Michael Hastings: Writer best known for 'Tom and Viv'


Precocious success can prove a mixed blessing in the theatre. Michael Hastings had three playsproduced in London before his 20th birthday, but with the exceptions of his exuberant Gloo Joo (1977) and Tom and Viv (1984),a moving scrutiny of TS Eliot's troubled first marriage, too much of his later career – never predictable and always intriguing – was often unfairly scarred by ill luck.

The London-born Hastings had a colourful early life, educated by his forceful mother in her Brixton council flat and, less inspiringly, at various south London schools. He began an apprenticeship to a tailor at the age of 15, juggling work with his sporting ambitions (he was a keen boy boxer and runner), although even then he had a voracious love of literature and the theatre; much of his meagre wages went on London theatre tickets, walking home afterwards to south London.

He was 17 when the enterprising "off-West End" New Lindsey Theatre produced Don't Destroy Me (1956), which drew heavily on his apprenticeship training. It was set in a tailor's shop, his sinewy dialogue yoked to a tender picture of an adolescent boy and girl struggling to break free from a suffocating environment; it marked him as a rising talent. George Devine, then just getting underway with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, responded instinctively to Hastings' vibrant commitment, taking him on as a raw actor-writer and paying him (just) a living wage. Hastings would joint the queue for wages each Friday, mixing with other then-unknowns such as John Osborne alongside farouche West End veterans like Esme Percy – all meat and drink to a stagestruck teenager.

The Court's early programming included a Sunday-night performance without décor of Yes and After (1956), Hastings' controversial play tracing the catatonic effects of rape on a vulnerable girl. Kenneth Tynan was one of several critics to praise the piece.

In The World's Baby (1958), Hastings took on a much broader canvas for his panoramic portrait of a young woman and her son, moving from the Spanish Civil War to Suez. Economics allowed, again, only for a Court Sunday-night showing; both the play and the central portrait of Anna were praised but a subsequent production never crystallised and it remains a kind of "lost play".

Hampstead Theatre programmed Hastings' Lee Harvey Oswald (1966), a sober, unsensational study of the assassin's mind. He returned to Sloane Square with For the West (1977), a tough piece laced with dark comedy focused on the expulsion of Indians from the gruesome regime of Amin's Uganda. Back at Hampstead he had a happy time with Gloo Joo (1977); this punchy, ebullient comedy centred round the ruses of a West Indian dodging deportation enjoyed further success in the West End (Criterion), winning the Evening Standard Best Comedy award.

With Full Frontal at the Royal Court (1979) Hastings pulled few punches – several reviews labelled it "Swiftian" – in a powerful monologue from a young Nigerian betrayed by his friends and driven into an application to join an extremist party of the right. Another Royal Court success came with Tom and Viv (1984), his exploration of the emotional pressure chamber of Eliot's marriage to the tragic Vivienne Haigh-Wood (mesmerisingly played by Tom Wilkison and Julie Covington). The play's understat ed humanity was reinforced in its 2007 revival at the Almeida.

Jonathan Miller collaborated happily with Hastings on the dramatist's version of Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Emperor (Royal Court, 1987), mining recurrent themes of imperialism and the corruption of power. But changing regimes at the Court seemed less hospitable to Hastings. He was invited to work on Ariel Dorfmann's own basic translation of his Death and the Maiden (1991) but he felt that his contribution became decidedly downplayed.

It appeared that the Royal Shakespeare Company might provide a congenial new Hastings haven. The company produced A Dream of People (1990), featuring a striking early Toby Stephens performance in the Jean Renoir-ish country house comedy, and his final major play was an RSC commission. However, Calico became time-consumingly snarled up in the company's planning; it was finally dropped, then taken up for an ill-starred West End production (Duke of York's, 2005). An impressive young Romola Garai as James Joyce's troubled daughter was one of the few redeeming features in a misbegotten, vapid commercial flop.

Ill-fortune also marked some of Hastings' other work. For television he was commissioned by Channel 4 and came up with some of his best work in the two-part Soho, vividly vernacular with a rich range of characters. It was greenlit one Friday, but a change of regime saw its cancellation. It is hardly surprising then, that as script editor Hastings was so crucial with Simon Curtis to the BBC's Performance series (1990-91). Championing work overlooked or jinxed, it included treats such as Les Dawson's sausage-chomping performance in drag as the matriarch in Nona (Hastings' version of Roberto Cossa's original) and Absolute Hell, a notorious 1947 flop later later reclaimed by the Orange Tree Theatre prior to its National Theatre revival with much of the television cast, led by Judy Dench.

Hastings' appetite for work never diminished. For the cinema he provided the screenplay for one of Michael Winner's better films in a kind of "prequel" to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw in The Night Comers (with Marlon Brando), reinforcing his appreciation of James with a fine BBC television adaptation of The Americans with Diana Rigg. On radio he provided a string of outstanding adaptations, from The Leopard to Tender is the Night and, more recently, a five-part adaptation of Irene Nemirovsky's Life of Chekhov.

A gifted biographer with a special sympathy for lives lived beyond conventional boundaries, Hastings wrote an absorbing study of Rupert Brooke in The Handsomest Young Man in England (1967) and an equally distinctive voyage round that most intrepid of explorers, Richard Burton in Burton: A Biography (1978) – an ideal subject for an always questing imagination.

Michael Gerald Hastings, writer: born London 2 September 1938; married firstly (one daughter and two sons), 1975 Victoria Hardie; died 19 November 2011.

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice