David Rudkin Anthony Masters - Essay

Anthony Masters

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

David Rudkin's Ashes … is a complex, confused play which it's difficult to deal with in a brief review and which one suspects the author didn't entirely sort out himself. For most of its length, it's concerned with charting the progress of an intelligent couple's attempts to overcome sterility; and a harrowing story it is, of endless, degrading sperm counts, ovary tests, detailed charts of their sex-life over a period of six months, and even demonstrations by condescending specialists of more efficient positions, illustrated by horrendous plastic models.

With a fruit-machine clunking and whirring on the sound-track, they keep trying; she conceives, to a sarcastic Veni Creator Spiritus, miscarries (they were twins, cruelly) and has a hysterectomy as well; and finally they can't even adopt. But at this stage Colin, the husband, has to go home to Belfast for the funeral of his uncle, blown to pieces in the street, and in a long and graphic speech makes the connection with the sterility of Ireland's will to stop her own blood-letting. The trouble is that practically anything, including pollution and the energy crisis, can be, and is, put in terms of this one metaphor….

Much of the intended poetic writing doesn't come off, but at its best it achieves a marvellous loamy richness and prodigality, typically Irish….

Anthony Masters, "Theatre in the Community," (© copyright Anthony Masters 1974; reprinted with permission), in Plays and Players, Vol. 21, No. 6, March, 1974, p. 47.