Howard John Brenton is known for his plays of political and social satire, which have been successful on the middle-class stages of London’s legitimate theater. The son of a policeman who later became a Methodist minister, Brenton began writing plays at the age of nine, and his early works from the 1970’s concern children whose violence imitates that of the adult world in which they belong. During this period in his career, Brenton developed certain trademarks of his style, which include a cartoonlike quality of his characters, his vision of an Orwellian society in decay, and images of sexual perversity.
In 1969, Brenton found himself the only audience member at a performance by the newly established fringe company Portable Theatre; the show was canceled, and everyone went out for a drink. As a result of Brenton meeting David Hare on this occasion, he was commissioned to write a play, Christie in Love, which was directed by Hare in 1969. Out of this first project grew a collaborative relationship that produced many plays, the most successful being Pravda: A Fleet Street Comedy. As a result of Christie in Love, Brenton won the Arts Council’s John Whiting Award in 1970 and received an Arts Council Drama Bursary for the next season. On January 31, 1970, he married Jane Margaret Fry.
The plays that Brenton wrote during his years with the Portable Theatre are highly experimental and provocative and were designed for small spaces and limited budgets. In plays such as Christie in Love, Brenton presents evil characters (in this case, a notorious British murderer of young women) as being more sympathetic than the hypocritical keepers of the society’s morality who pursue them. Brenton demythologizes the creations of human sentimentality in works such as Wesley, Scott of the Antarctic, and, later, The Churchill Play, in which historical heroes are shown in a critical light. Consistently rejecting psychological realism, Brenton creates characters to represent attitudes and ideas, particularly those of particular classes and political viewpoints, but he presents even his most evil and...
(The entire section is 885 words.)