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A: Trevor Griffiths Pf: 1975, Nottingham Pb: 1976 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: Night school in Manchester, 1970s C: 13mIn a night school, a northern comedian Eddie Waters teaches a motley group of would-be comics how to perform stand-up comedy. Waters instructs his pupils in the need to perform acts that challenge rather than reinforce stereotypes. Unfortunately, Challenor, the talent scout who has come to judge their performances and so is able to launch their careers, believes that comedy should merely entertain. In Act 2 the would-be comedians go through their sets with more or less success, some belatedly changing their act to include sexist and racist jokes guaranteed to please Challenor. The performance culminates in a savage piece of performance art by the star pupil Gethin Price, in which he stabs a female dummy and makes it bleed. Those that followed Challenor's way of easy laughs get contracts, while the others have ‘failed’. In a confrontation between Waters and Price, Waters reveals that he gave up being a comedian when at the end of the Second World War he entered a Nazi extermination camp and was confronted by the grotesque joke of a building designated as ‘the Punishment Block’. Waters opposes his gentle humane comedy to the violent, revolutionary attitude underlying Price's approach.

A: Trevor Griffiths Pf: 1975, Nottingham Pb: 1976 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts S: Night school in Manchester, 1970s C: 13m

As Griffiths wrote: ‘Comedians eschews political theory, professional ideologues and historically sourced discourse on political revolution…in favour of a more or less unmediated address on a range of particular contemporary issues including class, gender, race and society in modern Britain.’ Using a realistic style where stage time equals real time, and employing a neat three-act structure, Griffiths offered one of the most accessible and enjoyable political plays of post-war British drama. After his experience in Germany, Waters rejects the use of the stereotype as a source of comedy: if one reduces women or foreign races to mere stereotypes, then it is that much easier to fail to recognize their humanity and to brutalize them. However, it is undeniable that the sexist and racist jokes of the ‘successful’ pupils provoke more laughter than the sinister performance by Price. In this way the audience are forced to reflect on and reconsider the value they place on ‘entertainment’. Griffiths, however, does not seek to imply that Price has got it right. As Waters says: ‘No compassion, no truth. You threw it all out, Gethin. Love, care, concern, call it what you like, you junked it over the side…It was ugly. It was drowning in hate. You can't change tomorrow into today on that basis.’ Price responds by accusing Waters of having lost his capacity for anger: ‘Truth was a fist you hit with. Now it's like…now it's like cowflop, a day old, hard until it's underfoot and then it's…green, soft. Shitten.’ Defiantly he adds: ‘I stand in no line. I refuse my consent.’ Griffiths leaves us to choose between the ‘cowflop’ of Waters's humanity and the ‘hate’ of Price's revolution.


Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).

Reference entries

Trevor Griffiths (b. 1935)

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