The "rude-brood" of new playwrights which emerged in the mid-1990s was meant to shake up theatre and bring in younger audiencesby Stephen Brown / July 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
It was london theatre’s equivalent of the art show Sensation. It was hip to be a playwright again. During 1995 and 1996, several young playwrights from Britain and Ireland premiered plays in London to great acclaim, transferred productions to the West End, were showered with awards and film deals and gathered labels such as “rude-brood” (The Guardian) and “shock-horror dramatists” (Daily Telegraph).
The story took off in January 1995, when Sarah Kane’s Blasted opened at the Royal Court. Patrick Marber’s first play, Dealer’s Choice, followed a month later-although it is really his second play, Closer (May 1997), which earns him his place among the shock troops. Jez Butterworth’s first play, Mojo, a tale of 1950s gangsters, opened in July 1995. March 1996 saw the London premiere of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which won three theatre awards in London and another four after it opened in New York. Three months later, Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower opened at the Bush, paving the way for The Weir, which had a long run in the West End. Finally, in September 1996, Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking unleashed more sex, violence and black humour on to a fully suspecting audience.
These plays marked the arrival of a new generation. They were perhaps written in revolt against the liberal play: a theatre of ideas, populated by intelligent characters, pervaded by a certain calm seriousness. The first half of the decade had been dominated by David Hare’s trilogy about British institutions and plays by Alan Bennett and Tom Stoppard. The year 1995 also saw the opening of Hare’s Skylight, a classically “well-made” play of post-Thatcherite uncertainty.
“New forms,” declares Arkadina in The Seagull, “are just bad manners.” Here were bad-mannered plays in every sense: rough, willing to knock you around, thrill you in new ways. They were aggressively frank about sex and violence. The writing was immodest too: highly subjective and revelling in its virtuosity. But were the “new forms” any good? Part of the hype was derived from the hope that these plays would bring a younger audience to the theatre. They were writers mining new seams-postmodern Hollywood gamesmanship, stand-up comedy, club culture. But do they succeed? Does their brutality simply titillate? Are they as daring as they seem?
McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the first of a trilogy, is set in the grim town of Leenane in Galway.…