I saw Peter Gill's new play THE YORK REALIST at the Royal Court the other day. A fine play, terrific acting. A living room set from the fifties made it seem like a good old-fashioned piece of drama and I loved how observant the piece was, how genuine the characters. It was billed as romance, and sure, the central theme was gay love across a cultural divide between a London theatre director and a Yorkshire farm labourer. So why can't romance have a happy ending? OK, gay life in the sixties (the set was older than the setting) didn't make happy endings easy but the family in the play would not have obstructed it. In any case it's theatre - it can aim at being fabulous. So doors slam, lovers part forever, and we're supposed to come away uplifted.
'Was that it then?' the woman behind me asked her friend the moment the play finished.
So much of western literature lurches toward tragedy. It's as though happy endings prevent a book from being deemed a classic, happy endings are escapist. Penguins new classics of world literature are bringing us Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary as THE supreme examples of western literature of all time, the sole British contribution to the list being Hamlet - neurosis and tragic endings are it.
Not for me!
My new play, just reformatting it now, has been through countless drafts through the years. In earlier ones it ended with two young men stepping into the sea, to their apparent deaths. It never seemed to be an unhappy ending to me. When I first started going to the theatre Ibsen was my true hero. While his plays might have appeared bleak to me they were luminous, shifting from the humdrum of earthly existence to new realms. 'When we dead awaken what do we learn, but that we never lived' runs one line, or something like that. Strindberg was deadly, toxic stuff, characters spinning round in the neuroses of their own tragic limitations never sensing a way out. He offered no help at all. Ibsen, even THE DOLL'S HOUSE, always left me more encouraged about life.
Now I'm a little older. I'm tired of tragedy. I'm tired of plays that show the dreariness of life and the promise of life eternal (David Hare tries that game too much for me now, his plays seeking to give a wholly false luminous moment at the end, and Peter Gill had his character who didn't dare live his life end by quoting Jesus at the audience). Let's be brave. Let's go for a happy ending. My young men now have a splash in the sea, but the last we hear of them is laughter. They don't drown. The play takes lives and tries to show where there is still more fun to be had.
I might try and make a career of happy endings.