Churchill Play

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A: Howard Brenton Pf: 1974, Nottingham Pb: 1974; rev. 1986 G: Drama in 4 acts S: Internment camp, England, 1984 C: 17m, 3fFour servicemen guard the coffin containing the body of Winston Churchill at his lying in state in 1965. Suddenly Churchill rises out of his catafalque, and it is soon revealed that this is a rehearsal for a play at the Churchill Camp ten years hence in 1984. As an extension of the army's role in Northern Ireland, all political dissidents are now imprisoned in one of 28 internment camps, where they face punishment or death. The second half of the play shows the performance of the prisoners' play for the benefit of the visiting Parliamentary Commission. The play offers a retrospect of the Churchill years, rewriting the traditionally heroic view of Churchill and tracing the development towards ever greater oppression. When homes are bombed in the blitz, the workers warn: ‘We can take it…But we just might give it back to you one day.’ One of the detainees, Mike McCulloch, seizes a gun in preparation for a planned breakout from the camp. The escape fails, but it was pointless anyway, since there is no longer anywhere to run to.

A: Howard Brenton Pf: 1974, Nottingham Pb: 1974; rev. 1986 G: Drama in 4 acts S: Internment camp, England, 1984 C: 17m, 3f

Dismissed by many at the time as an alarmist prediction about the erosion of civil liberties, The Churchill Play (subtitled: As It Will Be Performed in the Winter of 1984 by the Internees of Churchill Camp Somewhere in England) was prompted by the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland in 1971 and by the treatment of striking miners in 1972/3. It can now be seen to offer an accurate vision of the future (British legislation enacted in the wake of the terrorist acts in New York on 11 September 2001 now allows for detention without trial and even without naming the alleged crime). Brenton debunks one of the most respected figures of British Parliament, and, in the use of a play-within-a-play introduces agitprop shocks into a realistic framework.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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Howard Brenton (b. 1942)

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