Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 314

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Howard Brenton and David Hare, like many of the British dramatists after World War II who write on political themes, have been profoundly influenced by the writings of George Orwell. Pravda in many ways responds to the insights of Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” and the play demonstrates, less melodramatically than Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the ways in which a degraded language serves the general interests of those in power.

In this context, Brenton and Hare are accompanied by Trevor Griffiths and David Edgar, other playwrights who also work in avant-garde style in an attempt to radicalize audiences. Most of these writers began in the London fringe theaters (Hare founded and Brenton later joined the Portable Theatre), but Brenton and Hare succeeded more than the others at making inroads into the National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company, ensuring large audiences for their plays. Some critics have wondered whether political playwrights who are subsidized by the government can bite the hand that feeds them; other critics have enjoyed the irony of playwrights who appear to do exactly that.

Despite the similarities in their careers, Brenton and Hare have developed in different ways, and each writer makes a different contribution to Pravda. Naïve, idealistic protagonists appear in many of Brenton’s plays; Andrew May would appear to be a reincarnation of Jack Beaty, a well-meaning socialist who wakes up to find himself a modern-day Macbeth in Thirteenth Night (pr., pb. 1981). Many of Hare’s plays present a knowing woman who cannot take advantage of her knowledge because of her status as a woman. Rebecca Foley in this way recalls heroines from many of Hare’s plays, such as Susan Traherne of Plenty (pr., pb. 1978) or Anna Seaton of Licking Hitler (1978). Despite their stylistic differences, the two have collaborated before, on Brassneck (pr. 1973). Both writers are known for combining political themes with incisive wit.