1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama

1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama

1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama

1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama


It is said that British Drama was shockingly lifted out of the doldrums by the 'revolutionary' appearance of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court in May 1956. But had the theatre been as ephemeral and effeminate as the Angry Young Men claimed? Was the era of Terence Rattigan and 'Binkie' Beaumont as repressed and closeted as it seems?In this bold and fascinating challenge to the received wisdom of the last forty years of theatrical history, Dan Rebellato uncovers a different story altogether. It is one where Britain's declining Empire and increasing panic over the 'problem' of homosexuality played a crucial role in the construction of an enduring myth of the theatre. By going back to primary sources and rigorously questioning all assumptions, Rebellato has rewritten the history of the Making of Modern British Drama.


‘Come with us, Larry and me, to the National,’ [Tynan] had said to me earlier. ‘And make history.’ ‘Thank you,’ I replied. ‘I’ve already made it.’

(John Osborne, Damn You, England, 155)

By 1956, British theatre was in a terrible state. the West End was dominated by a few philistine theatre managers, cranking out emotionally repressed, middle-class plays, all set in drawing rooms with French windows, as vehicles for stars whose only talent was to wield a cigarette holder and a cocktail glass while wearing a dinner jacket. While war and suffering raged around it, the theatre continued to reflect a tiny segment of society, and ignored the rest. Reluctant Debutantes held Cocktail Parties in Pink Rooms and Confidential Clerks spent Saints Days in Living Rooms at Separate Tables, all of them talking Dry Rot. Post-war hopes for a Poetic Drama revival, boosted by the fashionable success of Fry and Eliot, soon foundered on the plays’ lack of dramatic substance. Led by Kenneth Tynan, theatregoers bayed for a vigorous contemporary theatre, but despaired; where could anything better be found?

Then, on 8 May 1956, came the breakthrough. At the Royal Court, Look Back in Anger, John Osborne’s fiery blast against the establishment burst onto the stage, radicalising British theatre overnight. and who would have thought it would happen at this crumbling little theatre in Sloane Square? in the hands of the English Stage Company with its eccentric council of management? But on 8 May 1956, everything changed. New, youthful audiences flocked to the Royal Court to hear Jimmy Porter express their own hopes and fears. At a stroke, the old well-made dramatists were shown up as stale and cobwebbed, and most of them left to

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