Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Richard's Cork Leg by Brendan Behan

Performed posthumously in 1972, edited with additional material by Alan Simpson.

A couple of anti-fascists, Cronin and The Hero hang out in a graveyard with some prostitutes planning to disrupt the funeral of a man killed fighting the communists in Franco's Spain by shouting anti-fascist slogans. The dead man is The Hero's cousin's husband, she turns up with her daughter and everyone ends up at her house after a gun battle breaks out at the funeral. She holds a committee meeting instructing them about the evils of female's dancing, which is interrupted by police disguised as meter men - seeking The Hero who shot someone in the arse hole during the fight. They storm the house, the Hero flees and Cronin is killed.

The play is filled with songs, digressions, upside down language, and the occasional direct address. (during a sex scene the lights go out and it is pointed out that when the author wrote it, acts like that were not allowed to be performed on stage)

Here's an excerpt from a song from Act Two:

You'd think 'twas a crime to be human,
And go for a swim in the sea,
And dance with no clothes in the sunshine,
And drink foreign lager for tea.

To regard co-existence with favour,
And nuclear weapons with fear,
To want more return for less labour,
Fatter fish, cheaper chips, better beer.

Let the heroes all die for the people,
If that is what they want to do,
And we'll struggle on here without them,
I've concluded, now, frolics to you.

As a writer I'm looking at the play for its structure - for the way with a minimal bit of action - there is a huge amount of political commentary that is always on the side of the characters in the play. He is an equal opportunity offender, attacking all those in power and the hypocrisy of the English, the Irish, the Church, the Communists and celebrating the resilience and comraderie of the young, dispossessed and alive in the Graveyard where the play is set.

I wonder where contemporary examples of this are? It makes me think of Lanford Wilson's Hot L Baltimore (which I just googled - and apparently inspired a short-lived TV show). But anything more recent? Big casts, stuffed with politics and satire, songs and irreverence? That is not a family drama.

Behan is pulling from so many rich troughs and throwing them into his play (which, granted, he didn't actually finish - but Alan Simpson claims to be working from pretty complete notes & fragments - which on reading does seem true) I wonder what the American troughs are? Or if with the advent of entertainment culture and mass media outlets our ditches of riches have grown too shallow?

"[...] that the music hall is the thing to aim at for to amuse people and any time they get bored, divert them with a song or a dance. I've always thought T. S. Eliot wasn't far wrong when he said that the main problem of the dramatist today was to keep his audience amused; and that while they were laughing their heads off, you could be up to any bloody thing behind their backs; and it was what you were doing behind their bloody backs that made your play great." Brendan Behan

1 comment:

  1. Very underrtaed play. Wish the songs were available.. especially "My Old Irish Tomb."