Diary

Alan Bennett

2 January 1990. I seem to be the only Western playwright not personally acquainted with the new President of Czechoslovakia. I envy him, though. What a relief to find oneself Head of State and not to have to write plays – just make history. And no Czechoslovak equivalent of Charles Osborne snapping at your ankles complaining that the history you’re making falls between every possible stool, or some Prague Steven Berkoff snarling that it’s not the kind of history that’s worth making anyway. I wonder whether Havel has lots of uncompleted dissident plays. To put them on now would he somehow inappropriate. Still, he could write a play about it.

Though I like the sound of Havel, I’m put off by the chic of the kind of people who are now flocking to Prague. I suppose revolutions always attract the wrong people. When I was at Oxford in 1956 some smart Balliol undergraduates felt that the Hungarian Uprising would benefit from their presence. They sent round an appeal for funds, pointing out that a contingent was going from Cambridge, so it was important that Oxford should not be unrepresented, history for them simply the Boat Race carried on by other means.

28 February. At the National Theatre to discuss a possible adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, I run into Tony Harrison the poet. He talks about Trackers, the play he has written and is directing about two papyrologists who piece together the fragments of a satyr play and then take on the central roles, cocks and all. It is to open first in a warehouse at Saltaire, near Bradford, and Tony had to meet the local press to tell them something about the play, the issues it discusses and how it relates to subsequent cultural history. The papers came out the next day all more or less saying the same thing: ‘Mucky Play for Bradford’.

17 May. Sitting outside a café in Regent’s Park Road, A. and I see a transvestite striding up the street with a mane of henna’d hair, short skirt and long skinny legs. It’s the legs that give him/her away, scrawny, unfleshed and too nobbly for a girl’s. He/she has also attracted the attention of someone in the snooker hall above the pub and there’s a lot of shouting. Later, as we are getting into the car, Gary, a young man crippled with arthritis, calls out to A. from the snooker hall. She knows him and asks if it was him that was doing the shouting. ‘Yes,’ he says proudly. ‘You shouldn’t.’ ‘Why?’ he asks. ‘Because,’ I put in weakly, ‘it’s a free country.’ ‘No, it isn’t.’ ‘Well you shouldn’t,’ A. says again: ‘I should think about it’ – meaning, I suppose, that if it’s all right to shout at transvestites, next on the list will be cripples with arthritis. This is lost on Gary, who starts to shout at us too. It’s a comic encounter and the liberal dilemma it poses impenetrable. We mustn’t abuse sexual deviants, but must we also be tolerant of the handicapped who do?

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