What Shall We Watch In 2070?
Country Life UK|October 16, 2019
Which playwrights’ works will survive the test of time and have audiences flocking 50 years from now?
Michael Billington

Isn't it wonderful to see Peter Nichols’s play back on stage?’ said the famous actress sitting next to me at the first night of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at the Trafalgar Studios, London SW1. I agreed with her, it was wonderful. My new-found friend went on to say that Nichols’s plays would long outlast those of his contem-poraries because they were so entertaining.

We were just starting to debate the issue when Toby Stephens bounded on stage and, in the guise of a schoolteacher, told the audience ‘That’s enough!’ and the play was under way.

I should say that I am a great admirer of Nichols, who died last month, and would love to see more of his work revived. Joe Egg, as Simon Evans’s current production proves, is a play as powerful now as it was when it was first seen in 1967. How, it asks, do parents cope with the daily difficulties of bringing up a disabled child? The answer is with resilience and a defensive humour, but there are other Nichols plays that deserve a second look.

The National Health—long before Alan Bennett’s Allelujah! —brilliantly used a hospital ward as a metaphor for society. Passion Play clinically examined the consequences of adultery and I have great fondness for Poppy, which satirised British Imperialism through the popular form of a pantomime.

Nichols was a terrific writer whose work should be more widely seen, but it was the assertion that he will still be performed in 50 years’ time when others are forgotten that set my mind racing. ‘What about Harold Pinter?’ I asked my actress neighbour.

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