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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Monday 16th July 2007

Where Are All the Rightwing Playwrights?

For five years I worked as the drama critic of The Spectator and one of my biggest disappointments was the dearth of new plays by anyone remotely rightwing. True, Neil LaBute has a very jaundiced view of humanity -- and such skepticism is certainly at the heart of traditional conservatism -- but his remit rarely extends beyond sexual politics. Why haven't Bono, Geldoff and Curtis been mercilessly skewered by a vicious satirist? Why hasn't there been a single play in defence of the War on Terror?

I quickly discovered that the obvious explanation -- namely, that the theatricial establishment is uniformly leftwing -- is wrong. In fact, most artistic directors of Britain's big theatres would like nothing more than to put on a genuinely rightwing play -- if only so they can appear on the Today Programme to defend their "bold" choices. The problem is, they aren't sent any. It may please those on the right to imagine that there are hundreds of "blacklisted" conservative playwrights out there, but the truth is that there are almost none.

It was with high hopes, therefore, that I went to see The Pain and the Itch, a new play by Bruce Norris at the Royal Court. Billed as a no-holds-barred send-up of the liberal intelligentsia, it is both a critical and commercial success -- and a huge feather in the cap of Dominic Cooke, the Court's newly-appointed artistic director. Admittedly, the limousine liberals it supposedly bashes are of the American variety, but still. Better one rightwing play than none at all. I was eager to be present at the dawning of a new theatrical era in which contemporary plays reflect a broad diversity of political opinion and not just different shades of liberalism.

Alas, The Pain and the Itch isn't really a rightwing play at all. It only has one point to make at the expense of its characters and that is that they don't practice what they preach. They're hypocrites, in other words, but that hardly constitutes an attack on their political point of view. Norris isn't criticising his characters' values, only their failure to act on them. If anything, he's complaining that they aren't leftwing enough. Metropolitan theatregoers may pat themselves on the back for being broadminded enough to laugh at The Pain and the Itch, but in fact it poses no challenge to their political beliefs at all.

It looks as though I'll have to wait a little while longer for the emergence of a genuinely conservative playwright.

Independent on Sunday, 15th July, 2007

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