Oxbridge hedonists and jobless rioters – sound familiar?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Doug Lucie says his 1980s play about privilege and the disaffected still rings true

I wrote the play Hard Feelings – which will be revived tonight by Defibrillator Theatre at the Finborough – in early 1982, in the aftermath of the previous year's riots which had torn a great hole in the national fabric and shaken the government to act. The Scarman Report was commissioned, Sus laws were repealed, PACE was introduced and the impact of mass unemployment was assessed.

Like many other writers at the time, I felt a powerful urge to explore the causes of these violent and shocking riots, but I didn't want to approach the subject in a dry, analytical way – in any case, the causes were pretty obvious to most people: the government's economic policies had resulted in a huge increase in unemployment, and the improvements in social mobility most of us had taken for granted in the post-war period were being rolled back, just as inequality was once again on the rise.

Meanwhile, with the activities of the National Front throughout the preceding decade stoking racial tensions, and inner-city deprivation seemingly becoming an accepted fact of life, something malignant had been incubating for years.

And yet, among the comfortably-off, especially those of my generation, there was a confusing lack of engagement with what was happening, almost as if different sections of society were drifting inexorably apart without even noticing. But it seemed to me that far from not noticing, many people were consciously ignoring the social and political consequences of government policies. By the end of the decade, we saw that the "individualism" being encouraged from 1979 onwards would change the UK, if not for ever, then for the foreseeable future, but at this point we were groping our way through the birth-pangs of this movement which would have such far-reaching historic consequences.

So I opted to write a play about those members of my generation I knew at first-hand – Oxford graduates – and the ones I chose to highlight were the hedonistic, metropolitan free-floaters, for whom life was already mapped out. They would land the jobs people of their class and education were guaranteed, and they knew they were pretty much immune to the economic and social horrors being visited on the less privileged. When reality loomed, they simply looked the other way, while their euphoria/hangover lifestyle reflected the realities of boom and bust economics.

Is Hard Feelings still relevant today? I believe so. It hasn't been performed in London for nearly 25 years but the sort of spiteful, inexplicable cruelty of some of the characters is visible every day now on social media; the squeezed middle is still able to look the other way when it suits them, as when the vulnerable or disabled are stigmatised and punished; unemployment is worse now than at any time since that first great assault on manufacturing more than 30 years ago; social mobility is a thing of the past; inequality is now fully institutionalised; racial tensions are still being exacerbated by the far-right; the state still bristles, armed to the teeth against the terrorist threat and seeks to curtail civil liberties. Most of all, though, we seem to be a nation desperately trying to ignore the reality that the forces that brought about the desperation of the early 1980s now have us firmly by the throat and won't stop squeezing any time soon.

Despite the heavy nature of this interpretation of the situation, Hard Feelings is still best described as a comedy – a serious one – that tries to expose human folly through laughter. As a playwright I've always aimed to engage the audience's brain and stir its heart at the same time, and I hope that 30 years after its premiere, this play still does that.

'Hard Feelings' opens at the Finborough Theatre, London SW10 (0844 847 1652; finboroughtheatre.co.uk) from tonight

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk