Black Comedy

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A: Peter Shaffer Pf: 1965, Chichester Pb: 1967 G: Farce in 1 act S: London apartment, 1960s C: 5m, 3fThe play opens in complete darkness. We hear the young sculptor Brindsley Miller and his fiancée Carol Melkett preparing for the arrival of Carol's fiercely military father and, more importantly, of George Bamberger, a deaf millionaire who might be induced to buy one of Brindsley's artworks. In order to make a good impression on both his future father-in-law and Bamberger, Brindsley has helped himself to some of the precious antiques belonging to his absent neighbour Harold Gorringe. Suddenly the main fuse blows, and the stage is brilliantly lit. Miss Furnival from the flat upstairs is frightened by the dark and seeks shelter with Brindsley, while Carol manages to phone the Electricity Board. Colonel Melkett, Carol's father, arrives, exasperated by Brindsley's inefficiency. Harold returns unexpectedly, and the panic-stricken Brindsley tries to return his property. To make matters worse, Brindsley's former girlfriend, who is much sexier than Carol, arrives and causes havoc in the dark, eventually retiring to Brindsley's bed. A foreign-born electrician arrives to fix the fuse and is assumed to be Bamberger, and Brindsley shows off his sculptures, until the electrician reveals his identity and is put down the trapdoor to mend the fuse. When Bamberger arrives, he falls through the trapdoor and is half-electrocuted. At last the power is restored and the stage is plunged into darkness.

A: Peter Shaffer Pf: 1965, Chichester Pb: 1967 G: Farce in 1 act S: London apartment, 1960s C: 5m, 3f

The idea behind Black Comedy is so effective and so simple that it is extraordinary that it has not been used before (the nearest approach is the mischief wrought by a supposedly invisible character like Ariel in The Tempest). Reversing standard theatrical convention by here having a bright stage representing darkness, Shaffer exploits the traditional satisfaction of comedy that the audience sees more than the characters in the drama.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Peter Shaffer (b. 1926)

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