C(ecil) P(hillip) Taylor Peter Mortimer

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Peter Mortimer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Mortimer had been acquainted with Taylor as a publisher, theater critic, and friend. He saw nearly all of Taylor's seventy-odd plays performed in Scotland.]

The British prefer their literary heroes to be dead, so it's not surprising that Taylor's true talents are only now being appreciated….

One of the greatest tragedies about Taylor is that his death came at the moment of a major development in his work…. Good, with its subject matter of the well-intentioned young German slowly seduced by the Nazi machine …, marks a radical departure, a deadly serious play spiced throughout with an impish, almost daredevil humour.

Watching it, I remember similar sensations as when watching his study of small-time North-East crooks and the gambling world, Bandits!; that here was a kind of theatre not many people could write. (p. 16)

Fashion is a notorious servant in art. Many 'regional' dramatists go down to London and become parodies of themselves, or else use their working class roots to hammer home some well-battered political philosophy; the politics grabs more attention than the drama, and a lot of bosh is overpraised. This was one reason why Cecil was underappreciated: he rarely sat down with the intention of "saying" one set thing. He was alive, antennae wriggling all over the place.

His characters didn't merely represent points of view, or symbolise an aspect of modern civilisation (though obviously they often did that as well), they lived. They lived so much he couldn't resist making them turn to talk to the audience—one of his hallmarks. Even in mid-sentence he would at times freeze the action as a character turned to offer his confidentialities. And he did it with all the characters, not just an Alfie-type of monologue approach. This developed a great empathy between them and audience, and it worked especially well in … small intimate venues….

Seeing the technique refined to such a degree makes it look easy, a dramatic short-cut even, but Taylor's secret was in dovetailing such confidences into the play itself, so we never had the impression of a character stopping to make a speech.

He was never what I call a fashionable hack, one of those moderately talented dramatists who happen to be saying the right things at the right time. Because he was more aware of the life forces, human motivations and absurdities, or at least considered them more important than set philosophies, critics weren't quite sure what to make of him. The plays managed not to be doom-laden, though they pinpointed all our most ridiculous foibles, inconsistencies, cruelties, and human weaknesses. When you stood back from them for perspective, you realised that in essence they were a celebration of humanity.

On the surface you could take some of Cecil's plays—the regional ones at least—and see a superior kind of Coronation Street at work. I don't think he'd object to the description either, and I use 'superior' because in two hours on a live stage, he would manage to pack in as many issues, themes, and conflicts as would occupy a soap opera for 12 months. I remember one scene particularly from Bring Me Sunshine, where half a dozen characters gathered in the kitchen simultaneously, giving vent to their problems and crises. The author's tight control of the dialogue, and the way that, despite the verbal flack coming fast and furious from all quarters, the audience never loses track for a second symbolises the kind of technical achievement few contemporary playwrights could create. It is also, incidentally, one of the most hugely funny things I've seen for some time….

Those who thought they knew what 'type' of playwright he was had to think again as he changed direction. Happy Lies with its dual setting of a working class Jarrow home, and a Madras slum pointed the way. Good took us further along the path, and at the time of his death, a play about Stalin was in the pipeline. We would, I'm sure, have seen a whole new dimension had he not died prematurely….

When he died, many of us in the North-East weren't quite sure what to do, as if some guiding light had gone out. We never fully realised his inspiration until he was dead, then came the appreciation of him as a truly original writer and man who didn't use cheap tricks, wasn't publicity seeking, never worried where the spotlight was shining. Whatever he was doing, he cut through the fake, refused to allow distractions, and reached the essence.

I don't know anyone who did it better. (p. 17)

Peter Mortimer, "C. P. Taylor: An Appreciation of His Work and Life," in Drama (reprinted by permission of the British Theatre Association), No. 145, Autumn, 1982, pp. 16-17.