THE IRON CURTAIN TRILOGY
THE PLAYWRIGHT: A PROFILE OF DAVID EDGAR
“Throughout my writing career, but particularly since the fall of the Berlin wall, I have been fascinated by the process of politics: by negotiations, the drafting of documents, strategizing, roleplay and ceremony . . . I felt that the deaths of Communism, apartheid and Yugoslavia were not just processes it was important to understand . . . but also sites for rich drama about human beings confronting their bitter enemies, risking their own futures and playing for the highest stakes.” – David Edgar
David Edgar (b. 1948) is foremost a political playwright, perhaps even a political philosopher who relies on the medium of drama to disseminate his ideas and questions about the nature of governance. But Edgar is also much more than this. Born into a theatrical family, Edgar initially seemed destined for a career in journalism; however, he left journalism to write for the stage in the early 1970s although his writing still has a journalistic quality to it. After more than 40 years in the theater, Edgar has written more than 50 plays. His dramatic output is remarkable for both its volume and variety. Edgar began writing just after the British government abolished all forms of theatrical censorship in 1968; as a result, Edgar, along with Caryl Churchill, David Hare and Howard Brenton, was part of the first generation of British playwrights that could explore complex and provocative subjects unfettered by government intervention. Written in 1976 and staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Destiny, which explores the growth of the far right in England, was Edgar’s first major play. Edgar followed Destiny with several successful theatrical adaptations of books. The most notable of these adaptations was his 1980 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. Staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this adaptation eventually transferred to Broadway. Still considered Edgar’s most important dramatic work, Nicholas Nickleby was remarkable for its inventiveness and its scope, spanning two nights in the theater and featuring more than 100 characters. Edgar’s other important play in the 1980s was Maydays, an exploration of man’s shift rightward as he ages.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Edgar set to work on what would eventually become a trilogy of plays about Eastern Europe’s hard road out of Communism. He wrote The Shape of the Table in 1990, and he followed that with Pentecost in 1994 and The Prisoner’s Dilemma in 2001. More recently, Edgar has written a number of plays about provocative subjects. His play Albert Speer dramatizes the controversial life of Hitler’s chief architect who claimed to know nothing about the Nazi concentration camps while his play Continental Divide examines both the Democratic and Republican Party in the United States. In all of his works, Edgar consistently challenges his audience with audaciously long stories, urgent and polarizing themes, and dense intellectual content. Nevertheless, he is an author well worthy of study.
More David Edgar
VIDEO Begging the Question: David Edgar (Part 1) from National Association of Youth Theatres
VIDEO Begging the Question: David Edgar (Part 2) from National Association of Youth Theatres
COLUMN Making drama out of crisis, in The Guardian, July 6, 2001
Enjoy these trailers from Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh, NC
READ MORE ABOUT THE SHAPE OF THE TABLE
READ MORE ABOUT PENTECOST
READ MORE ABOUT THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA