Twenty-five years of the Troubles have produced precious few political plays, and not a single classic drama. I find this extraordinary, particularly when I think of how Sean O'Casey's plays, written in the early years of the IRA, had such insights into the period, the violence, the despair and the tenderness of his Dublin tenement communities.
Northern Ireland should have produced more political drama. But then does any part of the United Kingdom or any schism within it produce political drama any more?
Stephen Daldry, artistic director of the Royal Court, the home of new playwriting, believes so. 'The politically driven writing of the Seventies and Eighties has, unsurprisingly, fallen into abeyance (pace David Hare). In its place has grown an interest in the politics of the individual, the politics of sexuality and gender, a concern with violence and nationalism, mental illness and taboo, innocence and evil, coincidence and the supernatural.'
Well, that's just about everything really, isn't it? Plays about the supernatural, sexuality and the all-embracing 'politics of the individual' are now political theatre. Neither aspiring nor successful playwrights seem to be turned on by politics. At this year's Edinburgh Festival, just about the only political play in the traditional sense was Aeschylus's Oresteia.
Ian Brown, artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, suggests that playwrights have to be passionate about their subject and that we live in a time when nobody feels passionately about politics. At least not politics on the grand scale. People are passionate about local issues, about stopping motorway extensions encroaching on countryside.
There are still radical new playwrights, Brown says, citing the Canadian wunderkind Brad Fraser. Fraser's exploration of a gay seduction of a straight married man, Poor Superman, a Play with Captions, is innovative in form and design; but apart from brief mentions of Calgary, the play is geographically and politically rootless. What are Canadian attitudes to homosexuality and Aids? You're none the wiser after the play.
The one play currently in London that looks at how a political event affected its characters socially and psychologically is Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, set in 1938. New writers must find inspiration in contemporary politics if, once again, the stage is to become a catalyst for political change. Daldry should remember that Jimmy Porter wasn't just angry about his marriage and his relationships. He was angry about Suez. He was angry about England.Reuse content