Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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S
penc er
— A
nglo
-J
ew ish
P
layw r ights
4 3
n turn, does not necessarily make for liberality, but it is a
ituation where Jewishness or Italian-ness or Irish-ness does not
quate “outsideness.”
I t is these qualities, in my view, which give the Anglo-Jewish
riter his unique position, resulting often in overpraise for a
fresh view of life, but also giving him a strange kind of advan­
tage. The combination of detachment and outsideness enables
im to stand back and comment. At the same time he often
brings an unusual colourfulness and passion to his imaginative
world—and nowhere are these qualities so lacking as on the
English stage.
The postwar rise of young, talented Anglo-Jewish writers
has not been quite unique; there have been previous occasions
in the 19th and 20th century when Jewish writers came to
the fore. The new generation, however, has distinct charac­
teristics. They are more educated, less politically and religiously
anarchistic, far more subtle in their depiction of the dilemmas
of Jewish identification in a non-Jewish world; yet they remain
social observers and spiritual outsiders. If they share one strange
quality, it is being overtly unaffected by recent Jewish martyr­
dom in Europe or by the establishment of the State of Israel.
The other unusual feature of the new generation is the high
percentage of playwrights and it is of these I wish to write.
First of all, a word about drama generally in England. It
may sound anachronistic to state that modern British drama
has virtually no traditions. Certainly not in Shakespeare. After
the 16th and 17th centuries, England produced little “world”
drama. The 19th century was a dramatic desert until Pinero
(a Jew) and Wilde (an Irishman) appeared; and they, compared
with such giants as Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, are hardly ele­
vating. The 20th century has seen no English dramatists to
compare with the Irishmen O’Casey, Synge or Shaw; few even
as good as the Scotsman James Bridie, except possible J. B.
Priestley. None with the genius of Brecht or the theatrical inven­
tion of Piradello, Oniouh, Girandoux or Ionesco.
Especially lacking, after Shaw, has been the theatre of social
comment. The rise of the famous “angry young men” as mouth­
pieces of a new social class—or rather a classless group search­
ing for their place in English society—turned out to be a very
hort chapter.
Without overpraising their stature, it is not exaggerating to
state that no recent English dramatist (except Harold Pinter,
to whom I shall refer) has produced work as theatrically com­
petent, or psychologically mature, as Tennessee Williams or
rthur Miller. Certainly in my view no Englishman could have
ritten Edward Allbee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”