An article in the Guardian brings up a question I raised years ago at an ART Forum - why can't conservatives write good plays anymore? The author of the article, Jay Rayner, points out that even though the British government has moved left of center, no playwrights have taken on the new liberal consensus. Indeed:
Last year Nick Hytner, artistic director of the Royal National Theatre, mused during a radio interview that he seemed unable to find a 'mischievous right-wing play'.
Of course in America, the problem is a little different; although there's clearly an aggressive, lefty consensus on the theatrical fringe, the mainstream clings to apolitical statements, and our ruling elite is still overwhelmingly conservative (if undergoing an obvious crack-up). Perhaps our society is so polarized that its gatekeepers fear any political edge could send us - well, over the edge. Or perhaps, as some conservatives would have us believe, voices on the right are suppressed by a leftist cultural consensus.
Still, if that were true, you'd think there'd be some conservative play that would have surfaced by now as a cause célèbre - or at least something as edgy as, say, the movie Citizen Ruth (which took plenty of shots at the pro-choice crowd). Instead, as Rayner points out:
What strikes me most, during the discussions I have, is an almost total failure of imagination when it comes to working out what a play from the right might actually look like. We none of us have any problem naming overtly left-wing plays or their playwrights: names like David Edgar, Caryl Churchill, Trevor Griffiths and David Hare fall into conversation with ease. By contrast, even defining an overtly right-wing play, let alone identifying one, is apparently impossible.
Things weren't always this way; there were once plenty of "well-made" plays in evidence from playwrights like Noël Coward (yes, politically he's conservative), J.M. Barrie, and Terence Rattigan, that critiqued yet celebrated the status quo. (Even Shakespeare could fit beneath this umbrella, btw.) And there's certainly enough salient subject matter today to engage a right-wing, or at least free-thinking, dramatist, from the ironies of leftist sympathy with Islam to the contradictions of the diversity police.
So I remain convinced that this counts as a major failure of the right, not the left. After all, one has to wonder at a political "movement" that seems to have no coherent cultural component - indeed, that seems only interested in polemic, and often appears hostile to culture outside the norms of nostalgia. Of course perhaps the problem lies coiled in the very nature of the drama - as noted in the following quote from Sir Peter Hall:
'I don't believe drama is necessarily about conflict, but it is always about confrontation leading to change,' [Hall] says. 'If you write a play saying let nothing change, you could be celebrating the right, but it would make for poor drama.'