Tributes have been paid to playwright John Arden, who died on Wednesday (28 March 2012) at the age of 81.

Arden rose to prominence at the Royal Court in the 1950s, with his best known play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance premiering at the venue in 1959.

The play, which featured music by Dudley Moore and centres on a group of Victorian soldiers newly returned from overseas, was a flop initially but has since come to be regarded as one of the classics of the period.

His subsequent works included The Workhouse Donkey, Armstrong's Last Goodnight and The Island of the Mighty, the opening night of which he picketed in 1972 in protest at the RSC director’s approach.

After settling in Ireland in the 1970s with his wife and collaborator Margaretta D’Arcy, Arden became increasingly politically active and produced a number of plays and short stories on the subject of Irish history and British colonialism.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said: “I have heard with great sadness of the death of the playwright John Arden. He was one of the giants of modern literature and his contribution to theatre in the UK and Ireland was monumental.”

In his obituary for the Guardian, Whatsonstage.com chief critic Michael Coveney describes Arden as “one of the very few 20th-century dramatists you could mention in the same breath as Shakespeare, Molière and Brecht without the parallels sounding too far-fetched.”

He is survived by Margaretta D’Arcy and their four children.