[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/21480?ns=guardian&pageName=Clare+McIntyre+obituary%3AArticle%3A1313760&ch=Stage&c3=Guardian&c4=Stage%2CCulture+section&c6=David+Edgar&c7=09-Dec-02&c8=1313760&c9=Article&c10=Obituary&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2F[/img]She was among the 1980s generation of playwrights who tackled feminist issues
Clare McIntyre, who has died of multiple sclerosis, aged 57, was one of an extraordinary generation of British female playwrights who emerged in the 1980s. Before then there were really only two nationally known women writing in the British theatre, Caryl Churchill and Pam Gems. By the end of the decade, there were two to three dozen. Although her first play, I've Been Running, was performed at the Old Red Lion theatre pub in Islington, north London, McIntyre's two best-known plays were presented – like many other plays by women at the time – by the Royal Court theatre under the artistic directorship of Max Stafford-Clark.
Born in Harrogate, north Yorkshire, McIntyre was brought up in Woldingham, Surrey, and studied drama at Manchester University. She began her career as an actor, at first taking drama into schools as part of Nottingham Playhouse's theatre-in-education team, and then as a performer and deviser with the pioneering feminist Women's Theatre Group. Her experience as a jobbing actor in rep, on film and on television (playing small parts in The Pirates of Penzance, Hotel du Lac and A Fish Called Wanda) led her to change career and join the growing number of female writers who addressed the issues raised by the feminist movement in plays with mostly or entirely female casts.
McIntyre's first Royal Court play, Low Level Panic, was a deft and funny all-female three-hander, set in a bathroom. (Although one character spends the opening scene in the bath, the set description reassures designers and performers that "nobody goes to the toilet in the play so there's no need to have a toilet in the set"). The play was directed in 1988 by Nancy Meckler with Caroline Quentin, Lorraine Brunning and Alaine Hickmott in the principal roles. The panic of the title is provoked by omnipresent pornography and a sexual assault on one of the characters. But the play's originality and boldness lie in its treatment of the characters' complex relationships with their own sexual fantasies, their bodies and each other.
In McIntyre's next play, My Heart's a Suitcase, which had its premiere at the Royal Court in 1990, the sense of invasion felt by the two female central characters (played in Stafford-Clark's original production by Frances Barber and Sylvestra Le Touzel) is dramatised by characters called Pest and Luggage, who burst unpredictably through the walls of the seaside flat in which the play is set. Once again, McIntyre's theatrical imagination was matched by an unsentimental but sympathetic portrayal of women trying to make sense of their place in a threatening and intrusive world.
Low Level Panic won the Samuel Beckett award, while My Heart's a Suitcase earned McIntyre the Evening Standard's most promising playwright award, with both plays quickly entering the feminist theatre canon. Low Level Panic continues to be performed – in English and in translation – around the world. McIntyre's later stage plays dealt with liberal agonies. Presented at the Royal Court in 1996, The Thickness of Skin is a comedy about the virtues and drawbacks of middle-class people either helping or not helping the deprived, while the eponymous protagonist of The Maths Tutor (a 2003 Birmingham Rep-Hampstead Theatre co-production) is unjustly accused of sexual assault by a teenager who is taking revenge on his mother. Despite McIntyre's wry, witty and perceptive understanding of the twisted byways of human motivation, these two well-observed social dramas are less well known than her first two, although The Thickness of Skin recently finished its American premiere run off-Broadway.
Apart from her stage work, McIntyre wrote for EastEnders and the short-lived soap opera Castles. Low Level Panic was televised in 1994 (with Charlotte Coleman, Beth Goddard and Nicola Sanderson). Her radio plays included Walls of Silence (1993), which featured a then unknown Kate Winslet, and Noisy Bodies (1999) with Amanda Root and Bill Nighy. Her stage adaptation of Stefan Zweig's novel Beware of Pity – about a woman incapacitated by an incurable disease in early 20th-century Germany – remains unperformed.
McIntyre was also a teacher. From 1991 to 1998, she was a tutor on a postgraduate playwriting course that I ran at the University of Birmingham. During this period, her students included Clare Bayley and Steve Waters, as well as Sarah Kane, whose dislike of some – well, most – aspects of the course did not prevent her from writing her first and most famous play, Blasted, during her time at Birmingham. McIntyre's understanding, not just of the human heart but how to shape that understanding into coherent, dramatic form, stood her students in good stead.
She was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985, but her symptoms reappeared virulently in 1996. She withdrew from teaching at Birmingham in 1998. We met for the last time in 2006, when I was asked to direct Low Level Panic as one of 50 Royal Court hits to be given rehearsed readings during the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the first performance of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger at the theatre. Her husband, the actor Sean Baker, made the demanding arrangements necessary to get the largely housebound McIntyre to the theatre for the performance (by Heather Craney, Maxine Peake and Amanda Drew), at the end of which he swung her elaborate, padded wheelchair round so that the author could share the applause.
She is survived by her brother, Bruce, her sister, Lesley, and Sean.
• Lindsay Clare McIntyre, playwright, born 21 July 1952; died 27 November 2009
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