Playwrights who wrestle with the great dramatic truths

'They bestrode society like lions. They ate coq au vin in trendy French bistros'

It is a terrible shame that those recently who took to the streets in this country, blocking the fuel depots and causing chaos in different ways, did not do so in a truly worthwhile cause. For example, it is a well known fact that Simon Callow is desperate to play Hamlet, yet no theatre impresario will give him the chance. Wouldn't it be wonderful if farmers and fishermen and hauliers united to bring Simon's dream to fruition, rather than demonstrating for simple self-interest?

It is a terrible shame that those recently who took to the streets in this country, blocking the fuel depots and causing chaos in different ways, did not do so in a truly worthwhile cause. For example, it is a well known fact that Simon Callow is desperate to play Hamlet, yet no theatre impresario will give him the chance. Wouldn't it be wonderful if farmers and fishermen and hauliers united to bring Simon's dream to fruition, rather than demonstrating for simple self-interest?

I would certainly be first - or perhaps 19th - in line to see Simon's Hamlet. I have been an avid theatregoer since I was a young art student nearly 30 years ago. Back then, as now, whenever I went to a see a play, though I often couldn't really afford it, I always bought myself a programme, every one of which I have kept. (I have also hung on to every ice-cream tub that I bought in the interval, and plan to eat them any day now.)

I took a look at my collection of programmes recently, and what struck me, looking through the cast lists, was how many people I have seen who have since become famous. For example, I have in front of me a programme from a 1976 play called Funny Peculiar with a young Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite way down the cast list, a 1970s Dusty Hughes play at The Bush whose lead was an unknown Alan Rickman, and a production of Edward Bond's Saved at The Theatre Royal Stratford East starring a young Ann Widdecombe and Muammar Gaddafi, now of course President of Libya. If I'd known I was watching all these famous people I would have paid more attention.

While many of the cast members have become famous, all the playwrights have gone the other way and become unknown. You probably don't remember what it was like, but I bet they do. These playwrights used to bestride society like lions. Fame and money were heaped on them. Several had leather seats in their Citroën 2CVs, and the coq au vin that they ate in the ubiquitous trendy French bistros of the time had double vin and quadruple coq in it. But now they have vanished, these playwrights who were once so proud: where are they now, your Dusty Hughses, your Edward Bonds, your Howard Brentons?

The answer lies, strangely enough, at a meeting of the New Jersey gaming commission in 1994. You see, if you want to stage a sporting event in New Jersey, such as a boxing match or a wrestling bout, then you need to have a large medical staff on site, and medical check-ups and certification for all the combatants, and so on.

These requirements do not apply if you are staging an entertainment event such as a play or concert, (though Celine Dion gigs do have to provide sick bags). Thus when the World Wrestling Federation came to put on their colourful wrestling bouts in New Jersey, they admitted to the commission, in order to save themselves the expense of medical supervision, that their wrestling matches had no competitive element whatsoever, and indeed the result was agreed beforehand and that they were actually scripted!

Now the NJ gaming commission were deeply shocked at this news, and understandably did not believe it (who among us could?) until some of America's leading playwrights came forward to testify that they had in fact written the scripts for many WWF bouts.

David Mamet, for example, testified that he was the author of a classic SmackDown! fight in Cleveland in 1987 between Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura. Sam Shepard told how he wrote all of The Rock's greatest fights, and Arthur Miller (whose recent plays are no longer produced in the US) confessed to the commission that he is on a regular retainer from Stone Cold Steve Austin and also admitted that more recently he wrote the whole scenario whereby Rikishi ran-threw Stone Cold with a car at the Survivors Series last November!

The unemployed British playwrights noting this opportunity were quick to try and move in on this new avenue for live and well-paid theatricals. Unfortunately, however, the British writers seem to be having much the same deleterious effect on US wrestling that they previously had on the British theatre. For instance, a recent Edward Bond-penned bout went on for five hours and involved The Rock wrestling with a baby in a pram that in the end he stoned to death, while an Arnold Wesker-scripted Women's Series Hardcore fight between Lita and Jacqueline had Lita climbing on to a chair in the centre of the ring and making a half-hour speech about the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the birth of British trade unionism, to boos and catcalls from the Detroit audience.

Expect WWF wrestling to collapse any day now and to start pleading for government funds to keep it going.

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