(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/4.)
The British theatre is living off its past. Just think of the plays that left a strong impression in 2011: Caryl Churchill's Top Girls (1982), Harold Pinter's Betrayal (1978), Edward Bond's Saved (1965), Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen (1959) and his Chicken Soup With Barley (1958), and Terence Rattigan's Flare Path (1942). Even the one new play that almost everyone enjoyed, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, was a skilful reworking of an 18th-century classic.
I admired Mike Bartlett's 13 at the National and Alan Ayckbourn's Neighbourhood Watch in Scarborough for their ability, in very different ways, to reflect the tenor of the times. Two other old hands, David Hare with South Downs and David Edgar with Written on the Heart, turned in highly accomplished pieces. But, even if there is a vast quantity of new writing today, the quality is variable. I sense that verbatim theatre now occupies the territory once claimed by works of the imagination and that, with such notable exceptions as Bean, Roy Williams and David Eldridge, few dramatists possess a passionate commitment to the theatre.