Plays : Two

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Methuen Drama, 1989 - English drama - 399 pages
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Howard Brenton is one of Britain's best-known and most controversial dramatists



The Romans in Britain was the play that brought calls to bring back censorship when it was first staged at the National in 1980. It conjures up "an era that is culturally as well as historically remote which is a notoriously difficult task, but Mr Brenton acheives it with great skill and effect…a very good play indeed." In The Thirteenth Night: "He sets the characters of Shakespeare to find the elements in the British character which could transform an Englishman into a Stalin, and closes in on his creation with an overall wit to match his horror" (The Times). The Genius "is teeming with memorable stage pictures, and bristling with Brenton's very best writing: flinty, impassioned, explosive" (Financial Times).

In Bloody Poetry "Brenton is doing something markedly ambitious in this phantasmagoric play. He is celebrating the idea of the committed artist who seeks to stir and provoke sullen, defeated bourgeois England. At the same time, with clear-eyed honesty, he shows how difficult it is to upset the moral order" (The Guardian). Greenland is "on the one hand a cry of disillusionment with established political forms, on the other it is full of typically lively Brentonesque satire and lampoons…Brenton's message is a welcome antidote to the madness in which we all now seem to be living and a sharp blast against patriarchy as well as other attendant woes" (City Limits).



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About the author (1989)

Howard Brenton trained in the fringe theaters of the late 1960s, which was known for its radical experiments in political consciousness-raising and an absence of theatrical scenery, stage venues, and formally constructed, full-length plays. After leaving Cambridge, he worked with a group in Brighton until the London production of Revenge in 1969 brought him a commission from Portable Theatre, an important touring company founded by two other Cambridge graduates, David Hare and Tony Bicat. For them, Brenton wrote Christie in Love, a stylistically disorienting confrontation of the Rillington Place murderer and the police. Brenton also participated in a seminal collaboration of the early 1970s, Lay-By, and joined Hare in writing a chronicle of British profiteers, Brassneck 1973. In the same year, Magnificence (1973), with its famous nihilistic conclusion-an accidental detonation that kills both a radical terrorist and his innocent victim-found its way to the stage of the Royal Court. Eventually Brenton left the fringe behind and found new scope for his ideas on the stages of the establishment. The National Theatre produced his study of an industrial strike, Weapons of Happiness (1974), and, most notoriously, The Romans in Britain (1980). Violent scenes in this epic of colonialism, which parallels the Roman occupation of Britain to the English presence in Northern Ireland, drew the wrath of citizens' groups, and a lawsuit. More recent subjects include nuclear arms in The Genius (1983), ironically challenging the optimism of Bertolt Brecht in Galileo, which Brenton translated, and the relationship of power and journalism in Pravda (1985), a collaboration with Hare. One of Brenton's more recent works is Diving for Pearls (1989), a political thriller.