Howard Brenton 1942–
English dramatist, scriptwriter, and poet.
Brenton is one of the most controversial playwrights in contemporary English theater. Employing graphic violence and sexuality, coarse language, and black humor, he symbolically and explicitly attacks the political and social structures of Britain. Brenton views theater as a means for presenting his critiques of society: he has stated that his plays are written "unreservedly in the cause of socialism."
Brenton developed his radical style in the experimental theater movement known as "the Fringe" which emerged in England during the 1960s and which included among its contributors Brenton's occasional collaborator, David Hare. The Fringe provided a forum for noncommercial drama, staging plays in pubs, storefronts, and other unusual sites. These plays generally expressed extreme political and social views in unconventional dramatic forms. Brenton drew attention and praise from critics for Christie in Love (1969), which centers on John Reginald Christie, a convicted murderer and rapist notorious in England during the 1950s. The policemen in the play represent narrow and repressive values that make them more threatening, for Brenton, than Christie himself, who is presented as reserved and inconspicuous. Revenge (1969), the story of a policeman pursued by a criminal, contributed to Brenton's reputation as a forceful and promising playwright. Brenton had one actor play both the policeman and the criminal to underscore his belief that law breakers and law keepers can be similarly oppressive.
The growing recognition of Brenton's work and the eventual production of his plays in established London theaters in no way tamed his social protests. Many Brenton plays of the 1970s portrayed frustrated attempts of political rebels to effect social change. In Magnificence (1973), for example, a group of people who peacefully demonstrate for housing reform in Great Britain are treated harshly by the police. Brenton highlights police brutality with an attack on a pregnant woman who later miscarries. Her husband, bent on revenge, kills both himself and the wrong government official, thus accomplishing nothing. The play emphasizes the waste on all sides. Such projections of oppressive authority figures and the hopeless or bungled efforts of those who attempt action also appear in The Churchill Play (1974) and Weapons of Happiness (1976). According to some critics, these plays contain meaningful statements about the state of contemporary Britain. Others faulted Brenton for presenting simplistic political views without recommending any means toward serious social change. Critical reception was also mixed concerning Brenton's use of startling violent images. Despite these reservations, critics generally continued to regard Brenton as a bold and intriguing playwright.
Brenton became more widely known with The Romans in Britain (1981), which provoked a public furor in England because of its scenes of graphic sexual violence. Set in part in Roman-occupied Britain circa 54 A.D. and paralleling the English presence in Northern Ireland, The Romans in Britain features the homosexual rape of a Druid priest by a Roman soldier, among other shocking images, to portray Brenton's dislike of imperialism. The aesthetic merit of such imagery was debated by government officials, critics, and citizens.
Critics are divided in assessing Brenton's importance in contemporary English theater. While some view him as politically naive and theatrically extravagant, others find his style and his views intellectually challenging and regard him as an innovative and stimulating dramatist.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 69-72 and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13.)
Through such plays as Revenge and Christie in Love, Howard Brenton has quickly won himself a reputation as one of our most strikingly original young dramatists. However, this new piece [Fruit] … is so shrill, hysterical and uncoordinated, that it makes one wonder where precisely Mr. Brenton's acknowledged love of excess is leading him.
Admittedly it bears all his familiar trademarks: the relish for grotesque physical detail, the fascination with the corrupting effect of power, the love of theatrical shock tactics. But whereas before his obsession with the narrow dividing line between the policeman and his prey has helped to focus all his dramatic energies, he here seems to be flailing wildly about in all directions…. [There] is no dramatic law that says playwrights who preach anarchy themselves have to practise it; and Mr. Brenton gravely weakens a perfectly tenable viewpoint by failing to give the separate scenes an organic relationship and by repeatedly turning to violence as a device for raising the theatrical temperature.
If one is severe with Mr. Brenton, it is because he has so much exuberant natural talent; but here, in spite of the nervy vitality of David Hare's production, one feels that talent is wildly misdirected.
Michael Billington, in a review of "Fruit," in The Times, London, September 30, 1970, p. 13.
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John Russell Taylor
Brenton is, if not resentful, at least rather puzzled at the recurrent comparison of his dramatic method to that of a strip cartoon, since he disclaims any particular interest in strip cartoons or any conscious influence. All the same, the comparison is irresistible. Psychology and explanation are ruthlessly suppressed, dialogue is reduced to the skeleton indications of a cartoon's bubbles, the action of his plays proceeds from image to image with virtually no transitions, no gradations. (p. 217)
[Christie in Love (1969) is] a perfect case in point. The action is a sort of Chinese box: on the outside is almost a literal box, a compound of chicken wire scattered with rubbish in which Christie's victims wait to be dug up by the police and in which Christie himself is finally buried. Inside this burial-ground box is another box, that of Christie's interrogation by the police. And in that is another, the flashbacks of his confession. Thus image follows image, image is sometimes superimposed on image, and when the horror becomes too direct the police (representing presumably, among other things, society at large) turn aside into blue jokes, as though to cancel out horror with protective humour. Again, as in strip cartoons, obvious visual equations can be made without inquiring too deeply into the reasonable basis of the equation: it is enough simply to present Christie as a suffering weakling, the police officer as a fascistic thug,...
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[Magnificence is] a social drama in a rougher mode than [those] of the English 1950s.
The play begins with a scene showing a number of young people—several of the working class, an uneducated hippie and a girl emigrated from the BBC—who break into an unoccupied flat as a protest against a housing situation that allows landlords to hold out for high rents while the poor are left virtually homeless. But the police come to evict the "squatters," and though they meet with very little resistance, one of the young women who is pregnant is knocked down and, we later learn, miscarries.
Except for the moment of violence at its end, the tone of the first scene is light enough. (p. 124)
[In later scenes, we learn] that the young man whose wife was struck down by the policeman … has just come out of jail, where he was sentenced for a year for having assaulted the policeman in retaliation, and is now consumed by desperate anger. He plans to kill [a] rather inoffensive cabinet minister…. This particular person has been picked as the victim of the young man's wrath because he is mistakenly believed to be the minister in charge of housing. The minister is captured while he is peacefully mowing the beautiful rhododendron lawn of his estate. A bundle of explosives is set on his head. But at the last minute the would-be assassin desists from his vengeful and supposedly revolutionary act. He flings the...
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Howard Brenton has a terrifying imagination that makes his "The Churchill Play" … a very disturbing experience. It is an experience one would not like to have missed, but it unsettles the foundations of the world on which England unsteadily rests. One of the few matters on which it is still generally assumed that there is a consensus of opinion is that in May, 1940, England found a man who could, and did, save her. The haunting and alarming suggestion made in Mr Brenton's powerful play … is that the man England found was the wrong man; that the war of 1939–45 was less Hitler's war than Churchill's; that the British, and especially the Scottish, people were so demoralised by bombing that they bitterly resented Churchill's keeping them at war; and that this was the cause of our loss of empire, and the moment when our freedom went.
Now there is nothing in my experience of the war that can be squared with Mr Brenton's account of the demoralising effect of the German bombing. I was in the east, and most heavily hit, part of London during every raid but two during the entire war: I saw London burn and explode round me: but, with the exception of a couple of foreign journalists, I never heard anyone express even the smallest fear or tension. Mr Brenton was very young at the time, and there is much evidence in his play that he has listened to, and been impressed by, some very lurid stories: stories no doubt factually true, but not...
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[The Churchill Play] is not, in the strictest sense, a 'documentary': Brenton's vision is too personal, and perhaps too romantic, for that. Certainly, there are reconstructions…. But these glances into the past, like the more substantial projection forward into the future which gives the play its circumstantial basis, are merely elements in a metaphor which Brenton develops in order to comment on our present. The historic image is poeticised.
The metaphor rests squarely on the idea that just as certain forms of VD can develop unnoticed in the human body until the body rots to death, so the 'body politic' can contract virulent but unseen social diseases which will ultimately destroy it. Inflammation equals inflation: 'Schubert died of the pox … it makes artists see things in weird and wonderful ways. Countries are the same … inflation, inflammation. Everything's wonderful—till the backbone goes.'…
Brenton's play finds its justification on a political, rather than a theatrical level. The theatrical idea is too derivative ('Marat/Sade'), as is the reinterpretation of Churchill ('The Soldiers') for it to stand solid scrutiny at that level….
Brenton is in the position of many conscientious young liberals today: seeing the danger, but not quite knowing which way to turn.
Sometimes his writing shades off into the same post-Romantic ethic that has given rise to the Great...
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The Churchill Play is a powerful transference of what is happening in Northern Ireland now to what might be happening in England in ten years' time. Its swift dialogue in a masterful variety of dialects masks a cunning battery of cross-fire, a play about the immediate past is performed within the play, as an implicit criticism of our disregard for present events is contained within a warning of future events we could not so easily disregard. This is a controlled and sophisticated play, a marked advance on Brenton's previously patchy work.
John Spurling, in a review of "Magnificence," in Encounter, Vol. XLIV, No. 1, January, 1975, p. 66.
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'The Theatre', claims Howard Brenton, 'is a dirty place.' And Brenton, as much as any dramatist of recent years, has been associated with an obsessive interest in public and private violence—seeming assaults on all versions of law and order…. Brenton has a particular view of the power which lies behind the drama, both past and present, which he most admires. It is obvious, for instance, that dramatists have often been more concerned with portraying individuals who break rather than obey the law. The history of theatre can be read in these terms as a history of some pretty spectacular criminals; from Clytemnestra murdering Agamemnon in his bath; to Oedipus slaying his father; to Hamlet's sudden slaughter of Polonius; to the crimes of a Macbeth unleashing a seemingly endless tide of blood upon his Scottish kingdom. It is only with the rise of the naturalist theatre, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that the criminal loses his central place on our stages. Now Brenton and many writers of his generation are consciously attacking the norms of the naturalist stage…. But, as is often pointed out, the criminal acts presented in the most famous tragedies, like Oedipus or Hamlet, are nearly always compensated by a moral law which is restored at the end of the drama. Tragedy, one definition runs, is the story of an individuals who decides to break the laws of his or her community and is destroyed by following through a particular,...
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The poverty of political theatre in England is so great that almost any drama with political intimations gets welcomed as if it were the long-lost grandchild of Bertolt Brecht. It creates a real dilemma for those (like myself) who genuinely hanker for a piece of relevant theatre that isn't ideologically prepackaged and offensively 'all thought out', Weapons of Happiness is about political subjects but, if your definition of political art includes moral fair-play and aesthetic equilibrium, it is hard to clasp it to one's bosom as a 'political play'…. I expect a political play to be more than the dramatisation of an author's political loyalties. Left-wing propaganda with its heart-in-the-right-place is still propaganda and, as such, nullified as art—unless it transcends its own biases. Weapons of Happiness, during the course of its first act, tantalisingly leads one to expect it may do just that, but by the time its second act has concluded, you realise you are once again being asked to buy a rigid interpretation of life whether it tallies with your conception of life or not. And that, ultimately, is the case against partisanship-parading-as-art, it asks for our approval simply because it's wearing the right pins.
The most interesting thing Brenton has done in the play is to set up a comparison between an old-styled, Cold War Communist and the fuzzily-romantic, left-wing political zealots of today whose notions of...
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Brenton is as political as Trevor Griffiths, and perhaps even further to the Left. Like Griffiths, he expresses strong dissatisfaction with present-day Britain but, instead of being naturalistic and relying largely on rational argument, Brenton's plays are fantasies, full of bizarre and theatrical visual effects. The dialogue is often artificial and surrealistic, attempting to show people as they really are, beneath the veneer of conventional behaviour and polite talk. Brenton is obsessed with the violence lurking beneath the surface of apparently respectable upholders of law and order, and with the way this suppressed violence brings the oppressed and the oppressor, the worker and the criminal, the politician and the policeman, closer together than is generally realized. The result is often extremely amusing, as well as frightening. (p. 207)
Brenton's first full-length play to be staged in London was Revenge…. Its characters and language are highly original, but soon became familiar as typical of Brenton's work. As in his later plays, there are criminals, prostitutes and policemen involved with each other in bizarre situations and using artificial language which is often very funny in its outspoken and exaggerated expression of thoughts which normally remain unspoken. Also, like Brenton's later work, Revenge is very theatrical. One actor has several very quick changes to 'double' the roles of Adam Hepple, a notorious...
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Howard Brenton's poems follow after ten years of plays, in performance and in print, and at first sight they seem like a new departure. The collection is a sequence of 74 sonnets, and has the kind of completeness and individual authority associated with the traditional sonnet sequence. Yet in two important respects Brenton's poems are at least as organic to his dramatic purpose as those of Brecht and Bond. First, as his title, Sonnets of Love and Opposition, suggests, the poems are an attempt to chart his everyday landscape, moral and physical, and the poems operate through actual description more than universal images, so that the sequence has something of the effect of a journal, a record of experience and development over a number of months.
That this experience covers a very wide range of subject matter is one reason for the collection's great interest. The other lies in his use of the sonnet sequence as a form. It is clearly (as Lowell and Berryman have found) an ideal vehicle for a journal; the individual poems are just the length of a manageable single process of argument (two ideas, for example, opposed and then drawn to a conclusion), but Brenton has also found in the sequence its potential as a most direct form of drama.
It reads as a sinuous monologue that amplifies and extends the central speaking voice by contact with various characters who almost meet him in dialogue—members of his family at the...
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In Sore Throats, Howard Brenton has gone further than most of his contemporaries in exploring the intimate, bringing to bear on three fractured people in an unwelcoming South London flat, the social vision that sustains the broader, public canvas of his earlier work…. In the wake of divorce, Jack …, a chief inspector, has returned to see Judy … to claim half her money, and in so doing hits, kicks her and stamps on her head. Enter Sally … to look at the flat, knowing, because she works as a telephonist at the Evening Standard, that it is to be let. In Act 2, 18 months later, the two women are enjoying 'liberated' liberal sex with all-comers, especially 14-year-old-boys, and Jack returns again, this time from Canada, without having fulfilled his ambition to become a Mountie: his humiliation is rounded off with the closing declaration from Judy of her freedom from sexual and economic oppression….
The power balance and the decay are forcefully, brilliantly highlighted through Brenton's typically tough, vivid language, brutal, disturbing, intense and sometimes comic. But in Act 2, the bruising dialogue gives way to more self-conscious writing like Jack's story of his roadside birth after a motor car crash, as Brenton drifts into the fantasy of the women's so-called liberation and the empty, emotional gesture at the end when the lights go down on Judy about to burn her money and be 'fucked, happy and free'. Part one...
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There have been plays that have used the years 1945 and 1968 to deliver little homilies about socialist hopes raised and dashed. Now, it seems, 1974 must be added to that list. A Short Sharp Shock begins with the fall of the Heath government, and proceeds to show the nation succumbing, after a long, strength-sapping bout of Wilsonitis and Callaghanosis, to what the authors fear may be a terminal assault by the bacillus M-Thatcher….
Unluckily, both the voltage and wattage of Shock are disappointingly low. It is neither good Brenton nor rousing agitprop. My prescription for socialist stage-drama is painfully simple. Either it must display a trenchant, tough-minded awareness of the contradictions of what is, after all, a very complex subject, namely the possibility of social change in stick-in-the-mud Britain…. Or it must draw on some powerful non-intellectual source of energy: a saeva indignatio, in whose armoury may be found satire, parody, scathing metaphor, visual and verbal bravura, and whatever other weaponry a high-duty imagination can galvanise into action….
Or, most difficult of all, a combination of the two. This is presumably what Shock attempts, with its brusque cuts between a caricature Tory government and the reactions and arguments of a Cockney clan, representing 'the governed'. The leading grotesques are all played by women…. The laughter they provoke is not, however,...
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The first time Edward Bond's Saved was staged, it was to an outraged pandemonium in which, I'm sorry to say, the voices of some respected colleagues were shrilly to be heard; the second, only four years later, to general agreement that the stoning-to-death of the baby in his pram was a justifiable illustration of the extremes to which deprivation could push our fellow-citizens. Yesterday's shock-horror headline had become today's challenging masterpiece. It's a familiar enough process; and if I take leave to doubt that The Romans in Britain will provide the next instance of its operation, it's more because of scepticism about the whole than disgust at any part or parts, including the private ones so generously on display in the Celtic forests of 54 BC. I was duly sickened by the scene in which a druid is incompetently raped by a Roman soldier, as I was meant to be. It's what is known in the trade as a 'strong image', meaning one that makes you want to swallow your eyes and ears and pretend that such things couldn't happen. The real trouble, however, is that the plaint it's designed to italicise is hardly more sophisticated than that imperialism is a crying shame, not to say a pain in the arse.
Of course, Brenton would argue that it's time for straight talking and not sophistication, when we Anglo-Saxons persist in treating the Celts in a style analogous to that of the Romans two millennia ago. He makes the point with...
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[The critic W. Stephen Gilbert] once hesitatingly dubbed Brenton and [David] Hare the Lennon and McCartney of the New Wave. Indeed, the comparison has its point. Brenton is most at home when creating startling and often outrageous coups de théâtre or when composing choice, vernacular exchanges for his favourite characters, who are usually villains, policemen or angry, disenfranchised youngsters.
Hare once confessed, albeit wryly, that he can only write about the middle classes; and while it is true that he can pen convincing dialogue for Chinese peasants or zonked-out rock musicians, his most memorable creations stem from the highly articulate but often emotionally sterile bourgeoisie….
Brenton has fewer fears about the content of his plays, seeing himself in the epic theatrical tradition of Brecht, a playwright politicized by his own writings. Even in his most accessible play to date—Epsom Downs—Brenton creates a vivid dramatic tension out of his various characters, all imprisoned within the gloriously absurd confines of the Big Occasion and yet all faced with the possibility of change. For Emily Davison, the suffragette who threw herself beneath the King's horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913, change means violent self-sacrifice; for a young homeless couple who have blown their savings on Lester Piggott and the Minstrel, change is realizing that winning the money for a home doesn't finally mean...
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[Anger, scorn, and shock were aroused] amongst the national critics by Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain…. They put up such a show of indignation and moralistic horror as has scarcely been rivalled in Britain since the country lost its senses over the wickedness of Lord Byron…. The Romans in Britain begins with a haunting picture of the ancient Britons living in freedom and terror in the darkness of pre-Roman conquest, freemen frightened out of their wits at the sight of any unfamiliar face. The Romans come, and impose by implacable force and military superiority some sort of order upon them. In the course of the wild action there is a calm, self-controlled speech by Julius Caesar …, the stabbing of a man strung upside down, so that his blood gushes forth to the ground, and an attempted homosexual rape of a naked Druid by a Roman soldier.
It is these two incidents that caused all the furore. No one mentioned that they occupied just about four minutes in a play lasting nearly three hours, or that they illustrated the main theme of the play, namely, that violence is natural to man, whether conqueror or conquered; that man is prone to sin and his heart is full of wickedness. Brenton's is a pessimistic view of human nature, but it is one that has from the earliest times led to the creation of great literature. It was expounded with savagery by Swift, with irony by Thackeray, and with an elegiac grief by the writer...
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Brenton has survived the demise of the Fringe and has gained a controversial position unequalled among the writers of the late 1960's. But critical acclaim, commercial acceptance, and diversity of interests have in no way threatened the intensity of Brenton's political commitment. He remains one of Britain's most dedicated political writers and unapologetically states, "All my plays are written unreservedly in the cause of socialism." And though "agit/prop" is a label he eschews, he openly avows, "My purpose is to agitate by satire, by intelligent argument, by writing scenes of verifiable truth … and to propagate an idea"; he thus attempts to revitalize the revolutionary's vocabulary while avoiding such stock conventions as sermons, placards, and facile solutions. In depicting the struggles of people trapped in a world without political or social morality and in avoiding traditional psychological analyses, Brenton establishes himself as a descendant of Brecht. He adheres to the Brechtian imperative of man as the sum of social circumstance and of the drama as the study of social contradictions as manifested in the individual.
Brenton, with this political focus of an unabashed dedication to socialism, uses the theater to investigate revolution. Not surprisingly, early Brenton plays embrace the political or moral rebel as a leading character. Christie in Love follows the progression of a love that can find its ultimate expression...
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When The Romans in Britain, Howard Brenton's latest play, opened last October … it led to prodigious controversy, the greatest outpouring of comment and the most intense popular interest that British theater has engendered in years. The production was attacked and defended in Parliament and in the Press. Plainclothesmen attended to determine whether charges should be brought. Its merits were debated in the noble institution of the Times' letter page. Local politicians thundered their abuse, and the usual guardians of public virtue displayed their own by picketing outside the theater, and staging disruptive protests during performances inside. In short, we were all treated once more to Macaulay's oft-cited and long-running spectacle of the "British public in one of its periodic fits of morality." (p. 34)
In a number of areas the play, if not breaking much new ground, did at least manage to tread on some highly sensitive subjects. Imperialism has been relatively neglected by British playwrights, considering its enormous impact on the nation's history and psychology. It would seem to be one of those topics which, by unwritten convention, in a society still much-subject to such conventions, playwrights have largely avoided. In Brenton's case, his having taken up the subject is particularly intrusive since he deals with it in the context of subject matter otherwise widely treated and intensely popular: the heritage of Roman...
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In Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain political parallels are overt: they play is set in 54 AD, 515 AD and 1980 AD. The linking image is of stoning the enemy, and the numerous meanings of that act stop it from being a facile equation—slave woman against male runaway, Celt against Roman, against Saxon, against British army. Each episode is sketched fully enough for us to grasp the mixture of human qualities Brenton is concerned with: brutality, caring, cunning, stupidity, fear, greed. I found the immense scope of the play to be its strength, often having been put off Brenton's work by the dogmatic attitude he takes to a specific event. Here, although there is a problem in accepting the premise that the Romans and Saxons in Britain can dramatically reflect the situation in Ulster today, there is a historical perspective and room for vision and aspiration. We see that perspective make the ideal of civilised peace more attractive but at the same time more difficult to achieve. (p. 55)
Diana Devlin, "Plays in Print," in Drama, No. 140, second quarter, 1981, pp. 55-6.∗
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Back in 1943 J. B. Priestley, who could (I suppose) be regarded as Howard Brenton's political and theatrical grand-dad, wrote a play entitled We Came to a City, in which a cross-section of hallucinating citizens were confronted with a socialist utopia. Some winced away in genteel distaste; others eagerly embraced its share-alike lifestyle; and the best and boldest made the trip back to waking reality with the intention of transforming glum old Britain into the new Jerusalem whose glistening avenues they'd briefly trod. Then, anything was possible; now, everything seems impossible; and, if you want a pretty vivid illustration of just how far Icarus has plummeted in the intervening years, compare Priestley's soaring vision with the distinctly nightmarish 'dream-play' [Thirteenth Night]…. Jack Beaty, an earnest young idealist concussed in a dust-up with rampaging fascists, finds that he is the male lead in what rapidly reveals itself to be an updated version of Macbeth: or perhaps one should say Macbeth and Julius Caesar, since Bill Dunn, as his victim and the nation's Labour PM is quaintly called, hides tyrannical instincts under his folksy manner and at one point appears in a bath-towel adjusted to resemble a shaggy toga.
The parallels are wryly unfurled. Beaty, like his prototype, hesitates, scruples, soliloquises, then feebly and somewhat banally protests 'there must be a massive increase of...
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Howard Brenton has written a dozen plays during the past ten years, almost all of them controversial. To no one's great surprise, The Romans in Britain is not an exception…. Brenton's intention seems to be to shock his audience into an awareness of how obscene and absurd the world really is, particularly that part which he inhabits, Great Britain, where he detects violence lurking beneath the surface of apparently respectable people who hold positions of power and leadership. Brenton denies that the play is overtly political, but it is hard to see how it could be viewed otherwise, equating as it does the Roman legions with the British military in Northern Ireland. Described by its author as a "peace play" The Romans in Britain, when it isn't straining to be left-wing hip, is largely about survival, of both individuals and groups, and about the dreams and myths we create in order to make survival possible. At the end of the play the story of King Arthur is born, to give voice to the aspirations of the defeated.
Plays for the Poor Theatre, whose title seems to have been inspired by the works of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, is a collection of five short plays from Brenton's early involvement in London's "fringe" (off-off-Broadway type) theatre. Several of the pieces smack of 1920s agitprop, but all go beyond the merely tendentious through the playwright's facility for creating highly lyrical language and...
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Howard Brenton's new play The Genius will not offend the eye though it does abuse the ear. Trevor Eve, clenched fists by his side, clad in a black suit, and looking altogether like a statue of a Bulgarian hero, rants his way through the ungratifying role of Leo, an American Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who is mysteriously exiled to a Midlands university. 'A prickly little shit', the Vice-Chancellor … calls Leo, and takes the words right out of my mouth. Leo creates havoc, warping young minds, borrowing wives, serving urine at garden parties and involving both MI5 and the Kremlin in a tug-of-war for the formulae he's devised that are essential to building a new superbomb. Both play and actors lack conviction. Characterization lapses into caricature, and the issues raised by the play—the moral status of and responsibility for dangerous research, and the limits to which 'genius' is morally entitled to go to achieve its dubious ends—neither cohere nor confound in a stirring way. (p. 30)
Stephen Brook, "Crime Wave," in New Statesman, Vol. 106, No. 2739, September 16, 1983, pp. 29-30.∗
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