Arst: Bio-drama greats: from Henry VI to Anita Harris

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The Independent Culture
Terry Johnson's Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick contains veiled portraits of Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor. So what's new?

The characters of his earlier play, Insignificance, were labelled The Professor, The Actress, The Senator and The Ballplayer but were played as Einstein, Monroe, McCarthy and diMaggio. I blame Shakespeare. Viewing his output is like watching a dramatised version of the National Portrait Gallery.

Famous figures popped up in plays for the next 350 years but the genre resurfaced with a vengeance in the second Elizabethan age. Stoppard perked up Travesties with Tristan Tzara and James Joyce, and the explorer Isabella Bird was among the women in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. Pam Gems's plays suggest that her inspiration comes from a biographical dictionary.

Some playwrights are oddly addicted to composers. Gesualdo and Peter Warlock starred in David Pownall's Music to Murder By. He then brought Prokofiev and Shostakovich together with Stalin for Master Class, not to be confused with Terrence McNally's play of that name which starred Maria Callas. Peter Shaffer cast Mozart and Salieri in Amadeus.

Then there are the musicals. Everyone from the royal family - I and Albert - to the Holy family - Jesus Christ Superstar - and the Von Trapp family, has been immortalised in song alongside such unlikely eponymous heroes as Jean Seberg and Martin Luther King. And if there's anyone who saw Anita Harris giving her Florence Nightingale, rush me details.