey comments, which so infuriates his father that he hits him hard in the stomach and then strikes Sam's head with a stick for objecting. That afternoon, Max becomes suddenly reconciled to the couple's existence. "I want you both to know you have my blessing," he declares. Lenny mocks Teddy's knowledge as a university professor in the philosophy department. Altogether, Teddy feels threatened, suggesting to his wife that they should leave at once, but she refuses. Teddy's bad feelings on his homecoming increase after seeing Lenny dance with Ruth and then kiss her. He defends himself only by boasting of his knowledge in philosophy. That evening, Lenny is upset after discovering that Teddy stole a cheese-roll he prepared for himself, the latter adding he did it deliberately. They are interrupted by Joey, who has been with Ruth for two hours, though admitting he did not go all the way. "Perhaps he hasn't got the right touch," Teddy sarcastically comments. But Lenny denies this, having once accompanied his brother in the company of women. When Lenny comments that Teddy "gets the gravy" from his wife and Sam finds that normal, Joey denies it. "Perhaps it's not a bad idea to have a woman in the house," Max concludes. Lenny has the idea of having Ruth pay for her upkeep by handing over an apartment where she can whore for them, to which Joey objects, but the father considers this a good idea. Intimidated, Teddy says little to this plan. Teddy is about to lose his wife to his family and reacts by boasting that no one in the family could understand his philosophical works. When Ruth hears of the plan, she negotiates in terms of number of rooms allowed and new clothes. Feeling sickly on witnessing these events, Sam cries out that long ago Max' wife committed adultery in his taxi cab, then has a stroke. No one in the family helps his plight. As Teddy prepares to return to his post in the USA, Ruth calls out to him. "Eddie! Don't become a stranger," she pleads. Although his two remaining sons seem fairly content, Max weeps, likely because he is unable to participate directly in the action.
Time: 1970s. Place: England.
Deeley and Kate are visited by the latter's girlhood friend, Anna. Deeley asks Anna questions about the young Kate and is surprised to learn that she sometimes would not know the day of the week, having the false impression of sleeping through entire days. They revive old times by singing songs. Deeley first met Kate in a cinema-house watching "Odd man out". He admits he was "off center and has remained so". Reviving the past, Anna comments: "There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place," notably about a man crying in the room she and Kate once lived in. This anecdote puzzles Deeley. When Anna's voice appears to caress Kate, Deeley warns her to stop. Undeterred and to mark a claim on her, Anna specifies she once saw a film with her called "Odd man out", at which Deely quickly changes the subject. As Anna and Kate converse, Deeley tries to break up the conversation with absurd comments, but the two women ignore him and continue as if they had gone back to living together again in the past, while he helplessly looks on. As Kate takes a bath, Deeley reminds Anna that they once met at a tavern when he, short of seducing her, spent a good amount of time looking up her skirt. The two feel each other out concerning Kate's bath-habits. "She floats from the bath like a dream," Anna says, "unaware of anyone standing with her towel, waiting for her, waiting to wrap it round her. Quite absorbed." Wishing to know more, Deeley comments: "Of course she’s so totally incompetent at drying herself properly. Did you find that?" "Why don’t you dry her yourself?" Anna asks."Why don’t you dry her in her bath towel?" Deeley retorts. "I mean, you’re a woman: you know how and where and in what density moisture collects on women’s bodies." What sounds alike playful banter ends in a counter-attack about her age. "You must be about forty by now," he says. When Kate comes out fresh from her bath, he suggests that Anna might dry her or at least supervise his drying her. Deeley and Anna take turns singing again, but this time repeating the same song, resembling a serenade to Kate. In a short while, Anna and Kate are at it again, acting as if they are still living together in the past. Anna reminds her- did it happen?- that she once borrowed Kate's underwear and that a man spent an evening looking up her skirt. A desperate Deeley starts to worry about the state of Anna's husband: should she not go to him? Kate cuts him short. "If you don't like it, go," she tells him. Turning to Anna, she bluntly says: "I remember you dead," thus seeming to reject both. Deeley sobs, as perhaps he did in their room many years ago.
"No man's land"
Time: 1970s. Place: England.
Text at ?
After meeting each other for the first time at a pub, Hirst invites Spooner to his house to drink some more. A poet of limited financial means, Spooner is careful not to appear as a sycophant to his potential patron. "My only security, you see, my true comfort and solace, rests in the confirmation that I elicit from people of all kinds a common and constant level of indifference," he points out. Hirst switches from vodka to what Spooner is drinking, whiskey, but this change weakens his mental faculties. "I have never been loved. From this I derive my strength," Spooner continues. He questions Hirst about his wife. Angered, Hirst ineffectually throws his glass at him. "Tonight, my friend," Hirst declares, "you find me in the last lap of a race I had long forgotten to run," to which Spooner ironically comments: "A metaphor! Things are looking up." Unable to retort, Hirst drops to the floor and crawls out of the room. A short time later, Hirst's friends and associates, Foster and Briggs, notice Spooner's presence and wonder who this stranger is and what is he doing in their home. Briggs recognizes him. "You collect the beer mugs in a pub in Chalk Farm," he affirms. Spooner explains away that matter by saying that he is the proprietor's friend and only wished to help him out temporarily, but Foster knows the owner and has never heard of a man called Spooner. When Hirst returns, he does not remember who Spooner is. Hirst recalls a dream of his about a man in the water. "It was I drowning in your dream," Spooner enthusiastically explains. After the other two men leave, Foster turns out the room-lights on Spooner. The next morning, a prudent Briggs serves Spooner toast and champagne for breakfast. Briggs is intrigued about Spooner's mention of an aristocratic acquaintance, thinking perhaps to make use of him. Spooner declares he must be off at a board meeting of a poetry magazine at Chalk Farm; he is interrupted by the arrival of a cheerful Hirst, who suddenly remembers Spooner, in particular how long ago he often seduced Spooner's wife. "I see a fellow reduced. I feel sorry for you. Where is the moral ardor that sustained you once? Down the hatch," Hirst reflects. To Foster and Briggs' disapproval, both eager to defend their territory, Spooner attempts to obtain a position as Hirst's personal secretary, but the latter's comments about that suggestion are discouraging. In a final attempt to interest him, Spooner announces he is organizing poetry readings at a public house, the landlord being a friend of his, and invites Hirst there to read from his works, but the latter affirms that he will change the subject one last time, then wonders about what he just said. Although Foster attempts to refresh his memory, Hirst is still unable to discover the meaning of what he just said. He hears sounds, sees himself walking by a lake, a man perhaps drowning, but there is no one. Bitterly disappointed, Spooner comments on Hirst's state of mind. "You are in no man's land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent," he says. "I'll drink to that," Hirst responds.
Also of great impact in post-WWII British drama, "Look back in anger" (1956) was written by John Osborne (1929-1994), whose protagonist, Jimmy Porter, "the angry young men of the '50s belonged to a generation seemingly devoid of political interests, and the moment of their rise coincided with the deepest trough of political and spiritual apathy Britain has passed through since the end of the war" (Paul, 1965 p 344).
"New York critics were pleased to discover that England could still produce a work of passion and protest instead of its customary drawing-room amenities and acerbities. But some of us thought of this drama as the conclusion rather than the beginning of an era of playwriting, as a blind alley rather than as a vision of promise and advance...’Look back in anger’ is limited by the nihilism of its author and the crackle and sputter of fireworks in a mist. For a play characterized by admirably sustained dialogue and taut, fragmentary conflicts, ’Look back in anger’ was curiously unsatisfying...The realism of seedy settings…the sordid story, and the pungent dialogue [were] altogether appropriate here. But in the context of the play, the realistic refinements are only arid achievements” (Gassner, 1960 p 174).
“What distinguished [the play] as a decisive break with Rattigan and the older drama was not so much its form as its content: the characters who took part in the drama and the language in which they expressed themselves...[In Jimmy Porter, we have] the self-flagellating solitary in self-inflicted exile from the world, drawing strength from his own weakness and joy from his own misery...Everything in his life dissatisfies him, and the tone of his conversation (which is mainly monologue anyway) is consistently one of railing and complaint. The principal sufferer from all this is his wife Alison, whom he cannot forgive for her upper-middle-class background and whom he constantly torments in order to extract some reaction from her, to bring her to her knees, while she, having discovered that her only defence is imperturbability, refuses as long as she can to react...[A characteristic expostulation of Jimmy is as follows] 'I suppose people of our generation aren't able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the thirties and forties, when we were still kids. There aren't any good, brave causes left.' At least in their heyday Alison's father's generation knew where they were, what standards their lives were ruled by and where their duty lay (or so, at least, it now seems); they had causes to die for and even if they were wrong they had a certain dignity. Their security in an apparently secure world is eminently to be envied by someone like Jimmy, who finds no certainty anywhere, outside himself or within” (Taylor, 1962 p 40). “The older generation has made a thorough mess of things and there was nothing the new generation could do except withdraw...and indulge in the perverse and vicarious pleasure of nursing its resentment...Jimmy...feels that he has no chance...Jimmy is the sort of man who needs, but is too proud to demand, absolute devotion. He needs it all the more from Alison because she comes from the sort of upper-class family which he, as a good socialist, despises as useless and effete and which at the same time he envies and resents because he knows it looks down n him. In order to possess her he had to marry her and submit to the conventionality that he hates. His dilemma is perfectly presented in Alison’s description of his reaction to her virginity…By being a virgin, she is pulling him away into the vortex of social convention” (Wellwarth, 1971 pp 255-258).
“The movement of the play is one of progressive isolation, with the protagonist driving each of his companions away. Denied political opportunities for changing the world around him, the consciously proletarian Jimmy Porter is reduced to verbal assaults on his pregnant wife, whose Establishment background makes her a surrogate for the class system. Having idealized Alison, Jimmy is incapable of appreciating her real qualities. His violence drives her to return to her family, as well as implicitly causing her miscarriage. This love/hate dependency is replayed with a substitute from Alison’s circle, driving out the working-class friend who shares the flat and is alienated by the lack of emotional integrity in the new relationship. She too leaves when Alison returns, in pain and unable to conceive any more children, trapping Jimmy in a sterile and regressive childhood fantasy...His passion is undercut by...the inability to understand that her father’s Edwardian values are comparable to his own. His political aims are made questionable by his failure to see that her friend Helena is in fact the depersonalized product of an Establishment upbringing that he had mistakenly accused Alison of being. Self-pity is deliberately substituted for commitment and the ending can hardly be classified as wish-fulfillment- even if it corresponds exactly with his earlier hope that Alison ‘could have a child and it would die’...That it is always Sunday not only implies the missing spiritual centre in these characters’ existence, but provides an image of statis and displacement. In this context all actions are repetitive, ritualized and pointless” (Innes, 2002 pp 86-89).
Indeed, Jimmy Porter is “an articulate, angry, young man...(Carter, 1969, p 52). He has much to complain about, starting with social class barriers, as when newspaper reviews of novels include French citations few in Britain could read (p 23), criticizing society in the way it affects common people (p 54). "He battles inertia, particularly Alison’s ('she’s a great one at getting used to things,' Porter says), without practical answers to offer. Criticism is the first step to change, but Jimmy is looking back in anger at what got Britain here, not looking ahead with any program to promote. He wants things to change but, in view of the too general morass, cannot see how, because there are no more 'good, brave causes left'. His own such causes are grounded in the past. Alison tries to help their relation by withdrawing, the worst tactic of all when he seeks commitment" (Gilleman, 1997, pp 78-79). Although she discovers Helena, a friend who advised her to leave her husband, now living with him in their apartment, she treats the matter coolly, only wanting him back after losing her baby. Quigley (1997) complained that “the death of their baby seems conventionally contrived and a fortuitous rather than an organic means of reconciling the estranged couple” (p 36). But one can counter-argue that life or human psychology is fortuitous. Besides, the door was always half open by her farewell letter in which she states: "I shall always have a deep loving need of you." The return to the stuffed bear and squirrel indicates for Alison “a sort of unholy priest-hole of being animals to one other...little furry creatures...full of dumb, uncomplicated affection for each other, playful, careless creatures in their cosy zoo for two.”
"Look back in anger"
Time: 1950s. Place: English Midlands.
In an attic room rented with income derived from a stall in the market-place, Jimmy and his friend, Cliff, read newspapers while Alison, irons shirts. Jimmy belittles his girlfriend at every turn, mainly for being pusillanimous, and initiates mock-fighting till the ironing board overturns and she burns her arm. When Jimmy goes out to play the trumpet, Alison tells Cliff she is pregnant. He urges her to tell Jimmy. Instead, she tells Jimmy her friend Helena is coming to stay awhile with them, a woman he hates. One week later, Alison reveals to Helena the nature of her relation to Jimmy, initially a defiant gesture against her upper-class family in accepting a lower-class man and his own defiant attitude to modern life. Helena suggests that she should defend herself against him in a better way than she has so far. Jimmy enters to complain and rant again about Alison, even more bitterly against Helena. When the women prepare for church, he feels betrayed and leaves before they do. Helena tells Alison she has called her parents to take her away from him, to which she agrees. As her father prepares to leave the room with Alison, Helena decides to stay with Jimmy, a surprising choice in Alison's view. Helena is still there when Jimmy reads Alison's farewell note. Helena informs him that his departed wife is pregnant. Jimmy and Helena argue as usual and even hit each other, but then kiss and fall on the bed. Several months later, Helena is ironing and laughing with Jimmy and Cliff. The latter decides to leave for a place of his own. As Jimmy opens the door for a final night out, he finds Alison there, looking unwell, but leaves without speaking to her. Alison reveals to Helena she had a miscarriage. Saddened by Alison's unhappy state and her own, Helena decides to leave Jimmy, to which he sarcastically agrees. Jimmy and Alison decide to renew married life, reviving their old game of bears and squirrels.
Also of importance is Arnold Wesker (1932-2016), notably for "Chicken soup with barley" (1958).
“’Chicken soup with barley’ is clearly structured by the historic milestones of the local and international contest with Fascism in 1936 (in London against Oswald Mosley’s British black-shirts and in Spain against Franco) and the traumatic effect on western communists of the suppression of the popular rising in Hungary by Russian tanks in 1956. Halfway between these events, which dominate acts 1 and 3, the two scenes of the middle act specify the immediately postwar years of 1946 and 1947” (Wilcher, 1991 p 32). “The whole first act...is very cleverly constructed but it is a big disadvantage that the main action (the battle against the Fascist marchers) occurs off stage” (Hayman, 1970 p 24). “Against Sarah’s sustained line of principle, the fallings-away of the other characters make a graph of downward curves. The once enthusiastic comrade, Monty Blatt, becomes a middle-aged materialist...as is foreshadowed in the decline of the weakest comrade of them all, Harry, who rushes to the comfort of home and mother while the others are struggling on the barricades” (Leeming, 1983 p 37).
“When we first meet the Kahns, Sarah is already the dominant figure in the household; she is politically active, for ever helping to organize demonstrations and arranging the lives of those around her according to Marxist-Leninist principles. Harry, her husband, is weak-willed and totally unconcerned in politics; all he wants is a quiet life without worries, but he is constantly having banners thrust into his hand by Sarah and being ordered to demonstrate. He generally runs away and hides till it's all over. Or just sleeps. Throughout the three acts, Sarah remains firm in her convictions and her determination to do something, but gradually the children begin to follow, so it seems, in their father's footsteps. First Ada, the young firebrand, becomes disillusioned with politics and goes off to start a new life in the country with her equally disillusioned husband, Dave, and then Ronnie, himself eager enough in the second act, becomes by 1956 equally disillusioned. 'I've lost my faith and I've lost my ambition...I don't see things in black and white any more. My thoughts keep going pop, like bubbles. That's my life now- you know ?- a lot of little bubbles going pop.' He understands Harry now, and at the end of the play he seems all set to become another Harry, with no sense of purpose to keep him going...Personally, the play seems to be about recurrent patterns of behaviour from generation to generation: socially, it is about the working classes' loss of sense of purpose with the arrival of a socialist government and the Welfare State, the disappearance of all the big, clear-cut issues of the inter-war years” (Taylor, 1962 p 145).
Leeming and Trussler (1971) pointed out resemblances between “Chicken soup with barley” and Ibsen’s “Ghosts” (1882) in that “both sons return in stricken resentment to their homes, and both mothers hear those sons reject the ideals they have taught them” (p 44). “Ronnie does not have the energy to embrace the suffering that her form of loyalty would require of him...His resignation infuriates Sarah...Despite being disillusioned with how socialism turned out through the years, she clings to its ideal as one would any necessity. 'If the electrician who comes to mend my fuse blows it instead, so should I stop having electricity?' she asks rhetorically, feeling it is the chicken soup that saves her life. In contrast, Monty’s view eschews social idealism: 'There’s nothing more to life than a house, some friends, and family- take my word.' (Dornan, 1994 pp 30-49). Monty accepts the flower in the jungle, whereas Ada rejects both. Unlike steadfast Leo in Odets’ “Paradise lost” (1935), Harry weakens mentally and physically before the challenge.
An example of "the seriocomedy in Wesker's ethnic portraits is the instances in which Sarah runs to make tea or prepare food, no matter what the event...[When] Ronnie returns home in a state of desperation, Sarah's immediate concern is to feed him...Wesker not only uses the flavor of language to illustrate seriocomic resonances, but also works with the momentum of language. When a character experiences a height of feeling, his language attains a momentum which corresponds to this height. Wesker then dramatically breaks the momentum, suddenly inflicting an opposite emotion. The momentum Wesker first sets up is a galloping exuberance. A specific incident then occurs which suddenly changes the joyous emotion to the opposite intensity showing that the exuberance was a thin veil designed to cover underlying tragic possibilities- and that seemingly insignificant actions can break this veil...After Harry has suffered his first stroke, he gets a letter from the hospital with instructions not to open it. But he wants to open it. Contrasting with this situation is the momentum of Ronnie's boyish irrepressibility. Harry makes several attempts to open the letter. Ronnie stops him with words characteristic of his mood: 'I- now then, Harry- (as though playfully scolding a child) you know you must not read the letter, remember what Mummykins said.' Finally Ronnie snatches the letter out of Harry's hands. This action breaks the joyous movement shockingly" (Kleinberg, 1965 pp 37-38).
"Chicken soup with barley"
Time: 1930s-1950s. Place: London, England.
In 1936, members of the socialist party and other groups seek to prevent a meeting among fascist members and are successful despite arrests and violence erupting. In 1946, Ronnie, only a child ten years before, carries on the family tradition by distributing leaflets announcing May Day demonstrations. But his older sister, Ada, is no longer interested in such activity. "The only rotten society is an industrial society," she states, and so she plans with her husband, Dave, in Spain to combat fascists, to move into a country-life. Their mother, Sarah, complains of the apathy she sees in her husband, Harry. "When did you last change your shirt?" she asks Harry. She remonstrates and nags until he suffers a stroke. In 1947, Harry's condition deteriorates; he cannot keep any job long and merely shuffles about the house. While Sarah is stuck with her apathetic husband, Ronnie finds a job as a bookshop assistant and plans to write poems and novels. "He sits and sits and sits and all his life goes away from him," she complains even worse than before. When Harry holds a letter written to the hospital about his health status, not meant to be read by him, Ronnie tries to prevent his reading it, but then is frightened off on hearing him shout. After two strokes, Harry's condition is even worse off in 1955, being half-paralyzed, incontinent, and demented. Ronnie has gone off as a cook in Paris. When Sarah receives the visit of an old friend, Monty, a greengrocer, she learns he has abandoned the socialist party. "It's all broken up, then?" he asks. "What's broken up about it?" she resolutely answers. "The fight still goes on." In the midst of their conversation, Harry whines that he must go out, but is dragged back by Sarah to prevent an incontinence attack. In 1956, while playing cards, Sarah complains her glasses fall in her mouth but was told she could not exchange them since they are National Health ones. Nevertheless, she intends to fight medical officials as she has always done. Ronnie returns from France, but admits he wrote all that time misleadingly cheerful letters. "I hated the kitchen," he bluntly says. "What has happened to all the comrades, Sarah?" he wonders, admitting to have lost his faith and ambition. Sarah complains that most of them are satisfied with "a few shillings at the bank" and a television set. Her faith in the future rests on help once received from a friend when Ada was sick with diphtheria. The woman offered chicken soup and barley at a time when Harry refused to take Ada to the hospital. Seeing her Ronnie beginning to show similar signs of apathy, she cries out in fear. "Ronnie, if you don't care, you'll die," she warns.
Edward Bond (1934-?) contributed a large series of plays, notably "Saved" (1965).
In “Saved”, the intent to attack is sometimes “hidden, perhaps even [from the mind of] the attacker. For example, Pam’s wish for Len to leave the flat before Fred is released from prison is expressed in an incessant quibbling over the location of her copy of The Radio Times...The violence of ‘Saved’ is impersonal and unmotivated...The stoning of the baby is in on one level the explosive release of the aggressions created by the dehumanizing restrictions of an industrialized society” (Scharine, 1976 pp 60-67). The scene’s “power comes from a pattern which arises out of ordinary, even innocent, exchanges between the boys. They tell themselves that their actions are, effectively, victimless. Colin encourages Pete to punch the child and then, extraordinarily shows ‘concern’ that Pete should not hurt it in the process. The baby, the lads explain to reach other, cannot feel- it is not fully human...Fred...reluctantly joins in- making the scene more horrific, since he is probably the child’s father...Len...is good-natured...but...watched the killing of the child and did nothing to prevent it” (Mangan, 1985 pp 13-15).
“The boys becomes themselves enraged and vengeful babies, jealous of all other little babies...enacting the murder of their own infancies and childhood by a world that was unable to receive or nurture them with love or tenderness” (Donahue, 1979 pp 31-32). “Most of them at some point attempt to restrain one another. Yet all are driven publicly to appear unconcerned...Pete’s status is enviable to...Barry, five years his junior, and Barry is frequently the object of derision from the others...Barry tries to assert his status by arguing his familiarity with killing while doing National Service, but the group never takes him seriously...It is he who...instigates the terrible action” (Hay and Roberts, 1980 pp 45-46). “When we recognize that public violence is the result of political aggression and social inequality we can stop making glib moralistic pronouncements on such conduct”...[In 1967, Pamela Johnson] published ‘On iniquity’, an examination of motives...of murderers...She expresses a desire to put an end to what she terms liberal thinking which seeks to explain crime by reference to environment; rather she holds the belief that people are born good or bad, or at least their conduct is entirely their own responsibility...a recognizable attitude...at variance with Bond’s” (Hirst, 1985 pp 57-58).
“The characters are all unemployed teenagers or their working-class parents, brutalized by poverty and the brick desert of their London environment. The baby is an unwanted encumbrance to its promiscuous unmarried mother, who ignores its screaming and abandons it to the unwilling father’s care in the local park. Its murder is completely gratuitous: a game of ‘rock-a-bye baby’ turns into a competitive test of manhood between its adolescent father and his street gang...By contrast with the other youths, Len consistently avoids action. He remains passive when the girl’s slatternly mother attempts to seduce him. And when her decrepit husband invades his bedroom with a knife at night- having been hit over the head when he interrupted the seduction- Len disarms him, but he does not take the anticipated revenge...Len’s lack of response finally exhausts the family’s resentment of his presence, and the final image is of him awkwardly mending a chair surrounded by silence- the achievement of a community at its most minimal level” (Innes, 2002 pp 160-161). “Although Mary in scene four had rebuked Pam for wandering about in her slip, she deliberately enters in a slip herself at the opening of the scene” [where she attempts to seduce her daughter’s old lover] (Hay and Roberts, 1980 p 53). “Harry, who has not spoken to his wife as long as Pam can remember, is goaded into response by Mary’s advances to Len and she returns his verbal abuse with physical assault...[The scene] precisely defines an all too familiar working class situation where incompatibility develops into hatred” (Hirst, 1985 p 53).
Time: 1960s. Place: London, England.
Text at ?
Although their baby is crying, Pam and Len are too lazy to get up and do anything about it. Pam wants Len out, but because he is reliable in his payments as a lodger at the house of her parents, Harry and Mary, they decline to let him leave. When Pam suggests that Len go away with the baby, he refuses. Miffed at this attempt, she takes up with Fred as a lover, but he quickly loses interest in her. In an effort to make him stay with her, she states her baby is his, Len's, but Fred is not influenced. Angrily, she leaves the pram behind in the street for him to take care of along with his friend, Mike. Three other toughs (Colin, Barry, and Pete) arrive and look curiously at the baby inside the pram. Annoyed by Colin, Barry angrily projects the pram towards him but hits Pete instead, who violently pushes it back. Out of curiosity, Pete then pulls at the baby's hair. For fun, Barry pinches it, removes the diaper, and throws it in the air. Thinking that babies feel nothing, he punches it. Barry and Colin do the same. Then they all throw stones at it except Len, who watches at a distance all this while and does nothing. Mike then throws flaming matches inside the pram. Pam eventually returns without bothering to look inside the pram. "Lucky yer got someone t'look after yer," she murmurs to the baby. The baby dies from its injuries. The truth is partially discovered, only Fred receiving a jail-sentence for the baby's death. After being released from prison, he wants no more of Pam, who moves in with Len again, but eventually nags at him to go away. He ignores her. On her way out one evening, Mary notices a run in her stockings. Helpful Len mends it with his needle directly on her leg. Harry enters and watches the equivocal scene. "Go easy," he recommends to Len. Later, a quarrel erupts between Harry and Mary, during which she throws a tea pot filled with boiling water at him. Len has had enough of this atmosphere. He decides to pack his bags and live elsewhere, but is dissuaded from that purpose by a sympathetic Harry who once again prefers to have him stay.
Shelagh Delaney (1939-2011) is also of importance in this period with "A taste of honey" (1958).
"A taste of honey" “is a little play made big as life by the sensitiveness of the writing, a sensitiveness without the slightest evasion of reality and with hardly any concession to sentimentality...A tale of woe that could easily have resembled old-fashioned laments for the seduced daughters of the lower orders acquires vitality and freshness, because instead of prating about sin, guilt, and forgiveness, the author relied on detached observation” (Gassner, 1968 pp 499-500). “There is more than first meets the eye in Jo’s assertion that she is contemporary- 'I really do live at the same time as myself, don't I?' She accepts life as it is without looking for a loophole in time or place: even when she takes an exotic lover it is for here and now, not as a way out (and anyway he proves to come from Cardiff); she makes no attempt to move away from the squalid flat in its squalid area when her mother has gone, and does not even want to go to hospital to have her baby. Her only moments of rebellion, when she announces that she does not want to be a woman, or have the child, are over almost before they have begun. Helen, too, is in her way a realist, she will try various means of escape, but never with any great conviction that they will work, and when things go wrong, as with her marriage, she is not really surprised” (Taylor, 1962 p 111).
“The brassy mother and her vulgar husband are stock characters and the squabbles between mother and daughter are part of a stock situation, but the freshness of the writing makes this unimportant. The dialogue seems adrift in any direction...but underneath it a firm pattern of relationships is developed” (Gascoigne, 1970 p 201). "Helen and Jo, mother and daughter and the two central characters, are instinctively theatrical. Expert at taking up a line and twisting a word or phrase, they enjoy the routines or performances into which they lapse. Behind their words we hear speech that attempts to evade, depersonalize, and disguise feelings and genuine concern for one another. When Helen and her daughter joke and indulge in a 'steady patter of insult jokes' in the music-hall style, decorum is satisfied; Helen once played and sang in a little pub, and Jo, at several points in the play, aspires to a similar job...Detachment, evident in the third person address and in the routines of the characters in A Taste of Honey, evidences serious disparities that the music-hall humor never adequately heals or hides...Words and phrases penetrate the brash music-hall patter to indicate painful relationships and an overwhelmingly sober play" (Oberg, 1966 pp 161-163).
"A taste of honey"
Time: 1950s. Place: Manchester, England.
Helen, a "semi-whore", enters a new apartment with her daughter, Jo. Helen is in an ill temper because of a cold and Jo is no help, content to criticize the shabby state of their apartment. They receive a surprise visit from Peter, a brash car salesman, who seduces Helen in front of her own daughter. Later, Jo is wooed by Jimmy, a black sailor, who asks her to marry him. Jo speaks favorably of him to her mother. She then learns that her mother and Peter intend to marry. She meets her sailor-boy a second time, who cuddles up to her more comfortably. But when Jimmy tries to embrace her more boldly, Jo warns him not to do so. "Why not?" he asks. "I like it," she responds. Later, Helen confronts her daughter about the ring she is wearing, the boy's wedding present. On discovering the real state of her daughter's relations with the boy, Helen is outraged, advising her not to repeat the mistakes of her own youth. Several months later, the sailor is commanded to sail away and Jo is left by herself and pregnant. While Helen is away with Peter, Jo meets a new friend, Geoff, a homosexual who takes care of her during the pregnancy. He even asks her to marry him, but she refuses. "I hate love," she specifies. Nevertheless, she is glad to have him as "a big sister". As Jo nears the moment of birth, a nervous Geoff requests Helen to help care for her daughter. Helen accepts but at the same time tries to get rid of him, an attitude aggressively supported by Peter, who "can't stand 'em at any price". Later, Helen decides to leave Peter, move in with her daughter as before, and send Geoff on his way indefinitely. Geoff declines to resist her wishes, so that, despite their mutual dislike, mother and daughter become reunited.
Brendan Behan (1923-1964) contributed to the period with a political black comedy, "The hostage" (1958).
“The hostage” “consists mainly of quips, songs, and dances, often addressed to the audience directly...The life of the work emanates from the characters and cartoons...and from the author’s buoyancy as manifested in dialogue, song, and his blithe scorn of self-inflationary idealism...If The Hostage is an anti-play it is fortunately also anti-cant” (Gassner, 1968 pp 496-497).
“The hostage” “is an improvisation in beat time. Some may see in it a comedy in a semi-Brechtian manner: songs interrupt the dramatic action, actors address the audience and comment on the proceedings. It has already been called a vaudeville, as jig, a romp and a Rabelaisian prank” (Clurman, 1966 p 43). "Everyone in the play, with possible exception of the old Anglo-Irish patriot Monsewer, seems aware that he is on a stage as well as in the Dublin 'brockel'. The gaiety, irreverence, riot counterpoint the dead seriousness of the crisis that engulfs them. As they all await news from Belfast that the IRA boy has been executed, as they await whatever fate hangs over Leslie, they move from dramatic unit to unit employing theatrical techniques, punctuating their agony with song, dance, jokes, narratives, and improvisations. They move in and out of character and play their roles in fantastic guises. The debt to traditional music-hall entertainment and vaudeville is unmistakable...All the habitués of the "knocking shop" adopt familial relationships to Leslie and make him the object of their fantasy-life...Pat and Meg see their responsibility as surrogate parents to the orphan-exile but are incapable of rising to that responsibility. The whores, as sisters want to seduce and mother him, but the efforts are only tentative and ultimately fail. Mr Mulleady and the queers want Leslie for their own as a brother. It is they who turn informers and bring down the final absurdity on the life of the boy they try to save. Teresa, the sweetheart-'wife', wants her man alive and free to take her away as they planned together, but in the end, like Lohengrin's Elsa, she cannot order her resolve to accomplish her dreams. Three Irelands struggle for dominance and recognition in the play. The Ireland of contemporary, illegal Republican fanaticism, dedicated to the final destruction of all things English in all of Ireland, is represented by the cowardly IRA officers in charge of Leslie. Pat and Monsewer stand for the Ireland of glorious memory of the Troubles and Easter Week, needing no justification beyond the private experience of valor and sacrifice that they claim to remember. Then there is the Ireland that actually exists. In The Hostage, this nation belongs to the police, their sirens, rifle-fire, and terror. This Ireland seems to be good for informers to run to, nothing more...The business of this play is to salvage exhausted heroism, to revive the hero after destroying him, in order to prove that the structure out of which he has emerged can itself be renewed and authenticated" (Wickstrom, 1970 pp 407-409).
Taylor (1962) criticized the involvement of the secondary characters: “there are other elements, such as those involving the 'girls' and their farcical encounters, the homosexuals Princess Grace and Rio Rita, and the slightly crazed old ‘sociable worker' Miss Gilchrist, with her drink and her malapropisms, which seem, once the first entertainment at their antics has passed, to be merely indulgences in raffish and extravagant local colour calculated to “épater les bourgeois”, which tend in the long run to weaken the play by diluting its effects with too many irrelevances” (p 107). Nevertheless, the two homosexuals collaborate with Mulleady at the end. "To my knowledge, no commentators on the play discuss the alliance of Mulleady, Princess Grace, and Rio Rita and their ultimate revelation of themselves as secret policemen. Presumably, this is because critics see such a disclosure as a cheap device to end the drama— cheap in the sense that it suddenly negates the homosexual relationship between Grace and Rita, out of which the playwright Behan has got much theatrical mileage; and cheap in the literal sense that it removes the need to hire extra actors to portray the police. First, the alliance of these three men should come as no great surprise, since their very names suggest that they are in league. Grace and Rita are obviously women’s names, and Mulleady, when pronounced correctly, sounds like the Anglo-Irish version of 'my lady'. Second, the fact that the three are secret policemen ts in with the rest of the secrecy being practiced throughout The Hostage: the IRA itself is commonly known as the secret army, and it has its headquarters in the play in a brothel, where secretive sex is transacted. Secret police methods are used, in other words, to combat illegal military action and illicit sexual acts. Finally, Mulleady, Princess Grace, and Rio Rita say in song that all three are 'queer', even though only the latter two behave like homosexuals. The song is sung in response to Meg’s question 'What are they [the three men] up to?' and to Pat’s statement, 'I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could fling them'. Further, it contains the refrain 'We’re here because we’re queer/Because we’re queer because we’re here'. They are in a brothel, in other words, not because of any homosexual tendencies, but because they are 'queer'— that is, they [differ] in some odd way from what is usual or normal, and for this reason are questionable, suspicious” (Cardullo, 2016 pp 35-36).
Time: 1950s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
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Pat and Meg, an unmarried couple, keep a brothel-house for Monseuwer, Pat's old comrade-at-arms, now the mad owner who mistakenly believes himself to be still in charge of a military campaign. A whore, Colette, drags in a sailor. Unbeknown to her, he is a Russian, surnamed Princess Grace, so that she chases him out of her room. "He's a communist," Mulleady, a decaying civil servant affirms. "It's against my religion to have anything to do with the likes of him," she explains. But the sailor has money and, when he throws a batch of notes in the air, they all scramble for them. "Sure, pound notes is the best religion in the world," Meg declares. "And the best politics, too," Pat adds. Colette takes him back up to her room. To Meg's disapproval, one of the tenants, Mulleady, has invited a Miss Gilchrist inside his room. When called to come down, Miss Gilchrist says she must first complete her novena. She eventually descends under Meg's crude insults. "I take insults in the name of our blessed Saviour," Miss Gilchrist assures everyone, but, to Mulleady's dismay, decides to run out. Meanwhile, Pat harasses the homosexual, Rio Rita, for rent-money. A part-time officer of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a volunteer arrive to check out the house for their political purposes, because an IRA member has been captured by British troops and condemned to die the next day in a Belfast jail. In reprisal, the IRA have captured a British soldier, Leslie, to be kept as a hostage in the brothel-house. The British hostage is befriended by nearly every Irish tenant. When the officer leave his guard of the prisoner to the volunteer, many approach him. "Five minutes- upstairs- I won't charge you," Colette offers until the volunteer orders them away. Teresa, a skivvy (servant), goes out to get him cigarettes, but the officer takes them away from her. When Pat asks the IRA officer for rent-money, he grandiosely answers: "The hearts of all true Irishman are beating for us, fighting as we are for the Belfast martyr, and all you can think about is money." Miss Gilchrist offers the prisoner an article from The "Daily express" newspaper about the queen, but he declines to read it. Instead, she and Mulleady sing for him until ordered out by Pat. Teresa returns to talk with Leslie until they are interrupted by Monsewer’s troop inspection while playing his bagpipes, everyone except the officer and Meg colluding with his delusion. The officer orders everyone away from the prisoner, but Teresa sneaks back in. Leslie asks for her picture, but she has none, giving himself a medal of the Virgin Mary. He leads her to bed. The two IRA guards prevent Meg from entering the room, unaware that Teresa is in there with their prisoner. Later, Pat hands over to Leslie a newspaper with his name printed on it. The officer takes away the paper and reads aloud the IRA’s declaration that should the Belfast prisoner be hanged, the British prisoner will be shot as a reprisal. During the night, Miss Gilchrist the pretending teetotaler offers Leslie a drink but is prevented by the volunteer. Pat and the volunteer believe that the Belfast prisoner might be spared since a British prisoner might be killed, but Leslie doubts it. “I suppose you think they’re all sitting around in their west end clubs with handkerchiefs over their eyes, dropping tears into their double whiskies,’ he sarcastically comments. Pat tries to let the prisoner escape, but he is seized in time by the volunteer. So interested has Miss Gilchrist been in the prisoner that Mulleady, in reprisal, begins to fool around with Rio Rita and his homosexual friend. Pat takes away the volunteer to leave Leslie alone with Teresa. “You’d better hurry up, Leslie warns. "I mightn’t be able to talk so well with a hole right through me head.” She brings him no comfort, but yet they cling in each other’s arms while promising to meet in Armagh, North Ireland, should he survive. Mulleady, revealed as a policeman, informs the force of Leslie’s whereabouts and together with Rio Rita and the Russian, a spy all along, they guide policemen inside to free him, but in the confusion Leslie is shot, who, all alone, nevertheless rises after his apparent death and sings a version of Paul's epistles (1 Corinthians 15:55): "The bells of hell/Go ting-a-ling-a-ling/For you but not for me. Oh death where is thy Sting-aling-a-ling/Or grave thy victory?"
Also of some artistic weight in the domain of black comedy is Joe Orton (1933-1967) with "Loot" (1966).
"Loot" echoes Ben Travers’ “Plunder” (1928) in that “a nurse who cuts the family out of her patient’s will, a double robbery that brings police investigation, the threat of arrest for murder, and the use of blackmail to provide a resolution...Where Travers satirically presented this frenetic criminal activity as normal, Orton exaggerated it to the point of absurdity: the nurse is not just guilty of bigamy, but wholesale massacre- which is treated by the representative of the law and order as a minor aberration: ‘seven husbands in less than a decade! There’s something seriously wrong with your approach to marriage’. Similarly the blackmail and bribery in Orton’s play involve not just one, but all the characters, including the bereaved husband and the police inspector...Orton’s approach is his way of treating conventionally tragic or disgusting situations as source of comedy...Dumped out of her coffin to make place for stolen money, a murdered woman’s body is exposed to every indignity in a running gag. Stripped naked, deprived of false teeth and glass eyes, shoved upside down in a cupboard, swathed in a mattress-cover and paraded as a dress-maker’s dummy, the corpse becomes the prize in a game of hide-and-seek between her son and his undertaker-accomplice, the nurse who has murdered her and is wearing her dress, her husband whom the nurse promises to marry, and a corrupt police-inspector in disguise” (Innes, 2002 pp 294-296).
There is also some resemblance with Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) between Nurse Fay’s questioning of Hal’s suitability in marriage and Lady Bracknell’s questioning of Jack’s suitability in marriage in “The importance of being earnest (Rusinko, 1995 pp 94-95). “Orton’s balancing act does not shrink from physically repulsive dimensions, as in the attempts to hide or insert [Hal’s] mother's false teeth and the false eye that rolls on the floor during the frenzied attempts to hide the loot...[Fay’s] audacious pretense of innocence and of care for McLeavey’s welfare has the same ring of authority as does Truscott’s legal criminality...[Orton’s world is similar to Thomas Middleton’s (1580-1627)] “in which anarchy is matched by the appearance of order, unreason with the appearance of logic, detachment with the appearance of sentiment, corruption and hypocrisy with the appearance of religion, criminality with the appearance of law enforcement, and, most important, lies (except for Hal) with the appearance of truth” (Rusinko, 1995 pp 84-90).
The police kicking scene “gives a special edge to Orton’s farce, since the physical cruelty denies one of the premises of traditional farce: that the blows do not hurt and the characters are, by convention, insulated from pain and punishment...[In the end], the only victim is the priggish, smug and complacent Mr McLeavey, the only innocent in the play...an insufferable apologist for the status quo, a man totally lacking in imagination and generosity...the archetypal law-abiding citizen who is really a fascist at heart” (Charney, 1984 pp 82-94). "While Fay insists upon keeping up appearances, she is in no way suggesting that Hal and Dennis curtail their relationship. Fay, Hal, and Dennis set up as a subversive community. They simulate respectability and by so doing undermine the notion of respectability: Fay and Dennis' marriage will facilitate rather than terminate Dennis's relationship with Hal, which will now have the added spice of being adulterous as well as homosexual" (Nakayama, 1994 p 191).
"Orton’s Loot...may satirize institutions such as the police and the Catholic Church, but what is important is that the vehicles of this satire themselves remain unaffected by it. Indeed, the play could be said to dramatize the triumph of evil: of greed, corruption, brutality, immorality or amorality, and sacrilege. Inspector Truscott and Hal, for instance, get no comeuppance in the end, which is what makes Loot so unsettling. Orton fiendishly satirizes authority through Truscott, yet Truscott— at once the object and vehicle of the playwright’s scorn— gets away easily with beating suspects, taking bribes, and in general abusing his power. He may be stupid in some ways, but his stupidity never gets him into any real trouble. And I think that this is Orton’s point: the Truscotts of this world need to be satirized, yet it must also simultaneously be pointed out that the Truscotts of this world often go completely unpunished for their crimes. Orton thus makes us laugh at Truscott at the same time as he makes us realize that a Truscott is oblivious to our laughter, and will continue in his corrupt ways well beyond the confines of the drama. This British dramatist has gone beyond farce in Loot in the sense that he has exploited the attractiveness of evil for audiences— paradoxically, the same bourgeois audiences at whom he is striking back. Orton proves to us in this play that we can be amused by behavior we would normally deplore, and that we can even attend raptly as evil goes unpunished. There are dire consequences in Loot, as there are not in traditional farce— Hal gets a severe beating, Mr McLeavy will probably die (of old age) in prison for a crime he did not commit—and Orton’s art, or dramatic sleight of hand, is to make us not care while we are watching. We think about what we have witnessed only later, after we have been 'taken'— like Hal, Fay, and Dennis at the conclusion of the play. Truscott leaves with the money, and these characters are left to wonder if they will ever see any of it again, or how he managed to walk off with it all in the first place" (Cardullo, 2016 pp 238-239).
Time: 1960s. Place: England.
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Hall and Dennis have just robbed a bank next door to where the latter works as an undertaker. On the day of his mother's funeral, Hall takes out the corpse with Dennis' help and puts the money inside the coffin and the body in a wardrobe. A man named Truscott identifies himself as a member of the water board and starts to investigate the suspicious-looking case as a police investigator. The dead woman's nurse, Fay, announces to the widowed husband, McCleavy, that his wife changed her will in her favor, then proposes marriage to him, to Dennis' disappointment, as he himself felt love for her. By asking Hall a few questions, Fay quickly discovers his part in the bank robbery and where the money is, promising to keep quiet in exchange for one third of the loot. She takes out the corpse and wraps it in bandages, to be disposed of later. The suspicious Truscott orders the wardrobe to be opened, but finds it empty. After discovering the disguised corpse, he does not understand what he is seeing and asks her what is. "It's not a mummy, it's a dummy," Fay answers, which she purports to use for sewing purposes. Truscott interrogates Hall in depth, and, dissatisfied with his answers, hits him on the neck and kicks him when he is down on the floor. On the way to the cemetery, Hall and Dennis have a road-side accident and are forced to return. Meanwhile, Truscott finds a glass eye on the floor of the room, which he assumes dropped from the dummy. He interrogates Fay further and concludes that she murdered Mrs McCleavy. However, he is unable to prove it, because, during the road-site accident, the contents of the casket containing the remains were destroyed. When told about the glass eye, McCleavy assumes it dropped from the corpse. After unscrewing the coffin lid, he staggers in disbelief on what he finds inside, a huge amount of money. With Truscott and McCleavy temporarily away from the premises, the robbers agree to put the money in the casket and the corpse in the coffin, but their plot is foiled when Truscott asks for the casket to certify it as being empty. Although he discovers the money, Hall succeeds in bribing him. For their own safety, Hall suggests he may arrest his father on a trumped-up charge, to which Truscott agrees.
Also of note in the domains of black comedy is Peter Nichols (1927-?) with "A day in the death of Joe Egg" (1967).
“Nichols takes music hall technique...with sketches on which Bri impersonnates a hearty doctor who only paid half-attention to Joe’s problem, a heavily German-accented psychiatrist who tells them ‘your daughter vos a wegetable’, and a vicar who offers ‘laying on hands’. Even when they are re-enacting these scenes, Bri and Sheila improvise new jokes and are amused by each other’s ingenuity...She still has faith Joe will improve, Joe has none...They are visited by another couple...and by Bri’s mother...They think that the child should be placed in an institution but are horrified by Bri’s support of euthanasia...For all the laughs, it is a hopeless situation” (Kerensky, 1977 pp 63-64).
"A day in the death of Joe Egg"
Time: 1960s. Place: England.
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On returning home from work, Brian wishes to make love to his wife, Sheila, but she has no time, all the more so since their 10-year-old daughter, Josephine, a blind spastic quadriplegic susceptible to epileptic seizures, must be fed, bathed, exercised, and put to bed. Sheila notices she is wet below and wonders how in the special daycare center they could have left her daughter "sit like Joe Egg in the damp all day". The couple remind themselves of her slow birth. "Though not a religious man- for everyday purposes the usual genuflections to Esso Petroleum and MGM- I don't mind admitting it, I prayed," Brian admits. In his anguish, preferring his child to die rather than his wife, he imagined God saying: "I'll fix that bastard." "And he did," Brian notes. He play-acts their German doctor. "Do you know vot I mean ven I say your daughter vos a wegetable?- Still is, still is. I have trouble with vis Englisch werbs," Brian mimics. Then he play-acts the vicar, who proposed the "laying on the hands bit", which he declined. The couple's friend, Freddie, proposes that they should send Josephine to an institution, but Sheila refuses. During the rehearsal of an amateur theatrical production, Sheila breaks down because of Brian's jealousy over the innocent Freddie. One day, Brian suddenly announces that after Josephine's latest seizure, he has smothered her to death with a cushion, but this turns out to be false. However, Sheila notices that the anticonvulsant is suspiciously unavailable. When Brian proposes to get some more, Freddie discovers him sitting in his car doing nothing. While Freddie's wife leaves for the medication, Freddie calls an ambulance after seeing Josephine unconscious and unresponsive. While no one is looking, Brian lifts the child up and goes away. On her return, Sheila frantically searches for them, finally discovering him outside in wintertime "running about": When Brian returns, he stoically announces: "Its all over." But it is not. They reach the hospital in time. When they return home, Brian decides to leave, but when Sheila tempts him back with sex and proposes occasional respites for up to a month per year, believing she has asked too much of her husband, Brian yields. "Aren't we lucky?" Sheila asks.
Peter Barnes (1931-2004) achieved prominence with "The ruling class" (1968).
"The ruling class" "walked the tightrope between high comedy and despair- two areas never seen as sharing so many similarities before, familiar remnants of a Wildean world united with Dada and grew to sinister dimensions. The first scene in the manor house, for example, presented us with the bishop, deaf, tradition-bound, and...a cadaverous Christmas Past; the stuffy, protocoled keeper of the kingdom, Sir Charles Gurney...who starved his wife for love and kept a lower-class mistress, Lady Clare Gurney...with porcelain exterior and an explosive physical force beneath (Tribby, 1971 p 210).
"The ruling class"
Time: 1960s. Place: England.
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The 13th earl of Gurney commits suicide. According to his will, there is no provision of any guardian appointed for the 14th earl of Gurney, although his family knows Jack is insane, considering himself "the one true God, the God of love, the Naz," sometimes seen suspended by ropes on a cross. Claire, wife to his half-brother Charles, nervously watches him greet two society ladies and then eat the artificial fruit on one of their hats. Jack may be got rid of provided he produce an heir, which to Claire's disgust, Grace, Charles' mistress, agrees to try to provide, as did Marguerite, lady of the camellias, so that Jack and Grace wed. Dr Herder, a medical research worker on schizophrenia, confers with Claire on the possibility of curing Jack. The doctor confronts Jack with another madman thinking he is God, so that at the moment a baby boy is born, Jack suddenly regains his senses. While receiving another visit from the two society ladies, it is obvious that Jack has switched from being the God of love into a very conservative aristocrat. In the hope of manipulating Jack, Claire attempts to play the role of a seductress, but he murders her. Thanks to a misleading detail given to the investigator, the butler is blamed for the murder and arrested. Unaware of her husband's guilt, Grace attempts to play the same role as Claire. While cuddling up to him, she becomes his second victim.
Simon Gray (1936-2008) wrote a large series of plays, none more appealing than "Butley" (1971).
“Ben Butley is a lazy, cynical London university teacher, a master of the arts of getting out of his duties and of being wittily unpleasant to his friends and colleagues...He keeps Joey on tenter hooks about his promotion and he is merciless in prying about his private life...He not only loses Joey but also his wife, and is under increasing suspicion from his colleagues for his laziness and malicious tongue. The play ends with a new student, whom Ben had ‘poached’ from one of the other teachers, coming to read poetry to him. It looks as if Ben is about to embark on a new relationship like the one with joey. But he suddenly thinks better of it” (Kerensky, 1977 pp 136-137). “Ben Butley is indeed a diminished thing; unhappy, drunk, vicious to the people around him, disdainful of his profession as scholar and teacher. The most accurate measure of that diminution is the dwindling of his relationship with Joey Keyston, who was some years before Ben’s prize student, then roommate, then colleague and office mate, then, after Ben’s separation from his wife, roommate again. As his name suggests, Joey has been the keystone of Ben’s life historically, intellectually, and emotionally. When Ben reminds Joey that Ben is responsible for his academic success, Joey responds: “I know. But those were in the days when you still taught. Now you spread futility.” Clearly, Ben’s happiest relationship was with Joey before Ben’s brief, unhappy marriage, but Ben has nothing positive to offer Joey now…and he never could bring himself to offer Joey a sexual relationship. Ben Butley is caught in a muddle: unhappy with a compromised relationships, but unable to conceive of happiness with another man, even one he wants to live with (asexually, of course)…Despite bens devotion to his relationship with Joey, he sees himself outside the realm of homosexuality, which he views with condescension and amusement” (Clum, 1992 pp 75-76). “Still dealing with the threat of decentralization posed by his estranged wife, Butley finds his centrality again threatened, this time by a man playing a woman’s role: Reg, whose name, although evidently short for Reginald, also suggests Regina (queen- female power). Reginald is even constructed as a woman: he cooks, wears suede shoes, competes for the affection of a man, and is a ‘born romantic’” (White, 1992 p 49).
For Mills (1988), "Butley is engaged in an intense, private psychic conflict, a psy chomachia which drives him to revile his wife, his students, his colleagues, the profession of English and the world at large in a desperate effort to exorcise a wholly personal demon...Butley is a repressed homosexual...[his] self-destructive verbal aggression, his most conspicuous trait...as the classic defense mechanism of a man unable to accept consciously the strongest urgings of his libido...The first thing we learn about Butley is that he is messy, and not just absent-mindedly so, after the familiar manner of many intellectuals, but insistently, ostentatiously, indeed, obsessively so...But it is Anne with whom he has chiefly to deal and it is therefore she to whom he most emphatically attributes male behavior. He maligns her cooking, calls her 'tough, versatile and brutal', and tells her that if she marries Tom 'after six weeks you'll be the two most boring men in London'...Another feature of Butley's behavior pointing toward repressed homosexuality is his tendency to paranoia...On another issue of department politics, a change in the curriculum, he contrives to make Joey out as a 'traitor', despite the fact that Joey has taken precisely the position which Butley himself advocated...two other aspects of Butley's personality...are...almost total alienation from his work as a teacher of literature and his great love for and absorption in the nursery rhymes of Beatrix Potter...He uses them as a vehicle for a return to an Edenic existence free of the pain of sexual object-choice" (pp 411-424).
Bergeron (1984) argued that when a student reads her essay to her tutor, Butley, "who reduces her literary analysis to sardonic and amusing ridicule...Gray's use of Shakespeare...brings into focus the incidental and scattered satire on literary criticism; and, more important, it underscores the ironic gap between Butley and Shakespearean characters and the resolutions of their action, particularly in Shakespeare's romances. According to my reading of the play and my calculation, there least twenty-five writers and literary figures either named or works alluded to...more often than others: TS Eliot and Shakespeare...Butley resides in a psychological 'wasteland' of sorts...We first notice in the analysis of The Winter's Tale that Gray has the title wrong: he consistently refers to the play as 'A winter's tale'...neither the intense student writing about the play nor the learned tutor takes note of the error...satire points to...the poor student who has written a conventional, if uninspiring, essay, but also to Butley who has nothing constructive to offer...He alludes to three major tragic figures: Hamlet, Macbeth, and Antony...In the midst of a quotation from Eliot's poem 'Marina', Butley digresses to say: 'we were already fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf'...an echo of Macbeth...In answer to his own question, "Why the hell did we call her Marina?", Butley begins to quote from the...poem by Eliot about Marina. Behind Eliot's poem lies Shakespeare's Pericles...What does such joy have to do with Butley? Not much, except for the ironic contrast, for Butley endures two divorces in one day...Butley's attempt to destroy the homosexual relationship of Joey and Reg...echoes...Leontes [who orders Camillo] to poison Polixenes...Butley has trouble remembering his daughter's name...demonstrates no particular affection for her and apparently indulges in only the most cursory visits to see her...Leontes in Shakespeare's play cannot accept his daughter as his own...Butley knows much of hate but little of redemption. What 'redeems' him for us as readers and spectators is his trenchant wit and his verbal facility...Gray's references to Shakespeare reinforce the notion that Butley is a person of little depth with little to admire in him, ironically distanced from the Shakespearean figures...Butley may be one tale, but it is not 'The winter's tale'" (pp 179-187).
"Butley's dismissal of Miss Heasman's glib remarks on spiritual rejuvenation as sap...are followed by an even greater condemnation of her as a future teacher of sixth formers in an educational system that deadens...Ben may wish to avoid all conventional teaching at this point in his career, but in his own cruel way he is also playing the fool as teacher; like Lear's Fool, he would teach us the nature of our own foolishness...Trembling and alone after driving Anne to exit at the end of act 1, Butley manages life so that he is left totally alone at the end of the play. Unable to draw enough blood from those he despises but cares for (Joey and Anne), or from those he only despises (Reg and Edna), the logic of his own fool's teaching carries him inevitably to reject the spoils of his victory over Edna, Gardner. How can he possibly take on Gardner, a leftover from the sixties in his feathered hat, bare feet, and impatience with Edna's teaching, for a seminar on Eliot when Joey, despite Butley's attentions in the sixties, has himself so clearly become a budding Edna. 'I don't find you interesting, anymore. You're not what I mean at all, not what I mean at all. I'm too old to play with the likes of you,' Butley informs Gardner. In Prufrock/fool style, then, Butley comes to the end of all conventional teaching and to an acceptance of his role as scapegoat" (Burkman, 1981 pp 165-167).
Ben Butley is clearly misanthropic and destructive. The central character’s total control of the action paradoxically functions as a distancing device. His behavior is so unrelentingly malicious that it provokes a question as to whether his dissatisfaction with the banality of modern life, possibly a consequence of the average person’s mean-spirited pragmatism, is merely a neurotic inability to accept the way things are or whether it represents a genuine idealism with respect to the possibility of leading a civilized life. This ironic presentation of character suggests that ‘Butley’ is conceived as a comedy of bad manners…The play reveals Gray’s sensitivity to currents of contemporary social concern: his open and sophisticated presentation of Butley’s bisexuality can be seen to reflect the new ethos created by the sexual liberation movements of the late sixties and early seventies. In the commercial theatre of 1971, ‘Butley’ was both daring and topical. Gray’s refusal to portray Butley as either a tragic or comic homosexual stage type represents a marked advance in the presentation of sexuality on the West End stage. The play forces audiences to take seriously an existential rebel who, while thoroughly unconventional, nevertheless refuses to be marginalized” (Gordon, 1992 pp 5-6).
Time: 1970s. Place: London, England.
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A student asks Ben Butley, university teacher of English literature, about tutorials on Wordsworth. He sends her off for the following week, shuddering at the thought. Ben's roommate and colleague, Joey, returns from a visit with his homosexual friend, Reg. Ben asks to be invited to their dinner party, but Joey tries to discourage him by saying that Reg dislikes him. Looking at the essays he must read and mark, Ben lets them drop one by one on the floor. He learns from Anne, his estranged wife, that she intends to re-marry with Tom. He reminds her she had once named that man: "the dullest man you'd ever spent an evening with". She responds he is now "the dullest man I've ever spent the night with". Ben intends to make difficulties for her about this matter. In his office, a student, Carol, corners him to read aloud her essay on Shakespeare's "The Winter's tale". As she goes, her essay in hand, he pinches his nostrils and gags, which she, returning, notices and runs off in tears. To make trouble, Ben calls up the headmaster of the institution where Tom works, informing him of who he is and his situation with Anne, specifying that she intends to work as teacher there. He seethes in anger concerning Joey's failure at informing him about his relation with Tom. A colleague of theirs, Edna, is equally angry at Ben for allowing a "feathered youth" to believe he could leave her seminars for his. She is also angry at Joey for supporting him, which he denies, because he needs her support for a promotion. "Toadying is the sincerest form of contempt," Ben comments. When Reg informs Ben that Joey is leaving him for himself, Ben heaps insults and abuse on Reg's parents and background, to which Joey sputters while stifling laughter. However, they do not achieve their aim because of Joey's lies about his friend's background. Reg hits Ben as he goes away. Ben receives the feathered youth, asks him to read aloud TS Eliot's poetry, and without a word sends him away.
Stephen Poliakoff (1952-?) has written a large series of plays, notably “Shout across the river” (1978).
"Shout across the river"
Time: 1970s. Place: England.
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Lawson, a school administrator, announces to a surprised Marian Forsythe that her 14-year old daughter, Christine, has been suspended for the rest of the term for many misbehaviors. In an advanced state of agoraphobia for being out so long, Marian mostly longs to hurry back home. She locks the apartment door while confronting her daughter over this business. An irate Christine walks about the room and smears a wall and sideboard with glue. At length, she convinces her mother to release her after proposing to wash a bundle of dirty clothes at the launderette, where her mother follows her. Noticing a glossy magazine underneath a pile of clean clothes temporarily left by a stranger, Christine takes out a woman’s photo and glues it on the man’s sweater. Although Marian is able to detach the photo, she weeps under the effects of another phobic attack and cannot use her handkerchief because it is glued to the table. Christine offers to shop for her on the next day provided she hands over the apartment keys, to which Marian reluctantly agrees. After returning with the shopping basket, Christine rummages with looks of disgust amid her mother’s possessions and requests her to remove her dress. Marian shyly submits. She is abashed on discovering that her daughter has stolen household items and embarrassed while standing in her underclothes as her son, Mike, enters, who expects her to wash his rugby garments and prepare his tea. Christine gives her mother another dress to wear, who, though in distate, dons it nevertheless. When the phone rings, she nervously covers up for her daughter by saying she is away. When all three sit at an ice-cream parlor, Christine’s schoolmate, Martin, comes over their table. Marian is stunned when Christine introduces her as her sister after having supposedly attended their mother’s funeral. Christine lifts the top from an urn she is carrying, pretending to show Martin her mother’s cremated ashes. Although embarrassed, Martin offers to pay Christine for sexual favors. “My price has gone up since I’ve been suspended,” she informs him. Marian is speechless in yet another fit of agoraphobia. When the two return to the apartment, a worried Marian tries to force her thin daughter to eat more, but the latter wrestles her down and sits astride her. As a result, Marian wets herself. One week later, Mike is mugged by robbers so that Marian accompanies him to a hospital. After assuring herself of his stable condition, she joins Christine and Martin at an entertainment pub, both women then striding over to Lawson’s table, where Christine, to her mother’s dismay, shows them a large supply of stolen sunglasses. When Martin enters and Christine wanders off, an aroused Marian kisses him on the lips. But when Christine comes back, he is dismayed at discovering she is her daughter and leaves both women. One of the go-go dancers misses her call and so Christine replaces her. Marian drags her offstage. “I will never have sex with you again,” an irate Christine announces. The outraged mother hits her face. Christine brandishes a pair of scissors and they struggle until it drops between them. Instead of getting her mother the drink she promised, Christine visits her brother at the hospital. She jolts the bed to wake him up, lies next to him, then kicks it so that he cries out in pain. Undeterred, she reads too fast from one of his books and when he lunges for it, he hurts himself even worse. She returns to the apartment where her mother awaits. “There’s nothing for me,” Christine declares. Still irritated at her mother, she tries to lift a chair to throw at her but then collapses. Christine warns that her she may never see her again. “I expect I will,” her mother retorts.
Also with a large series of plays to his credit is David Hare (1947-?), notably "The secret rapture" (1988).
"David Hare's The Secret Rapture yearns for salvation from the rapacious selfishness of Margaret Thatcher's England, but in the end the stuff of romance must be imposed on the play to project its hopeful vision. In a program interview, Hare an nounces the meaning of the title: 'It's that moment at which a nun expects to be united with Christ. In other words it's death" (King, 1990 p 274). "The Secret Rapture might best be described as a play of contradictions, of opposing forces and clashing beliefs. It is not a morality play as some have said, pitting good against evil. Rather, it is a play that heightens reality to a level at which the audience can see the contradictions in life. In all of his previous work Hare inveighs against society's complacencies. In The Secret Rapture complacency gives way to rage with no compunction. The actress Linda Emond who played Isobel. The private is at once political. Those in control force others to be out of control. The prognosis, Hare implies, is an aloof, dead society, living as Tom says, 'a perfect imitation of life'" (Oliva, 1991 p 536).
"The secret rapture"
Time: 1980s. Place: England.
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Marion and Isobel's father has just died. To prevent her stepmother, Katherine, from taking a valuable ring, a gift to her father, Marion removed it from his finger. She resents her sister's silent disapproval of the deed. Frightened and lonely, Katherine asks Isobel for a position at her small firm specializing in book designs. Despite her qualms about Katherine's usefulness, she agrees, approved by Marion, but her qualms become all too justified on discovering her incompetence and bad judgment. Isobel agrees with Irwin, her lover and co-owner of the firm, that she should sack Katherine, but while speaking to her, she hesitates, at which Irwin forcibly expresses their decision, but then Isobel changes her mind, keeping Katherine after all. Marion's husband, Tom, reveals to Isobel that the company he works for has the means to invest in her company, but Isobel hesitates, since this implies that the real owner will be his company. Marion is hurt and infuriated at her sister's indecision, a sign of a lack of trust in her husband. When Isobel turns to Irwin for advice, she discovers that he is offered twice his salary if the deal is accepted, and so the matter is done. One day, in her effort to gain a new client who seems uninterested in her proposal, the unstable Katherine lunges towards him with a knife and in a highly nervous state is taken to the hospital. Keeping Katherine causes turmoil in the relation between Isobel and Irwin. She says she no longer loves him. He counters that this is mainly because he sided with Katherine, insinuating that she loved him only while he was subservient. "You saw me as poor and under your spell," he specifies. Because Irwin cannot accept her rejection of him, Isobel is now rarely present at work. Meanwhile, Tom's company receives an advantageous offer to sell Isobel's workplace. He offers her a new place rent-free, but since it appears dilapidated, she refuses, which angers Marion, who blames her for messing up the expansion. "You spoil everything you touch," Marion accuses her sister. Isobel blocks the selling of her father's house, wishing to live in it herself, but has no money to buy it. One night, Irwin returns to make up. She rejects him again. He becomes aggressive. When she heads outside to call for help, he shoots her dead. In the aftermath, Marion feels more disoriented than ever. "I can't interpret what people feel," she moans.
The outcome of a divorce is the theme of William Nicholson (1948-?) in "The retreat from Moscow" (1999).
"The retreat from Moscow"
Time: 1990s. Place: England.
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Both dissatisfied after 33 years of marriage, Alice pushes Edward to express himself more openly about their troubles, but he is unable to and says at last it is her problem. She slaps his face. Edward turns to his son, Jamie, and reveals he is in love with another woman. When Edward finally starts to talk about their marriage problems, Alice is relieved but then aghast at learning he intends to leave her. She accuses him of sneaking out without making the least effort to improve the marriage. "You'll kill me," she warns. Then she begs to do anything he wishes, but Edward says if he comes back it would not be in the form of his own person but another man. He must change his phone number because she calls him up without saying a word. As with Napoleon's army, Alice says to Jamie it is her husband's retreat from Moscow. "It's his rotten stinking cowardly way of making out it's alright to dump me in the snow," she declares. When she notices her son's non-committed attitude, she bitterly accuses him of taking his father's side. Looking back though many years, Edward can only say he got on the wrong train. She sends scathing letters to his place of work with no name on the envelope so that the secretary can read what she says, in his view a "power play" on her part, she being used to having her own way with him almost every time. Alice next buys a puppy called "Eddie", and teaches him to lie dead in the yard. She also develops a habit of going out in her pyjamas, looking like a "clown", in Jamie's view. Edward provides for a handsome settlement for her, including the house. "How can you sit there and say I get the entire value of the family home, when the entire value of the family home is precisely what you've taken from me?" she responds. In her view, she would have been better off as a widow in every way, for he has poisoned all her memories. "I'm sunk, I'm done for. I want to get out," she despondently confesses to her son. He begs her to stay firm. "I'll know that, however bad it gets, I can last it out, because you did, before me," he says. Though understanding his viewpoint, Jamie is disappointed about his father's manner throughout the marriage, especially his pretenses. As Edward prepares to move away to Scotland, Alice offers him an anthology of love-poems she collected. While he examines the collection, she takes a knife from it, then puts it down: "But I suppose I'll go on," she concludes. The question of another man for her never comes up.
Mark Ravenhill (1956-?) is another noted contributor with the social play about the drug culture, "Shopping and fucking" (1996).
"Shopping and fucking"
Time: 1990s. Place: England.
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Lulu and Robbie try to make their friend, Mark eat, but he vomits. Knowing that his health is deteriorating because of a drug addiction, Mark seeks medical treatment. Short on funds, Lulu applies for a position as a television announcer for a commercial product, but Brian, the man who is interviewing her, reveals himself as a drug dealer instead. She agrees to sell 300 tablets of a stimulant, "Ecstasy". Mark returns from rehabilitation sooner than expected. When Robbie kisses him, he turns away, intent on working through his addiction alone. He meets Gary, to whom he offers money for sexual favors, desiring to avoid emotional attachment. Gary accepts, but Mark stops licking his buttocks when he notices blood on them, the result of sexual abuse on the part of Gary's stepfather. When Lulu returns from shopping at a corner store, Robbie notices blood on her face, the result of a violent encounter when a customer stabbed an employee. She feels guilty on having done nothing to interfere during the conflict, even going away with a stolen bar of chocolate. When Mark encounters Gary again, he admits to placing excessive demands on his lover. "I attach myself to others as a means of avoidance - of avoidance knowing the self," Mark affirms. In contrast, Gary's needs stem from losing a father at an early age and wanting his lover to compensate for it. "I want a dad. I want to be watched," Gary says. To help Lulu, Robbie goes to a dancing place to sell her drugs. Feeling sorry for a customer without money, he gives him some tablets and asks to be paid later. Soon, several people come over for free drugs. "And I felt good," Robbie later explains to Lulu. "I felt amazing from just giving, you see?" When only two remained, an irate stranger told Robbie that two were not enough and hit him till he found himself in the emergency room of a hospital. When Robbie and Lulu explain the matter to Brian, he shows them a video of a man tied up to a chair with a drill advancing towards his face and gives them one week to make up for the money. They make money by means of pornographic telephone conversations. Although Gary gives Mark expensive gifts, he realizes his love leaves him cold. "You're not what I'm after," he says. When they visit Robbie and Lulu, a jealous Robbie insults and tries to strangle Gary until Mark intervenes. Eager to take Gary's money, Robbie and Lulu blindfold him and act out his sexual fantasies. Robbie penetrates him anally and invites Mark over to do the same, which he does. But when Gary wants to follow this up by being penetrated with a knife, they back away. Over the course of the week, Robbie and Lulu succeed in coming up with the money they owed. Brian is so pleased about their efforts and about the way that the couple have learned their lesson that he lets them keep it.
Another Irish playwright of note is Brian Friel (1929-2015), wrote “Give me your answer, do!” (1997). Friel also wrote “Aristocrats” (1979) and “Wonderful Tennessee” (1993). In “Aristocrats”, a wealthy Catholic family goes to seed. In “Wonderful Tennessee”, a band of young musicians head toward an island for a vacation but get stuck on the pier without a boat to carry them over.
In “Give me your answer, do!”, in an “Albee-esque disintegration...each couple enacts their marriage for public consumption and all are maimed by the diminished reality of marital compromise. Jack Donovan, once the ‘laughing boy who flooded Maggie’s head with song’ is now only ‘that shabby little swindler’, a kleptomaniac who conveniently forgets his misdemeanors as soon as they occur. His wife, Maggie, faces ‘a different set of disappointments’ as her life as a retired doctor is increasingly constrained by her husband’s behavior and the debilitation of arthritis. Grainne and Garret Fitzmaurice, exhausted by their own relentless and bitter ‘bonhomie’, recognize that only ‘audiences imposes limits on how we can go’. Grainne suspects that Garret might be a better writer if she weren’t around but continues to probe his Faustian pact with the devil of ‘popularity’ with malicious accuracy...Finally, Daisy and Tom are bound and broken by the silent existence of their autistic daughter, a figure who haunts the play and the players with her resistance to meaning. All the women in the play have been stunted by marriage- Maggie by Jack’s vanity and petty thieving, Grainne by Garret’s success, and Daisy by Tom’s narcissistic drama of the blocked writer...Tom’s devotion to his daughter [may be] an expression and/or denial of incestuous desire for her...her mental condition [may be] the result of sexual abuse, but Tom’s tenderness towards his incarcerated daughter is perhaps better understood as the artist’s identification with her self-enclosed world” (Higgins, 2010 pp 102-105). “At the very end of the play...as Tom enters into a rhapsodic love scene with his daughter...Daisy realizes that from her recently rediscovered position of strength and helpmeet she has once more retreated to that of handmaiden...Daisy’s gesture of despair as she witnesses the next betrayal is the most frightening and disturbing moment in a play so bleak that one wonders in trepidation where Friel might ask us to accompany him after this” (Pine, 1999 p 315).
Tom is aggravated by David’s lack of culture, leading him to consider the American as a “charlatan”. Even so, the criticism is irrelevant in a sale of pornographic novels, but reflects how “Irish culture may assimilate American values...though not necessarily a sign of decline...spirituality and materialism need not be engaged in a mutually exclusive relationship. Depicted as antithetic, Tom and David both want to keep the cultural other and a distance… All things considered, the American seems to be more prone than the Irish to lose his identity” (Germanou, 2004 pp 271-274). In regard to David Knight’s eventual judgment, “Tom wants and fears the outcome...His friend, Garrett Fitzmaurice, works as a blatant warning...Three married couples take the stage...rocky [but they] survive“ Daisy’s parents, Jack and Maggie...are trapped in a misalliance...The Garrett and Grainne relationship...is framed in theatricality...witty, histrionic and negative…[Tom and Daisy’s marriage is] under severe strain. [Daisy is an alcoholic and their daughter whom she never visits lives in a psychiatric institution]...Bridget’s mental trouble is somehow linked to Tom’s writing problem: it was after her sudden illness that he wrote the two pornographic novels...Daisy...says what [Tom] needs to hear, that the ‘necessary uncertainty’ induced by the artist’s unwillingness to produce merely money-making work is at once his lot and the best human option...In the final scene...Tom tells Bridget that he feels he can write again, and if he were to succeed with his abandoned novel, he would come back to her and they would escape together...Daisy jumps to her feet...confused and anxious with incipient grief. [Would he leave Daisy?]” (Murray, 2014 pp 171-175). Tom’s writing of pornographic novels coincides with Bridget’s institutionalization, suggesting a link between the two (Boltwood, 2007 p 195).
Bertha and Morse (1999) pointed out that "every character from David, the manuscript buyer, who worries that if he does not close this deal he may lose his job, through Daisy's family, to her and Tom's friends, all eventually reveal their failed expectations, their disappointments. Only Daisy herself appears immune from disappointment or perhaps her serenity is only a gin-sodden veneer with which she faces a hostile world. The considerable pile of bills is often for her but a momentary annoyance...There is no evidence, however, that living on the edge leads Tom to create since he must expend almost all his energy on the journalism that brings the quick cash needed to pay that mountain of bills. Within this most Chekhovian play, we are told what Tom decides- he does not sell the archive- but neither the audience nor he can know if it is the best or the right decision. The audience is left with an ambiguous tableau of Tom and Daisy on either side of the record player with his question about the decision hanging in the air "on wings of song" between them...Tom reflects his vocation as an artist, but, clearly, all he does is done in desperation. He does not have any illusion about the present or the future or about his own talent, nor does he cherish any nostalgia about the past. Instead, he escapes into fantasies and the fantastic to bring color and light into the life of his daughter who does not seem to have any light around her" (pp 135-138.
“Give me your answer, do!”
Time: 1990s. Place: Ballybeg (Fictional name meaning “Little Town”), County Donegal, Ireland.
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Tom Connolly, a novelist, visits his daughter, Bridget, interned in a psychiatric institute, but she sits mute to his talk. The depth of her depression forces him to agree to electroshock treatment. Feeling the pinch of financial troubles as a result of failing to publish anything in seven years, he and his wife, Daisy, await the outcome of David Knight’s evaluation of the value of his original manuscripts as a representative of the University of Texas. Tom and Daisy receive the visit of her mother, Maggie, a retired physician, along with her father, Jack, an occasional cocktail pianist. Maggie dreads that her husband’s habit of ineptly pilfering small items may once day escalate to something more serious. Also invited are the friends of the Connollys, Garret and Grainne Fitzmaurice. Also a novelist but a more popular one, belittled by his wife for being so, Garret received a generous sum of money six weeks ago for his own manuscripts from David’s employers. To increase the worth of his papers, Tom hands over to David two unpublished erotic novels. After reading them for three hours, David is enthused. “Everything has suddenly fallen into place,” he declares. “Everything is of a piece- I can see that now - a complete archive, a wonderful archive.” Tom is bewildered at this opinion as Garret suddenly notices he has lost his wallet. The company spreads out to look for it. At last, Garret notices them beneath Jack’s shoes, one more clumsy attempt at stealing. “Look at that shabby little swindler,” Maggie says of her husband in disgust. He crumples and cries, but after having settled awhile, he returns cheerfully to the party as if nothing had happened. David is prepared to offer for the papers at least as much as Garret received. Sensing Tom’s apathy, David specifies that his employers expect him to obtain material of every Irish writer on their list. Otherwise, he is liable to lose his job. In a further attempt to plead, he turns towards Tom's wife. “I must have your support, Daisy,” he says. “Help me, please.” But instead she turns to play a compact music disk. When Tom, Daisy, and her parents confer together, Daisy opines that her husband must not sell the book. In her view, Bridget is beyond knowing better conditions, their own discomfort is unimportant. “But to sell for an affirmation, for an answer, to be free of that grinding uncertainty, that would be so wrong for him and so wrong for his work,” she states. "I hope it's the right decision. Give me your answer, do, Daisy," Tom asks. "I don't know. Who's to say?" she replies.
Another Irish dramatist, Gary Mitchell (1965-?), attracted attention with "As the beast sleeps" (1998).
"As the beast sleeps"
Time: 1990s. Place: Ulster, Northern Ireland.
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Kyle and Freddie resent the decision whereby two of their friends, Dougie and Mac, are prevented from entering a bar run by Larry due to belligerent behaviors. Despite Kyle's attempts to call him down, Freddie taunts Norman, the man in charge of security at the bar, so that a general fight breaks out, causing damage to bar properties. As a result, Norman's arm gets broken and neither he nor Freddie is permitted to enter the bar. Kyle confronts Larry by saying that in the old days, when Protestants robbed Catholic businesses of beer and cigarettes, no one prevented his friends from entering. Larry offers to allow Dougie and Mac back in the bar along with Freddie, provided Kyle accompanies the latter. They also get a separate corner of their own. In exchange, Larry wants Kyle to force some renegades to return to the Ulster Defence Association. At first, Kyle refuses outright to do the job, but then says he will think about it. He informs Freddie that the ban is lifted, but the latter grumbles that the others did not come over and ask him to come back. Kyle next informs Sandra, his wife, about bringing back the renegades to the fold. He feels he should do the job, to ensure it is done with the least amount of violence. Like Freddie, she resents what has become of the club. The next day, two masked robbers steal 35,000 pounds from the bar, a sum Larry meant to give to Alec as a donation for political activities. Despite wearing of a mask, the bar's administrator, Jack, recognized Freddie as one of the robbers and informs Kyle of this, who, along with Larry, asks Freddie about the matter. Freddie declares he can get the money back. Larry wants the money and two names, but Freddie refuses to name anyone. When Larry backs down, asking only for his money, Freddie declares that he wants guns to harass Catholics. "The war's over, Freddie," Larry says. "No, it's not," Freddie retorts, indicating that the beast is only sleeping. Soon after, Larry, Kyle, Jack, and Norman tie Freddie up to a chair. When Freddie declines to name anyone, Kyle punches him in the back. Freddie offers to yield the money but no name. All they need do is release him. They refuse. Norman advances with a cricket bat, but Kyle beats it out of his hand. However, after pleading with Freddie with no result, he hands the bat over to Norman, who beats Freddie to unconsciousness. A frustrated Larry informs Norman that should Freddie die, he will need to obtain 35,000 pounds. After Kyle carries Freddie to the hospital, he returns home, only to find out that Sandra was the accomplice. He starts to dial his friends, breaks the telephone, and laughs in despair.
Among second-generation Irish playwrights of the late 20th century is Martin McDonagh (1970-?) with "The cripple of Inishmaan" (1996).
"McDonagh has created a range of richly defined characters, all of whom are recognizable relatives of the Irish types that Synge helped reinvent in The Playboy of the Western World and that Patrick Kavanagh satirized in Tarry Flynn. The two maiden aunts, Kate and Eileen Osbourne, raise Billy Claven as their own son, smothering him with their good intentions and their worries for his health; under stress, Kate begins speaking to stones, and Eileen, to cope with her Irish fatalism, sneaks sweets from behind the counter of her shop. Johnnypateenmike, the local bachelor busybody, trades gossip for eggs, and still tends to his ninety-year-old mother, who has a habit of drinking so much she cannot climb the stairs to bed and taunts her son by calling him 'the most boring oul' fecker in Ireland'. Bartley, Billy's dim-witted friend, expresses his need for adventure by begging for a telescope to look at the cows and rocks...Allusions to both Synge and Man of Aran are embodied in other characters, giving them added texture. Gary Lydon's stoic sailor, Babbybobby, whom Billy tricks into transporting him off the island, provides a sharp contrast to the noble fisherman of Flaherty's Man of Aran when he erupts in anger at Billy, beating the crippled boy in the head with a lead pipe- the violence a reversal of Synge's Christy Manon lifting a loy against his father. Helen, delivering eggs in a droll symbolic comment on her fecundity, has the sexual energy of Synge's Pegeen-Mike, flirting with the local curates and finally planting a big kiss on the surprised face of Billy Claven. Helen, too, loses her only playboy of the western world, for at the play's end Bily coughs up the ominous blood of consumption" (O'Neill, 1998 p 258).
"Being tricked is at the heart of the McDonagh play. Its premise is that the citizens of Inishmaan are all gripped by Hollywood fever, anxious to become part of the filming of Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran on the nearby island of Inishmore. Its method is to employ joke and counter-joke, cruelty and counter cruelty- the cruelties often being the same as the jokes- and, above all, reversal and counter-reversal. In its setting (a small island off the west coast of Ireland), its period (early in the twentieth century), and its mood (dourly, sardonically humorous about Irish self loathing and Irish self-congratulation), The Cripple of Inishmaan comes straight out of the plays of John Millington Synge, and particularly out of The Playboy of the Western World. As in Playboy, the disdained character at the center of the play tells a lie about his condition that turns out to be a kind of truth; and like the playboy, Billy is both a disturbingly pathetic figure and the most appealing person in the play. But in order to up the ante (which appears to be this playwright's specialty, if not his fatal flaw), McDonagh has given his hero an extreme physical deformity" (Lesser, 2009 p 25).
"In its witty intertextual dialogue with Robert Flaherty’s 1934 classic film documentary The Man of Aran, The Cripple of Inishmaan came across as a comically sophisticated inquiry into the validity of any representation of the Irish, and particularly of the Irish West. Indeed, in scene 8 of the play, the characters stage a mini-version of an Abbey-style riot, directed against the film’s misrepresentation of the West. But McDonagh also makes comic hay of the desire of the Irish to see them- selves represented in the eyes of others, that is, by tourists both artistic and recreational. The show’s running gag is a series of variations on the line 'Ireland must not be such a bad place if [fill in the blanks] want to come to Ireland'...The Cripple of Inishmaan is clearly not an attempt to replicate how life was circa 1934 on one of John Millington Synge’s beloved islands. The dialogue is inflected by contemporary Irish usage- 'feckin eej', for example- and by topics more familiar to mid-1990s than mid-1930s Ireland, including sexual abuse by the clergy, media culture, and the rights of the differently abled" (Cadden, 2007 pp 671-672).
"The cripple of Inishmaan"
Time: 1934. Place: Island of Inishmaan, Ireland and Hollywood, USA.
Billy, a man crippled at the arm and leg, learns that a crew from Hollywood has arrived for filming at Inishmore, Robert Flaherty's "Man of Aran" (1934). He asks Bobby to ferry him over from the Island of Inishmaan where he lives. Bobby at first refuses, considering it bad luck to carry a cripple, but changes his mind after reading a letter from Billy's doctor, stating that the man may die of tuberculosis within three months. Johnny, the news-carrier, insists on seeing this letter, but is quickly discouraged when Bobby throws a rock at his head. Johnny next brings over Dr McSharry to his house for a specious reason, but without any luck of learning more about it. The doctor angrily accuses Johnny of harming his patient, who left for Inishmore early on a cold morning. Bobby returns with the news that Billy has been taken to Hollywood for a screen test in a film with a cripple in a minor role. In a squalid Hollywood hotel room, Billy deliriously talks to his dead mother about his miserable state. "I do wonder would they let cripple boys into heaven at all. Sure, wouldn't we only go uglifying the place?" he wheezes out. Hearing no news of the cripple, Billy's two aunts think he died as they view the completed film. However, at the end of the viewing, Billy walks out towards them. He forged the doctor's letter but refused Hollywood's offer as a consequence of home-sickness, not so difficult a choice, he says, considering "the arse-faced lines they had me reading for them." One of his friends, Bartley, informs him that his Aunt Kate has been talking to stones in his absence to the amusement of almost the entire island, including himself, at which Billy reproves. "You shouldn't laugh at other people's misfortunes, Bartley," he declares. "Why?" asks a confused Bartley. Though relieved to see him, Aunt Eileen strikes him on the head for not writing. Billy then admits to Bobby that he lied to his aunts about his experience in Hollywood, having been rejected as an actor in favor of a blond-haired American. Because Bobby was also taken in by Billy, the former strikes his friend several times with a lead pipe. While being examined by the doctor as a result of the beating, it turns out that Billy has tuberculosis after all. He asks a woman he is fond of, Helen, whether she would be interested in walking with him one evening. Helen sniggers and walks out, but then comes back to say she would. On her way out again, his coughing becomes worse and there is blood on his hand.
Roy Williams (1968-?) wrote "Starstruck" (1998), a play that resembles Martin McDonagh’s "The cripple of Inishmaan" (1996) in that islanders hope to escape poverty by being hired as Hollywood actors.
Time: 1970s. Place: Kingston, Jamaica.
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Dennis picks up Adrian at the bus station, stipulating that the latter’s cousin had already paid his taxi fare. Instead, Dennis’ cousin, Wally, shows up to take Adrian’s bags while Dennis holds his coat and tie and shows him how young men strut about town. As Adrian practices his strut, Dennis dashes off with his belongings. When Dennis' girlfriend, Pammy, informs him that film people have arrived in town, he is excited to think how this may be his chance to become an actor. Dennis’ father, Gravel, has bought a used car. Although it does not start, he is confident he can repair it and quit his banana-packing job to start a cab business. But his wife, Hope, does not think he can. Dennis climbs over the fence and hides in their chicken shed from a police officer, Lester, who has heard about the bus station robbery. But he abandons the chase after Gravel offers him a bottle of rum as hush money. When Dennis informs his mother of the film people with leading actor, Stewart Granger, she excitedly climbs atop the car hood to look them over with binoculars. Dennis runs off to get hired for the film. Seeing his aunt on top of the car, Wally lovingly rubs her leg while laughing at Gravel’s foolish purchase, but she requests him to ask his friend, Ned, to take the car back. Unless he does, she says she will reveal to his wife that they have slept together. Unable to contain himself, Wally lets her feel his erection as Gravel arrives to watch the guilty couple disappear behind the yard fence. Meanwhile, Dennis tries to convince Pammy to sleep with him, but she wants a ring on her finger first. Their relation is disapproved of by Hope, who does not want her son to marry the daughter of a prostitute. For his part, Gravel wants his son to declare his intentions, but the boy does not know what to do except knowing he cannot marry without money. Because of an actor’s injury during filming, he succeeds in obtaining a part in a bar-fighting scene and buys rich clothes to show them off. He wants to follow the movie people back to London, where Gravel and his brother, Neville, once worked at a homosexual bar until the police raided it. “Shoulda tumped dem on de head and run,” Dennis declares to his father. “It wat me woulda done.” An irate Gravel challenges his son to a fight and strikes his face till he runs off. He next challenges his wife for her adulteries, claiming she should find Neville in England. But he cannot comment further, holding his chest in pain from heart trouble. To reconcile himself with his father, Dennis repairs the car. At last he convinces Pammy to make love with him, but when she becomes pregnant, he wants to abandon her and follow the movie people. Hope approves of this idea while Gravel defends Pammy. After Gravel dies from a heart attack, Dennis abandons his celluloid dream, paints a sign over the car saying “Gravel & son”, and drops his head.