(Lanre Bakare’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/8; Photo: Jimmy Akingbola and Simon Harrison in a production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at Jermyn Street theatre in 2008. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)
Playwright mulls mass appeal of Osborne, who is being honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque
British theatre must take inspiration from John Osborne and make itself essential to a mass audience if it is to thrive in a post-Covid world, according to David Hare, who says the artform is in need of a “revolution”.
Osborne is being honoured with a blue plaque from English Heritage, which will be placed at 53 Caithness Road in Hammersmith, west London, where he wrote his seminal play Look Back in Anger, which was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre 65 years ago on Saturday.
Hare, who was heavily influenced by Osborne’s acerbic brand of social realism, said British theatre once again needed to find voices that reached beyond its usual audience, as Osborne did.
“Two plays – Look Back in Anger and [Shelagh Delaney’s] A Taste of Honey – are words that the whole country knew about … I don’t know of a play in the 21st century that people know about in the same way,” he said.
“[Jez Butterworth’s] Jerusalem is probably the most successful play of the 21st century, but I doubt if anyone who isn’t a theatre hobbyist has heard of it.”
In August, Hare’s play Beat the Devil opened at the Bridge Theatre and detailed his experience with Covid-19, during which he lost 8kg in a week before recovering.
Hare says the pandemic has provided British theatre with an opportunity to refocus and the honouring of Osborne – whom he describes as writing in a “hot, warm, passionate voice that was quite un-English” – could not be better timed.
“I think it’s very timely because we are, as it were, inevitably about to reinvent the British theatre,” he said. “It’s very important to remember that all revolutions are created by writers, and John Osborne invented the modern play, and it hasn’t really been superseded.”
Hare said Osborne’s influence was such that established authors such as Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing began writing plays because they could see what impact a play could have. “Do I think that’s happening at the moment? No, it hasn’t happened in the British theatre for a very long time,” he said.
“Certainly, it’s very hard to think of playwrights under 50 who can fill theatres. And the danger is that we become feebler and feebler because we’re talking only to ourselves.”