No playwright of the 1970s wrote more passionately on politics and revolution than Trevor Griffiths. But both Occupations, about Gramsci, and The Party, on the media’s channelling of the Paris événements (which saw Laurence Olivier’s final stage appearance, as a Glaswegian Trotskyite) were eclipsed by Comedians in 1975.
First directed by Richard Eyre at the Nottingham Playhouse, this study of a working-class night school for clowns run by a fading old pro made Jonathan Pryce a star, launched Eyre’s career in London and was performed all over the world. It questions the nature of laughter and what dark secrets within us trigger those mirthful responses to dangerous subjects like sex, ethnic minorities and physical disability.
Sean Holmes, the impressive new director of the Lyric Hammersmith, revives the Comedians in the wake of political correctness, celebrity culture, and the transformation of light entertainment on television into a long-running amateur talent show. A new generation of theatre-goers should relish one of the best plays of a previous era. Former game show host Matthew Kelly—whose revived stage career in Albee and Shakespeare has been one of the year’s highlights—takes the role of the gnarled old comic, with David Dawson, a recent Nicholas Nickleby on stage, in the Pryce skinhead role.