Ravenhill Labels Angry Young Men HomophobicDate: 8 November 1999
The already controversial young playwright Mark Ravenhill, author of Shopping and F***ing, has generated yet more controversy this week for accusing the previous 1950s generation of Angry Young Men of homophobia.
1956 is considered a watershed in British theatre because of the launch that year of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger which seemed to signal a revival in British drama after the post-war waning of playwrights such as Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan. The rantings of Osborne's working class central character, Jimmy Porter, led to the coining of the phrase 'angry young man' which was quickly applied to any artist critical of society, including contemporary playwrights like Arnold Wesker and John Arden.
Though commonly seen as a clash of classes - the kitchen sink, working class dramas of Osborne et al replacing the drawing room, upper-class ditties of yore - Ravenhill, writing in the New York Times, maintains that the Angry Young Men were acting as strident heterosexuals heedlessly charging in to dispense with the perceived 'feyness' of the kind of theatre dominated by Coward, Rattigan and Rodney Ackland, who were all gay. 'The straight boys arrived to sort everything out,' writes Ravenhill, himself a gay writer.
Ravenhill goes on to argue that this myth allegedly propagated by the Angry Young Men, that British theatre was dead before their influence, had led to more important plays with gay sub-texts, such as Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea being overlooked.
Ironically, both John Osborne and Ravenhill have the Royal Court Theatre, which concentrates on new writing, to thank for their high-profile careers. Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing, a tale of drugs, S&M and rent-boys which was produced by the Court 40 years after the premiere of Osborne's Look Back in Anger, is easily one of the most talked about plays of this decade. His latest play, Some Explicit Polaroids , is currently playing at the West End's New Ambassadors Theatre.