John Hopkins Critical Essays

Hopkins, John

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hopkins, John 1931–

A British dramatist and screenwriter, Hopkins has written over fifty television scripts.

Although [Tangier Buzzless Flies] is supplied with a full complement of more or less stalwart heroes, a bit battered and careworn by the desert life they pursue in north Africa, the central interest here lies in the Sahara itself, its heat, sandy wastes, and filth, along with the Moslem resignation to fate accepted without question by its inhabitants, hardly able in any event to lift themselves out of the lethargy and indolence induced by their habitual dependence upon hashish. Men and women appear and fade away in these pages and are in fact hardly distinguishable one from the other in a society where differences in sex become matters of little importance. Story is of no consequence to the author. He is content to outline his characters with some sharpness, emphasizing always the futility of their lives. What counts above all is the Sahara, ever shifting, inevitably concealing even the graves of men whose lives were lost in their feeble attempts to conquer it.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Summer, 1972), pp. xcviii, c.

John Hopkins' "Find Your Way Home" … is a good play—indeed, for the first two of its three acts it is a very good play, and only in the last half hour or so does it begin to falter and break up, not because the playwright lacks invention or stagecraft but because he cannot bear to stultify himself in order to provide a tidy ending. He is an artist and not an actuary, and the lulling serenities of double-entry bookkeeping are not to be applied to the messy hodgepodge or heartbreak. Having pitched his characters headlong into an entanglement from which there can be no quick and orderly withdrawal, Mr. Hopkins must bring his curtain down upon an ambiquity; it is an ambiguity "just like real life," as some kindly soul is bound to say in these circumstances, but real life and a work of art have very little to do with each other, and we are right to feel that the playwright has failed us, however honorably. Impertinent and schoolmasterly though it may sound, I wish Mr. Hopkins to continue working on his play.

The plot of "Find Your Way Home" can be summarized as a triangle with trapezoidal tendencies….

The title of the play hints that at some point in its composition Mr. Hopkins may have intended the husband to return to his family; given the character as now written, this would be not only implausible but a ludicrous repetition of an action that has already taken place before the play begins. Myself, I believe the play can end well only with the death of one or the other of the lovers; maybe it is just as well that it is Mr. Hopkins' play and not mine.

Brendan Gill, "Views of Home," in The New Yorker, January 14, 1974, p. 58.

Find Your Way Home is the most outspoken and honest play about homosexuality that has ever appeared on Broadway. Yet nothing is said or done onstage in order to titillate an audience of either gays or straights. British Playwright Hopkins makes three serious points and makes them well. The first of these affirms what Diana Trilling has written of D. H. Lawrence: "The sexuality which Lawrence celebrated was mating. What the present generation means by love-making is coupling." Alan and Julian make love in Lawrence's sense. Secondly, Hopkins shows how heavily attitudes toward homosexuality are socially conditioned. If Alan were leaving his wife for another woman, she would be dismayed but resigned. It is the social stigma and the half-sniggering, half-pitying gossip of friends and acquaintances that disturb her so deeply.

Hopkins' third point—and it is the lesson of so great a writer as Proust—is that love is indivisible. Whatever its form of expression, the essence of love never differs. Hopkins never makes any of these points as didactic arguments. They are implicit in his play and made explicit by a fine cast.

T. E. Kalem, "Odd Man In," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), January 14, 1974, p. 44.

John Hopkins is fully aware of the dramatic potential in his love triangle [in "Find Your Way Home"], but he kills it off quite neatly through the play-writing sin of excess. The play's language is not only the most sexually graphic Broadway has ever heard, but is often too strong for these characters, who are overdrawn in more serious ways. It is not enough for the boy lover to be vulnerable and sensitive…. But Hopkins makes him a neurotic of morbidly delicate sensibility, prone to hysteric behavior that robs his character of its reality.

Marilyn Stasio, in Cue (copyright © Cue Publications, Inc., 1974), January 14, 1974, p. 17.

If you believe, as some gay activists do, that homosexuals and heterosexuals are two utterly different breeds of people, that a gay soap opera is an insult, because homosexual reality can only be degraded by being forced into the rigidly hetero conventions the concept "soap opera" implies. If on the other hand you believe, along with civil libertarians and a different set of gay activists, that homosexuals are exactly like heterosexuals, except in terms of the gender they prefer to have sex with, then a gay soap opera is probably a double insult, because it means somebody is taking advantage of and sensationalizing a natural part of human life, and attaching an unhealthy stigma to its practitioners; rather like racism. If on a third vestigial hand you believe, in company with Joseph Epstein and a few other escapees from the Dark Ages, that homosexuals are twisted things accursed by God, then you certainly aren't going to enjoy a soaper which presents homosexuals as sympathetic characters entitled to a chance at happiness like everybody else.

Since I can't imagine the existence of any attitude towards homosexuality other than these three, the first thing that puzzles me about "Find Your Way Home" is why the hell John Hopkins bothered to write it; by putting the wrong form and subject together, he's stacked the cards against himself on all fronts, and written a play that nobody can possibly enjoy. I suppose, of course, there are still people who don't believe homosexuality exists—that's a possible fourth attitude—but, unless they enjoy being alternately offended and bored, I doubt that they're going to care much for it either. Maybe they can watch it as a sort of horror movie—a physiological "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

I'm assuming in all this that Hopkins knows he's writing soap opera; he writes for British television, and the other plays of his I've read are in the same genre of flat-spoken middle-class anguish, enriched by one kinky device per script. On the other hand, you hear rumors that the piece is autobiographical and, while it certainly is an impersonal piece of writing, it's possible that Hopkins knows as little about himself as he seems to know about human sexuality, dramatic structure, and the representation of reality on the stage. He writes from deep within the soul of the stuffy-Englishman cliche—an author who hasn't yet been introduced to his own id, let alone to his characters. How can you take seriously a writer who tackles this subject without apparently knowing the difference between promiscuity and prostitution, between active and passive sexual roles, between the Gutenberg—and the television generations?…

If the dialogue weren't so wooden and interminable, and the big entrances and climaxes so awkwardly set up and telegraphed, it would be an ideal play for classes in Victorian Drama.

Michael Feingold, "Some soap, some hope," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © 1974 by The Village Voice, Inc.), January 17, 1974, p. 62.

I can't think of a living playwright so relentless about pursuing a point, so unafraid of repeating himself or lapsing into melodrama, so apt to take dramatic overkill into the megadeath bracket….

I'm not exactly claiming Hopkins a place in the theatrical histories as the O'Neill of the garden gnomes; but I do think he has some of the same vices, some of the same virtues and, as with O'Neill, it is often hard to separate one from the other. He builds some pretty rugged and unwieldy dramatic structures, so to speak, but the foundation is usually sound. He has observed, thought, and felt. The relentlessness, the excess is his way of expressing his involvement with his characters, and without it there would be no play. And that, for all one's reservations, would be a pity.

Benedict Nightingale, "Talking to Ourselves," in New Statesman, May 10, 1974, p. 670.

Hopkins plainly feels that his painstaking documentation of the minutiae of suburban life [Next of Kin], his profound discovery that a great many family relationships are less cordial than they may superficially appear and, of course, that ostensibly virtuous citizens can have some fairly grubby sexual secrets are sufficiently fascinating in themselves to allow him to dispense with the tedious business of tying up the odd loose end.

I daresay you have news for him….

Kenneth Hurren, "Kenneth Hurren On Questions Without Answers," in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), May 11, 1974, p. 579.