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To believe in a pretence

If it weren’t for his bald pate, David Edgar would do very well as one of the heroes in his plays. But then, as Edgar recalled, acting wasn’t his forte.

David is the fourth generation theatre worker in a family that made theatre its living. The first play that he saw was Beauty and the Beast and “on my first vision of the beast I shouted and screamed so much that I was taken backstage to shake hands with the Beast,” said Edgar. Next year the Tinderbox Legend had the same effect on him. “I realised then that I wanted to do nothing else but help in making this pretence.”

The 52-year-old playwright and teacher of theatre was in town on Friday to talk about political theatre in the UK. He was in conversation with theatreperson Kaushik Sen at the British Council.

Edgar, known for plays with a strong political message, has written more than 60 plays for stage, radio and television. He also founded the University of Birmingham’s MA in Playwriting Studies programme in 1989.

He was 20 when he witnessed the cataclysmic events of 1968, the great student uprising and the Vietnam War, which made him decide that “I wanted to be a playwright of a certain kind, the kind of Bertolt Brecht.” Traditional theatre, he said, had continued over decades. “We wanted to take theatre to the common people, radical theatre developed in the streets,” said Edgar.

His greatest success came from the production of the Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby, which he adapted into an eight-hour play over two productions for RSC.

Soon Edgar returned to writing plays, which he would as a child. His play Black Tulips (2009) is on Afghanistan. He waits eagerly for WikiLeaks that will provide “a lot of material” for “explosive plays”.

He spoke about contemporary theatre in the UK. “During the 80s, there was a wave of young women dramatists who burst into the scene. They raised gender issues, which was also taken up by a number of Asian origin writers writing about racial issues in a major way,” said Edgar. “Post-9/11 and the London bombings, theatre is raising questions about the war on terror. People are no longer afraid to talk about the war on terror precisely because it has failed.”

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