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Howard Brenton Biography

(1942– ), Brassneck, Pravda, Christie Dances, Hitler Dances, Magnificence, The Churchill Play, Weapons of Happiness, Epsom Downs

british britain plays play

British dramatist, born in Portsmouth, the son of a policeman, educated at Cambridge University. After working as a stage manager at various repertory companies, he joined Portable Theatre, one of whose founders was David Hare, with whom he was eventually to write a play about municipal corruption, Brassneck (1973), and Pravda (1986), a Jonsonian comedy about British journalism and a predatory press baron. The plays which first brought him to notice in his own right, however, were two surreal one-act works, Christie Dances (1969) and Hitler Dances (1972). Then came numerous plays more openly and naturalistically dealing with Britain and British politics from a radical stance: Magnificence (1973), about a squatter who becomes a terrorist after a bailiff's violence causes his wife to miscarry; The Churchill Play (1973), set in the near future, inside a prison camp for British dissidents; Weapons of Happiness (1976), about the unsuccessful occupation of a factory; a lively picture of Derby Day, Epsom Downs (1977); and The Romans in Britain, which caused great controversy when the National Theatre staged it in 1980, though less because of the parallels it drew between Caesar's invasion of Britain and the British army's presence in Ulster than because of one particular scene, involving the homosexual rape of a druid. Moscow Gold (1990), a theatrical tribute to President Gorbachev written in collaboration with Tariq Ali, was followed by another play derived from the recent upheavals in the former Soviet bloc, this time written by Brenton alone: Berlin Bertie (1992), in which an East German secret policeman and a woman whose husband has been exposed as a Stasi agent meet again in a run-down section of London. As with Hare, Brenton's plays tend towards the epic, and often move between locations in sudden, cinematic jumps. He published Hot Irons, a collection of essays and extracts from his diaries, in 1995.

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