(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/5,)
The collapse of the 1968 protests left this incisive political dramatist searching for answers – and his response delved brilliantly into the dilemmas of revolution
Aside from Comedians (1975), the work of Trevor Griffiths is shockingly neglected. Yet he is one of the most questioning, intelligent political dramatists Britain has ever produced. Why does no one revive The Party (1973) which marked Olivier’s farewell to the stage? Why does the BBC, as we celebrate the NHS, not reshow Griffiths’ TV play about Aneurin Bevan, Food for Ravens (1997)? Above all – assuming theatre ever returns to something like normality – how about re-examining Occupations, which is a genuine modern classic?
First seen at the Manchester Stables in 1970, Occupations was given a superb Buzz Goodbody production, starring Patrick Stewart and Ben Kingsley, the following year by the RSC. Like a lot of Griffiths’ early work, the play was a response to the failure of the 1968 revolution in France. But, rather than deal directly with recent events, Griffiths finds what he calls a “historical correlative” in the abortive socialist uprising in Italy in 1920. We see Christo Kabak, a Bulgarian communist and representative of the Third International, arriving in Turin to await, and even influence, political events.