bafflement, indifference, boredom, fury. One performance of The Waters of Babylon (1957), 23 of Live Like Pigs (1958), 28 of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (1959), 22 of The Happy Haven (1960). London’s record of attention to the plays of John Arden is not a happy one. His three publicly performed plays all lost money, played to restive, half-empty houses. The critics growled: a few scented some sort of quality, hardly anybody liked the plays. In the case of The Happy Haven, two of our tiny handful of responsible critics not only echoed the general dismissal, but actively protested against the play being produced at all. The touch of the poet is still a leper’s handshake.
It is an old, old story, of course. It has happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again, although in a context where the non-u play (serious theme, uncouth characters) is receiving considerable attention, one might have hoped for more sympathy. But the public, it seems, is willing to have its nose rubbed in the raw dirt of life only so long as it can bring along its own disinfectant to soften the smell when it gets too strong. If Jimmy Porter’s criticism of Alison as a dead soul comes too close to home, then soften it by labelling him a self-pitying neurotic: you can then enjoy a guying of English Sundays and a turbulent sexual struggle, and complacently pass over the fact that the whole thing is based on a damning indictment of the complacency of British society . . . Almost anything will get by in the theatre so long as it is presented in the approved manner.