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). “Cock-a-doodle dandy” occurs in Nyadadnanave, the Gaelic Nest of saints, which could also be Nest of knaves. As pointed out by Hogan (1960), “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.” (p 118) There is conflict throughout between earth life and religious life. Instead of miracles appearing on behalf of the church, miracles appear against it.
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 she is ready to offer the cock a wreath of roses. Michael and Sailor turn to the comforts of whiskey but the liquid does not come out. "You'd think good whiskey would be exempt from injury even be th'lowest of th'low," comments a bemused Michael. 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 drink to the cock and entice the men to join them until father Domineer interrupts the party. He insists 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 he is dead. Before leaving the village because of the murder, he 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 sits 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 is a the history play, "A man for all seasons" (1960), by Robert Bolt (1924-1995), based on the life of Thomas More (1478-1535).
"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 of King Henry VIII's repudiation of Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn. More does not agree, 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: "I truly believe no man in England is safer than myself." 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. More refuses to receive money from the bishops, because charity is sometimes interpreted as payment. Cromwell is unable to trap him legally, but reveals that the king is displeased with him. Fearing for his friends, More requests the duke of Norfolk to see 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 but without divulging why. He is imprisoned for over a year in a pitiful cell. Although the commission can never force him to say why, he is illegally condemned to death. On his way to the gallows, a woman reminds him of a false judgment he pronounced against her, to which he comments: "Woman, you see how I am occupied."
Some plays in the domestic tradition remained quite similar those of the pre-war period, notably Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) with "Separate tables" (1954).
Time: 1950s. Place: Near Bournemouth.
John, a journalist, unexpectantly meets his ex-wife, Anne, in a hotel. She has since divorced a second time, obtaining little, as she says, in the way of alimony. Because John had hit her head and sent her to a hospital, the divorce had destroyed his political career. Since then, he entertains amorous relations with Patricia, the proprietess of the hotel. Anne is lonely and with age this state is likely to worsen. Pointing to the dining-room, she says: "I can just see myself in a few years' time at one of those separate tables." She invites her ex-husband in her room, and, after some hesitation, he accepts, but on his way there he is impeded 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 David has been held over for sexual harassment towards a woman at 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 major out. Three other people agree, only a medical student, Charles, being against it. Sibyl is the one most distressed by these news, she being a particular friend of the false major: "It makes me sick," she repeatedly says, in rising tones of hysteria. Though voting against him, Mr Fowler, a former housemaster, ruefully admits he regrets it. "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 says. David reappears with an air of pathetic jauntiness, until confronted by the despairing Sybil, who asks him pointedly why did he do such a thing. He answers he has always been shy towards the opposite sex. "It has to be in the dark, you see, and a stranger, because-" he says. To this, Sybil puts her hands to her ears. She then 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, 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.
But then the Kitchen Sink School took over with Harold Pinter (1930-2008), Vastly influential plays by Pinter include "The homecoming" (1965), "Old times" (1971), and "No man's land" (1975). In his first plays, Pinter describes a Kafka-like atmosphere of paranoid behavior. Pinteresque mannerisms in speech occur, in which little new information is conveyed and terms are needlessly repeated. As described by Esslin (1968, p 243), there is 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."
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, and 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. That afternoon, Max becomes suddenly reconciled to the couple's existence. "I want you both to know you have my blessing," he says. Lenny mocks at 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 does not want to. The bad feeling increases on 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 at discovering 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 allowing her 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. When Ruth hears of it, she negotiates for the number of rooms and for 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, but is helped out by none. As Teddy prepares to return to his post, Ruth calls out to him. "Eddie! Don't become a stranger," she advises. 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 lived in at the same. This anecdote puzzles Deeley. As Anna's voice caresses Kate, Deeley warns her to stop. Not to be deterred 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. 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 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.
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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," he 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 he is the proprietor's friend and only wished to help him out temporarily, but Foster knows the owner and has never heard of 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, interrupted by the arrival of a cheerful Hirst, who suddenly remembers Spooner, in particular how long ago he often seduced his 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 not encouraging. 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 says he'll change the subject for the 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: "You are in no man's land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent." "I'll drink to that," approves Hirst.
Of great impact in post-WWII British drama is "Look back in anger" (1956) by John Osborne (1929-1994). The play features Jimmy Porter, “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,” he 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) Yet 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.” Taylor (1962) said “what distinguished it 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 saying 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.” As Taylor (1962) pointed out: “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.”
"Look back in anger"
Time: 1950s. Place: English Midlands.
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In an attic room rented from 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 he 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 at their apartment, 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 her, Helena decides to stay, 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, not looking well, 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 Arnold Wesker (1932-?), notably "Chicken soup with barley" (1958). Concerning “Chicken soup with barley”, Taylor (1962) says: “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) summarized the play in the following manner: “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.”
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) In particular, “Ronnie does not have the energy to embrace the suffering that her form of loyalty would require of him…His resignation infuriates Sarah” (Dornan, 1994, p 30). 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 (Leeming and Trussler, 1971, p 46), 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.” (p 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.
"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, still 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 him. She remonstrates and nags until he suffers a stroke. In 1947, Harry cannot keep any job long and merely shuffles about. Ronnie has found a job as a bookshop assistant and plans to write poetry and novels, while Sarah is stuck with her apathetic husband. "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 the 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 are satisfied with "a few shillings at the bank" and a television set. Her belief 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 her 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).
Time: 1960s. Place: London, England.
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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 do not want him to. When Pam suggests he 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 says Len's baby is his, but he 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. Only Fred receives a jail-sentence. After being released from prison, he wants no more to do with her. Pam 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 develops 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 by a sympathetic Harry who once again prefers to have him stay.
Shelagh Delaney (1939-2011) is also of importance with "A taste of honey" (1958). In "A taste of honey", Taylor (1962) describes Jo in the following manner: “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.”
"A taste of honey"
Time: 1950s. Place: Manchester, England.
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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 the 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 are reunited.
Brendan Behan (1923-1964) contributed with "The hostage" (1958). Concerning "The hostage", Taylor (1962) criticized the involvement of the secondary characters: “But 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.”
Time: 1950s. Place: Dublin, Ireland.
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Pat and Meg, an unmarried couple, keep a brothel-house for Monseuwer, the owner, who mistakenly believes himself to be in charge of a military campaign. To Meg's disapproval, one of the tenants, Mulleady, has invited a Miss Gilchrist, inside his room. When called down, Miss Gilchrist says she must first complete her novena. Meanwhile, Pat harasses the homosexual Rio Rita for rent-money. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer and volunteer arrive to check out the house for their political purposes. An IRA member has been captured by British troops and is condemned to death in Belfast jail. In reprisal, the IRA capture a British soldier, Leslie, to be kept as hostage in the brothel-house. The British hostage is befriended by nearly every Irish tenant, especially Teresa, a skivvy (servant), who eventually sleeps with him. Pat asks the IRA officer for rent-money, but he is sarcastically answered. "The hearts of all true Irishman are beating for us," says the officer. At last the IRA member is condemned to die and is shot to death by the IRA members.
Also of some artistic weight in the domain of black comedy is Joe Orton (1933-1967) with "Loot" (1966). Rusinko (1995) compared Orton’s world 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.” (p 85) There is also some with Oscar Wilde’s (1854-1900), for example Nurse Fay’s questioning of Hal’s suitability in marriage and Lady Bracknell’s questioning Jack’s in “Then importance of being earnest” (1895) (pp 94-95).
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 an 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. When he discovers 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, not satisfied 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 come back. Truscott finds a glass eye on the floor, 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 also assumes it dropped from the corpse. When he unscrews the coffin lid, he staggers in disbelief on discovering what is 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. He discovers the money, but 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 black comedy is Peter Nichols (1927-?) with "A day in the death of Joe Egg" (1967).
"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 M.G.M.- I don't mind admitting it, I prayed," admits Brian. In his anguish, preferring his child to die rather than his wife, he imagined God saying: "I'll fix that bastard." "And he did," notes Brian. 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," mimics Brian. 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 her 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 at 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"
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 he is insane, considering himself "the one true God, the God of love, the Naz," sometimes seen suspended on a cross. Claire, wife to his half-brother Charles, nervously sees him greet society ladies and then eat the artificial fruit on one of their hats. Jack may be got rid of provided he produces an heir, which to Claire's disgust, Grace, Charles' mistress, agrees to, as did Marguerite, lady of the camellias. They wed. Dr Herder, a medical research worker on schizophrenia confers with Claire on the possibility of curing Jack. He confronts him with another madman thinking he is God, so that at the moment a baby boy is born Jack suddenly regains his senses. 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. On cuddling up to him, she becomes his second victim.
Simon Gray (1936-2008) wrote a large series of plays, notably "Butley" (1971).
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 Reg does not like 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 him: "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. Another student, Carol, corners him to read aloud to him 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 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, she 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 they 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 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. 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 her she may never see her again. “I expect I will,” her mother confidently retorts.
Also with a large series of plays to his credit is David Hare (1947-?), notably "The secret rapture" (1988),
"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 does not seem interested 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," she concludes. Isobel blocks the selling of her father's house, wishing to live in it, but she 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.
William Nicholson (1948-?) wrote "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 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 have 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 the 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 admits to her son. He begs her not to give up. "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 "Shopping and fucking" (1996).
"Shopping and fucking"
Time: 1990s. Place: England.
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Lulu and Robbie try to make Mark eat, but he vomits. Knowing that his health is deteriorating because of a drug addiction, he 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 meets 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," says Mark. 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," says Gary. 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 wishes to be penetrated by a knife, they back away. Over the course of the week, Robbie and Lulu succeed in come up with the money they owed. Brian is so pleased they 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.
“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, in a psychiatric institute, but she does not respond to his talk. The depth of her depression forces him to let her submit 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. They are visited by her mother, Maggie, a retired physician, and 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, he 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. 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 in disgust. He crumples and cries, but after having settled awhile, he returns cheerfully as if nothing had happened. David is prepared to offer for the papers at least as much as Garret received. Sensing Tom’s apathy, he 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 to his wife. “I must have your support, Daisy,” he says. “Help me, please.” But she turns to play a compact music disk. When Tom, Daisy, and her parents confer together, Daisy opines that her husband must not sell. 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. Tom hopes it is the correct decision.
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 Freddie is no longer permitted to enter the bar either. 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, he 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 the 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).
"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. 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. He angrily accuses him 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. Having no news of him, 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 being home-sick, 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 was taken in by him, he strikes his friend several times with a lead pipe. While being examined by the doctor as a result of the beating, it turns out 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 walk, Dennis dashes off with his belongings. When his girlfriend, Pammy, informs him that film people have arrived in town, Dennis 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 them 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. Gravel wants his son to declare his intentions, but Dennis does not know what to do except that he knows 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 dream, paints a sign over the car saying “Gravel & son”, and drops his head.