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Mike Leigh Biography

(1943– ), Bleak Moments, Babies Grow Old, Abigail's Party, nouveau-riche, Ecstasy

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

British dramatist, born and educated in Salford, where his father was a doctor, and trained as an actor and a designer in London. He has become known as a pioneer of ‘improvised’ drama: that is, of work that emerges in rehearsal with actors and is then scripted under his or her name by the director. In the theatre, the most successful have been somewhat pessimistic comedies about lonely people. They include Bleak Moments (1970), centring on the empty life of a young woman who lives with her sister, who has Down's syndrome; Babies Grow Old (1974), which among other things shows the despair of a doctor who feels he is ‘prolonging suffering in order to make money for the drug companies’; Abigail's Party (1977), about the loveless pleasures of nouveau-riche people on a London housing estate; the ironically titled Ecstasy (1979), about the woes of bedsit existence; Goose-Pimples (1981), centring on a Saudi Arabian who mistakes a London flat, peopled by xenophobic opportunists, for a brothel; and Greek Tragedy (1990), about expatriate Greeks in Australia. It's a Great Big Shame (1993) was more obviously ambitious, consisting as it did of two parts, one set in nineteenth-century London and involving an unhappy marriage and its violent consequences, the other their equally troubling contemporary counterparts. Leigh's many improvised plays for television include a version of Bleak Moments, Nuts in May (1976), and Home Sweet Home (1982). Notwithstanding the creative participation of many different actors, his work has been marked by a distinctively wry and mordant humour and a sharp eye for telling social detail, as well as sympathy for the mainly frustrated inhabitants of the urban wilderness.

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