When the stage director Max Stafford-Clark won a special London Evening Standard award late last year he said, in an interview with the theatre critic Nicholas de Jongh, that neither Edward Bond nor Arnold Wesker had been able to "move on" because "they're self-taught and did not go to university, where you learn to collaborate. Bond can't submit his work to other people's intervention."
It must be one of the crassest utterances made in a profession known for its crass utterances. I've been simmering over it ever since. One can live with crassness, despairing though encounters with it are; less endurable is the sinister aspect of the utterance. Let's ignore the silliness of the suggestion that university is where you learn to collaborate and that the self-taught are somehow lacking. "Oxbridge unites against the intruders" is what that sounds like. Perhaps this is why my latest plays have not been allowed in - I'm not a member of the University Club. Sinister.
Two phrases haunt me. "Move on" and "other people's intervention". "Move on" can mean one of two things: to develop as a playwright, or to advance in one's career up the ladder of success. Edward is not one of the English theatre establishment's favourite sons just now but I can't believe - given his intelligence, talent, integrity, courage and humour - that he hasn't developed as a playwright. I can speak only for myself. Not a year since I began writing in 1956 has passed without me writing something - mostly plays, 42 to date, and eight volumes of prose, fiction and non-fiction. Max seems not to understand that every time I write a play I've "moved on".
Or is he linking that sinister image "other people's intervention" with "moving on"? Put another way (and delivered with a political commissariat's tone of voice), "unless you write what we tell you to write we will not perform your work". The word "intervention" makes my hair stand on end. Again, two possible meanings: the playwright must submit to the director's insistent changes of text and meaning, or else. Or did Max misuse the word, and really mean not "intervention" but "suggestion"? Bond (and presumably Wesker?) can't submit his work to other people's suggestions.
Again, I can't speak for Edward, but my own work, from titles to content, is full of other people's suggestions - actors, directors, designers, friends, even relatives have left their mark. Sometimes, imagining myself to be mistaken because, as Richard Eyre recently said when speaking of David Hare, "all dramatists feel that they are always clinging to the cliff face or walking along the edge of a tightrope juggling plates", I've listened to the wrong suggestions from directors, and the plays have failed.
There are suggestions and suggestions. It is in my contract that I must be permitted to attend daily rehearsals, not because I want to guard every word but, on the contrary, so that I can hear what directors and actors say about text and structure which, in rehearsal, inevitably shapes up differently. Rehearsals become the setting for writing the final draft. As I've developed and gained experience, there is less and less that needs to be changed, but I'm always open to the possibility (unlike the director who believes that collaboration is unilateral - God forbid the writer should want to change anything in the director's production). What I am not open to - and this is why the phrase "other people's intervention" sounds so sinister - are suggestions for changing the play's intention and meaning.
Artists should not be called upon to compromise their spirit, imagination or understanding of the human condition. The individual artist's vision is a hope for the future, daring to voice the unmentionable. It should not be the mouthpiece of a group or open to "other people's intervention".
A play of mine, The Journalists, was contracted by the RSC to open in 1972 but was sabotaged by that season's company of actors "intervening" and refusing to perform the play. No invitation to "collaborate" and be open to suggestions, just a blanket rejection by the actors, supported by the artistic director, Trevor Nunn. Why? I think it was because the company was in the sway of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, comrades not known for their subtlety of thought, and I had committed the politically incorrect crime of creating Tory ministers who were intelligent rather than caricatures. In this case, "other people's intervention" became censorship. Max's statement doesn't merely frighten, it angers me.
I keep a diary, almost daily. It is full of domestic details, private fears, professional hopes and explorations. It is also a chart of the recent and current productions of my plays around the world - Sweden, Italy, Japan, Romania, Switzerland, France, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Hungary, Eire and the Czech Republic, as well as around the UK. I list these countries partly as a boast, and partly to counteract the depressing calumny projected by Max Stafford-Clark that I have not moved on. I'm not quite sure what I've done to upset the British theatre mafia. It can't be, as I've shown, that I don't submit to other people's suggestions (intervention).
Writing articles like this, perhaps?
Arnold Wesker has recently completed commissions for three new plays and an opera libretto