Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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4 9
tion,” or “as warnings against being manipulated.” Mr. Hobson
indicates their theatricality when he says “his plays make the
audience wonder what is going to happen next.”
Peter Shaffer shares neither the origins nor obsessions of these
three writers. His childhood influences can be judged as cul­
tured, middle-class, European-Jewish, in contrast to the near
Yiddish-ghetto-English of the others. In his most important play
Five Finger Exercise,
he describes a young German tutor in con­
flict with a middle-class family. His personality and dilemma,
both as a foreigner and a guilt-ridden German, disturb the
balance of the family. One perceptive critic, Mr. J. Lambert,
noted “he is very close to his subject.” The play is gripping and
moving, sensitive to the problems of the outsider and the family
—both Jewish themes. Whilst written in impeccable English, it
could never have been written by a native. The manner in
which the family discuss their problems is impossible in terms
of the English character and the English language. For that
reason the translation to an American setting for the film version
appeared more convincing. In this play Shaffer, as a “Hotten-
totologist,” was able to comment on national traits and national
dilemmas in an unusually oblique manner.
Since then Shaffer has written nothing of distinction, although
his gift for popular, intelligent, offbeat comedy, achieved success
in the double-bill “The Public Eye and the Private Ear.”
Although no other Anglo-Jewish playwright has achieved the
acclaim of these four, successful novelists or poets such as Alex­
ander Baron, Doris Lessing, Dannie Abse and Michael Hastings,
have produced distinguished work. Baron, whose short stories
were the basis for the film
The Victors,
has written mostly for
television. Mrs. Lessing’s first play
Each His Own Wilderness,
is an unremitting dissection of possessive love, reminiscent of
Allbee. Abse, a charming novelist and poet on themes related
to his Welsh-Jewish childhood, has produced a number of poetic
experiments of which
Fire in Heaven
shows much promise.
Michael Hastings, another gifted young poet, has written two
fine plays
Don't Destroy Me,
set in a Jewish tenement, and
Yes
and Afterf
inspired by Ansky’s
The Dybbuk.
Jewish Contribution to London Theatre
The Jewish contribution to the London theatre is not, of
course, limited to playwrights. Peter Brooks is probably our most
brilliant younger director; his
King Lear
for the Shakespeare
Company, for which he also composed the music and designed
the sets, was hailed as the most important classical production
of the postwar period. With the American-born Charles Maro-