David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Online
Should you fancy writing a play and calling it The Mousetrap, Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire or even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, no one, not even the literary agents who work so ceaselessly on behalf of their illustrious (dead) clients, can stop you. Why? Because there is no copyright on titles. This accounts for Pentecost which, in addition to being the feast in celebration of the visitation of the Holy Spirit among the Apostles in the upper room, was the much-praised play by David Edgar. Ah yes, but six years earlier it was also the penultimate work by the late Stewart Parker.

The fact that Parker's first play, Spokesong, (1977) picked up awards for Best Play and Best Musical from such unlikely bedfellows as the Jewish Chronicle and Time Out gives you an idea of the strength of his style and content, not to mention the breadth of its appeal. Musicals aren't renowned for their dramaturgical rigour, but Parker wasn't writing singing spectacle, he was using music for its dramatic mileage, something he had in common with Howard Rock Follies Schuman. "People began sending me cuttings of Stewart's music column in the Irish Times. It had all the qualities which made him such a good playwright: a love of language, of history, comedy, character and pop music. For any of us who were his friends, it is very difficult to separate his qualities as a writer from those that made him a wonderful companion. He's also part of the great Irish tradition of exploring the ghosts of history, but with a freewheeling sense of invention." Northern Star (1984) is a tour de force, looking at history through the lives of its greatest writers, from Sheridan to Beckett via James Joyce. Like all his best work, Schuman sees the more intimate Pentecost (below), as "never ponderous" and "energised by wit and compassion". The latest revival is in safe hands: it is directed by Lynne Parker, who just happens to be his niece.

`Pentecost' is at the Donmar Warehouse, London (0171-369 1732)

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