Trevor Griffiths Harold Clurman - Essay

Harold Clurman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Trevor Griffiths's Comedians … is a distinctly worthwhile play, but there are some difficulties in the way of its full appreciation. The first arises from the American audience's unfamiliarity with its background. The second is a diffusion—perhaps more apparent than real—in the play's composition. Though Comedians is an altogether appropriate title, it tends to disorient the spectators because it sets up an expectation of continuous hilarity. The play is for the most part quite funny, but "fun" is not its point….

There is a specifically British base to [Comedians]. Class differences and distinctions are crucial to every phase of English life…. The open battle of the classes in England began only lately on anything like a grand scale. The English drama of the past twenty years provides evidence of this. Comedians is a new and highly engaging variation on a theme that more and more preoccupies English society.

Griffiths's play is obliquely a correction, almost a rebuke, to much of recent English writing for the theatre. Too often, the playwright implies, it expresses mere resentment, disgust, cynicism, hopelessness. Such attitudes are not enough: they will not serve….

The technical difficulty in the play is its seeming lack of continuity of intention from the first two acts to the transition of the last. What begins as a series of racy characterizations and gutter jokes ends in a sober, very nearly impassioned discussion of issues of which we are only faintly aware and scarcely involved. (p. 670)

Harold Clurman, in The Nation (copyright 1976 The Nation Associates), December 18, 1976.