Tony Harrison the Playwright
WHENEVER the litany of names is invoked to justify an assertion of the vigour of post-war playwrighting in Britain, there is one name that is consistently absent, and it is the one name that seems to me to justify the claim that there is an unbroken tradition in the British theatre going back to the fifteenth century.
The missing name, of course, is Tony Harrison, who is as prolific a writer for the theatre as, say, his contemporary and fellow native of Leeds, Alan Bennett. You could make comparisons between the two writers, and they would not be invidious ones. Both write about sex, class, and death, even if Alan's mordant wit provides an opaque filter which makes these themes less conspicuous than Tony's. They share a common contempt for the merely fashionable, and they are thoroughly demotic -- both making idiosyncratic films for television. Popular without being populist, they are thoroughly accessible, and thoroughly and unapologetically elitist -- if that means believing in the absolute values of good and bad art and refusing to talk down to people from the class you were born into.
Leaving aside Alan's drollery and Tony's melancholy, and Alan's concerns with unexpressed longings and Tony's for unexpressed contradictions, what divides the two writers is that one writes in prose, the other in verse. Poet and playwright are usually seen as mutually opposed roles -- the poet a solitary figure answerable to no one but his own talent and conscience, the playwright a collaborator, colluding in the pragmatism and expediency of production, and the approval of the audience. This is one of the many paradoxes that Tony embraces in his work, his life, and his background.
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Publication information: Book title: Tony Harrison:Loiner. Contributors: Sandie Byrne - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University. Place of publication: Oxford, England. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 43.