N(orman) F(rederick) Simpson

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N(orman) F(rederick) Simpson 1919–

English dramatist, screenwriter, and novelist.

Simpson's plays fit into a comic tradition exemplified by The Goon Show, a popular British radio program of the 1950s that based its humor in unlikely places and circumstances and whose influence can be seen in the irreverent humor of Monty Python. Simpson has also been heavily influenced by the playwrights linked with the movement known as the Theater of the Absurd. In farces that are founded on the premise that much of life is simply meaningless, Simpson presents realistic settings in which conventional logic is overturned. Yet Simpson's work, like that of Lewis Carroll, offers a strict logic of its own, combining verbal non sequiturs with situations in which the bizarre becomes commonplace.

Simpson's first three plays, A Resounding Tinkle (1957), The Hole (1958), and One Way Pendulum (1959), were very popular among British theater patrons. Typical of his work, One Way Pendulum is set in a suburban middle-class home and begins with a farcical situation which, in keeping with Simpson's peculiar logic, ends in what would normally be judged to be sheer nonsense. The Hole is a satiric portrait of persons clinging fitfully to the forms and structures of a reality that they neither question nor understand. In subsequent plays, Simpson reworked similar themes in the same manner but with less success.

Critical reception to Simpson's work is mixed. While some critics maintain that his satires and farces are based on important social commentary, others find them pointless and insignificant; still others believe that Simpson's plays are intended only to entertain and should therefore be treated as such by critics. Perhaps because Simpson's humor is decidely "British," his work has been received more favorably in England than in the United States. Because most of his plays are entirely unpredictable and not formally structured, audiences seem to view them with a combination of puzzlement and amusement.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed. and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13.)

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Kenneth Tynan