John McGrath: Plays for England

John McGrath: Plays for England

by John McGrath

This is an edition of nine of McGrath's plays for the English 7:84 theatre company. It covers McGrath's work for the company spanning four decades, from the 1960s through to the 1990s.
The book has a substantial contextualising introduction and commentary on the plays by Nadine Holdsworth, one of the leading specialists in the work of John McGrath.


This is an edition of nine of McGrath's plays for the English 7:84 theatre company. It covers McGrath's work for the company spanning four decades, from the 1960s through to the 1990s.
The book has a substantial contextualising introduction and commentary on the plays by Nadine Holdsworth, one of the leading specialists in the work of John McGrath. This is set alongside supporting documents such as programme notes, reviews, letters etc.
The plays and theatre work of John McGrath are studied in many theatre departments, but they have not been available to the average reader. The English plays constitute a powerful influence on the theatre in general and are included in all theatre histories of the period; this collection should make them available to students, audiences and the public at large with an interest in theatre and in the social issues of their periods.

Product Details

University of Exeter Press
Publication date:
UEP - Exeter Performance Studies
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

John McGrath â" Plays for England

By Nadine Holdsworth

University of Exeter Press

Copyright © 2005 The estate of John McGrath (texts), Michael Billington (foreword) and Nadine Holdsworth (introduction)
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85989-718-1



Mrs A

Mr A

A small living-room. MR A fiddling with something. Enter MRS A from street.

MRS A: They've got out.

MR A: Oh. Oh.

MRS A: I have telephoned the police.

MR A: Mm—Mmm.

MRS A: There was no reply.

MR A: Hold that.

MRS A: Why do you think that was?

MR A: Probably all pissed as farts.

MRS A: Probably all out looking for them.

MR A: Flicking snot at the sergeants, puking all over the inspectors—I've seen a coppers' outing, in my time.

MRS A: The coppers are all out hunting them down.

MR A: Hold that ... Who said they got out?

MRS A: I had the wireless on.

MR A: The wireless's closed down.

MRS A: Yes, but I had it on, and out of the crackling comes a call, and a girl laughing, and then that man said 'This is the Angel Gabriel speaking—they've got out'.

MR A: Then it went dead again.

MRS A: Bit more trumpets. When you're asleep, they come round gluing your eyes together.

MR A: Ha—who told you that?

MRS A: I seen it—on the pictures: look at life.

MR A: They showed you?

MRS A: No—they mentioned it. Araldite.

MR A: Ha Ha. What about your lips.

MRS A: What about my lips?

MR A: Hm—I suppose they stitch them together.

MRS A: Stitch?

MR A: Concrete the nostrils ...

MRS A: What are you talking about?

MR A: Plug up your earholes ...

MRS A: I shall in a minute—

MR A: Bung up your bum ... That's what they do, I suppose.

MRS A: (Peeved) No—it's just the eyes. Whoever said anything about all that other?

MR A: Ha—ha ... you're outmanoeuvred


Hold this.

MRS A: They are said to be beautiful.

MR A: I suppose they come on singing the Eriscay Love Lilt.

MRS A: I don't know what makes you think they're all Scottish—

MR A: Beautiful. Tt. Stinking.

MRS A: I believe in the resurrection of the body. You've said that—you'll say it again.

MR A: I doubt it. Not after this episode.

MRS A: Oh yes you will.

MR A: I believe in the resurrection of the body beautiful—that's what you're saying. Mr A and Mr A's Universe only need answer the trump ... that's not what it says.

MRS A: All bodies are beautiful.

MR A: Yes, and all you need is love: you do talk a load of old cobblers.

MRS A: Why are you so sour?

MR A: Sour?

MRS A: You're insanely jealous.

MR A: Jealous?

MRS A: You don't want to know about their transcendental mellifluousness ...

MR A: Transcendental mellifluousness?—Rubbish.

MRS A: That'll be what it is.

MR A: Oh will it?

MRS A: If not that—what?

MR A: You don't know the half.

MRS A: What?

MR A: You're under-informed, and not sensitive to my moods.

MRS A: What?

MR A: You go on as if you wish me to strike you.

MRS A: Tell me then. What don't I know the half of?

MR A: That's better. You see it's nicer when you're reasonable.

MRS A: Mm. (Pause) What?

MR A: Well just think about it.

MRS A: I have done.

MR A: And?

MRS A: And what?

MR A: Didn't it occur to you what a terrible shambles, what a shameful, disgraceful, an unbearable indignity, what an unbearable balls-up it would be?

MRS A: No.

MR A: What? You'd be the first to complain: to start with three-quarters of them would be foreigners, bleeding Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, them conquerors, Normans, Vikings, Danes, great hairy-assed Finns lusting for a good rape after all that time in the ground—how far back do you go anyway, bleedin' little stone-age twits grunting about the place. Neanderthals, cannibals—how far back do you go?

MRS A: I hadn't thought of that ...

MR A: No—you don't think, woman—And just remember how many of them there's going to be—hullyballooing around, all chatting in bloody Latin, and Norse, and Goidelic, and horrible grunts: nobody'll understand a blind bloody word anyone says: it'll be pandemonium.

MRS A: Oh it won't be like that at all.

MR A: All those centuries, you see, they were very clever—inventing the wheel, and the hammer, and illuminated manuscripts and beautiful poetry and suchlike—but they just didn't know how to behave. Hold that.

MRS A: Oo look—the crazy paving's started to heave.

(They both go over to the window.)




These three plays were originally presented at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool in 1971 as part of a series with Out of Sight and My First Interview called Unruly Elements. These three plays were subsequently performed, together with Hover Through the Fog, as Plugged In by the 7:84 England Company in 1972. These productions involved the following casts:

Angel of the Morning

Mr Lodwick: Roger Sloman/Anthony Haygarth

Tralee: Gillian Hanna

Plugged in to History

Kay: Angela Philips/Elizabeth MacLennan

Derek: Robert Hamilton

Knocking Down the Pie Shop

Neil: Dermot Hennelly/Clifford Cocker

Malden: Gavin Richards/Anthony Haygarth

Jenny: Angela Philips/Vari Sylvester

Mrs Malden: Gillian Hanna

These plays take place in an acting area cleared between piles of furniture, grotesquely inflated objects (e.g. six-foot toothbrush, ten-foot coke bottle, giant detergent packet, etc.) and against a background of the geometric patterns of contemporary life in bright colours. A couple of freestanding doors and a window frame will help. The sets are changed at the end of each play and the characters beginning the next play are in position before and during the introductory pieces. These pieces are spoken by one or several of the company but dressed in the same minimal drab uniform. It is important that these pieces are spoken as if they make complete sense to the character speaking them. They can move around the set and even address the waiting characters in the plays as well as the audience.

Introduction to Angel of the Morning

Enter a middle-aged JERRY BUILDER. He speaks to the audience, grinning confidentially.

JERRY BUILDER: Yobble de hoo. Dare we mar again. Uvly new ousses dey bilt or lover de swamp ere. (Sniffs)

Sniffa da chemiculls—norrabadtin, cumtatinkofit: wurd we all be, mittout da plastix? Uvly ousses—

Da trouble is da unksters. All dose young leople hoppin all over da flower-debs. Im dey Tum, whisk end dey do. Piserable ungsters, danksters dey are—no luv. Luv mean bugrall. An whaffor? Luv is a pleny-wendored wing, o-o, yes an dey no onting off it. Dey'm flooming tikiotic. Dem make murk along. Brawdnig—broom, broom, broom, broom, ikey-botors, broom broom unt smash, squash, alldabuddy nie long.

Ya see, we'm da buzzy biddies: edifying monstructions, oobling up mouses—oo tlive in, ook, ook, nike people, ook at de mouses we oobled por dem. Und loaf we have por dem, oops and oops of loaf por dem, too much loaf praps, bu wegorri—funnything, mennything, rennything dey grab we got we give. Oops of loaf. Dem esposed dig us like crazy. Do dey? Do dey duck—egg your margin, imsis, egg your margin, urse, itch get otched off away, noo noo. (Sighs) Dem unksters.

Ta debing vit: we'm da kiddies vot blooed it all up! All dat russhib. Blooed it all pie-sigh. Agos twas robble: horroble. Oo many ouses, oo many leople—not enug spatse. Bu ve dign leebensroom shout—oh doe, ear me dow doe. Agos Tiggler shotted dat und boom boom tvas drabstruction. Vem da kiddies vot bilt up da nooo ickle cuddly ickle mousing ersties: da hairy noo sububs, down by da swamp, lika dis won ere (Sniffs). Por da ickle kiddies ta fill der lungs an grow up wrong an wealthy. Da old tizzy dwellins, da bax to bak, da tennymens was robble, horroble—now dey rubble, hurruble, an auf auf auf of dem ole tummunities, into da noo wins—it was a tryumph.

Bu da bruttle is dis—da unksters. Dey'm dinjusted mitta noo vons. Dey wun marred. Ich bin bruttly mangry mittum. Ve'm all be bruttly mangry, agos dey doan per-reesee—hate it. Dey'm dingrateful. Ug Bruttle Tebbruttle Ich bin trebly mangry, agos dey give da mousing er-sties a stinkin rotten re puke-ation, an down goes da pwices. An dey hop all over da flower-debs. Lak a sed. Ich doan diggus, no'a'or: ich undiggum.


A few props to indicate a suburban living-room. MR LODWICK, 43-year-old Dad, sits ulcerously hunched over his stomach pretending to read a volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is 2.30 in the morning.

MR LODWICK: Any minute now she'll be fitting the key into the lock.

Inserting it.

Turning it, slowly but firmly, rolling the tumblers, easing the tongue, withdrawing the blade slipping it back, ever so quietly— and tip-toeing in through that there front door.

Then what? Huh.

Tippy-toe, shoes off, stocking feet over the hall carpet and up them creaky old stairs.

Every sodding night since she was fifteen—five years.

And do you think she won't know I'm here? Of course she will—hah. She'll have seen the light on, chinks in the curtains, crack under the door, SHE CAN SMELL ME HERE.

Anyway, I'm always up waiting for her, two o'clock, three o'clock, one bloody Bank Holiday half past four—tried to kid me on she'd been to a folk-club in Rochdale. 'And who was plucking his old guitar?' I asked her. Usual answer. Sniffs her nose up another half-an-inch higher, and stalks off to bed. Hussy. Do you know what's the first thing she does, the minute she gets in her pink little Boudoir?

Strips off. The lot.

So's I can't get in and give her what for. But I will. One night I will. I'll really make her pink little arse tingle. Except for her, her up there, snoring. Her with the bingo-card where her brain ought to be. Old cut-price. My cut-price wife. Do you know, she brought home six dozen tins of dog-food, cut-price: a sin to miss it, she said. Now she's keeping her eye open for a cut-price dog to eat the bloody stuff. She wouldn't like it if I tanned the arse of our Barby: leave her, she says, don't know why you wait up, she says, why can't you come up to bed, she says—doesn't know the meaning of responsibility.

It's beginning to affect my work, actually. Four years, no, nearly five—and I've got to be up by quarter to seven, I've got a long way to go—it's hitting me, I'm getting prematurely old, it'll be the death of me.


Aha—this'll be her now.

Listen: key in key-hole (Sings) Bend it, bend it, just a little bit and—take it easy now you're liking it—


Now she'll be creeping across the hall, sneaking up the stairs.


(Bounds across room. Door opens in his face. Enter a young girl of eighteen—TRALEE CLAUSEWITZ)

TRALEE: Hello—

MR LODWICK: You're not our Barby—

TRALEE: Aren't I?

MR LODWICK: Is she out there?


MR LODWICK: I thought I heard—

TRALEE: Your Barby's not out there. She's in the back of an old Ford Prefect with a fellow drives a floating crane.

MR LODWICK: She's never—where is it—just let me get my hands on her.

TRALEE: They wanted to come in here, but—

MR LODWICK: In? In here? They? Wanted? Bloody hell.

TRALEE: Well a Ford Prefect's a very small car, and he is a very big fella. She'll be getting crushed to death. Probably won't mind though.

MR LODWICK: I'll give her a Ford Prefect. I'll give her Mister bloody Floating bloody Crane. I'll let her in alright—in for the biggest bloody seeing-to she's ever had in her life—

TRALEE: Mm—she'll be getting that, alright.

MR LODWICK: Aa? What?—who are you?

TRALEE: Barby's friend. She gave me the key. She said you'd be waiting up.


TRALEE: Well, here I am ... You see, Barby thinks you're being unreasonable. We all do.


TRALEE: Me and Barby and Janet and Alice. I mean, staying up. Why can't you go to bed?

MR LODWICK: And let her sneak in here with crane-drivers? Not on your—Under my roof?

TRALEE: (Angry) Well just think how bloody uncomfortable your daughter is in the back of that tin Lizzie. Dangerous, too.

MR LODWICK: What do you mean—?

TRALEE: Some of these fellas can turn a bit nasty, you know. Well, I mean, it's one thing in your own sitting-room; it's something else again in some rotten field off the East Lancs Road. There's that, too.


TRALEE: Peeping Toms. Creeping about in the shadows. Peering in. Getting worked up, carried away. Trying the door, waving a knife at you. Wanting God knows what. That's happened to me you know. And the scuffs. The police is worse than what they're protecting you from. Driving up with no lights on, then FLASH and running out to have a good look, make you open the door and get out in the cold, then they've got the bloody nerve to give you a little sermon: and if you speak up—that's it. Kiss in the car case, all over again—do you remember that case?

MR LODWICK: Mm. Disgusting.

TRALEE: Well how'd you like your Barby to have her good name dragged through the courts of the land, just because you're too mean to go to bed early? We think it's because you don't fancy your old lady.

MR LODWICK: Now listen young woman—

TRALEE: Can I sit down a minute?

MR LODWICK: Help yourself—but I'll want to know, you know, just exactly where this car is ...

TRALEE: Oh, I couldn't say—I really don't know.

MR LODWICK: East Lancs Road, you said.

TRALEE: Well there's hundreds of fields off it, aren't there, and for all I know they've slipped up the motorway: you can be in the Lake District in an hour or so, you know. Scuffers are nicer up there, and you get a better view. Do you fancy your old lady?

MR LODWICK: In some field? In the Lake District? With an enormous crane-driver? You just wait till you get home, my little chicken, just you wait. I'll teach you. I'll make your arse tingle so much you won't want to sit down for a fortnight. I'll shake you and shake you till your teeth are rattling in the back of your head. (Smacks hands together) And you won't get out again so easy. Oh, you can fight and bite and struggle, but you won't get the better of me. You've bitten me before, haven't you, my pretty one? (Pulls up sleeve) Look, look at that. But you never got the better of me, did you? Did you? No. I'll pin you down, on that bed like an Amazonian Purple Moth, pinned to a spread of black velvet. I'll tie you, tie you down my beauty, so you won't be able to move a finger to resist me, and then we'll see where your crane-drivers are, what good your bloody giant navvies are going to do you ... Ha! You won't move for a week when I've finished with you. (Pause) What are you doing?

TRALEE: Taking my coat off. Do you mind?

MR LODWICK: Help yourself.

TRALEE: Can I have a drink?

MR LODWICK: Oh, I'm sorry—over there love. Good of you to bother to come and tell me, really—I'm very grateful.

TRALEE: Anything for you?

MR LODWICK: Oh—I don't, no. Very rarely touch it. Very, very rarely.

TRALEE: Go on. Have a little whisky. Steadies the nerves.

MR LODWICK: Oh my nerves are steady enough—

TRALEE: Hold out your hand.


(She takes his hand and holds it out. It trembles.) Haha. Trembling. (Looks at her) Alright then, better have a little whisky. Oo, not too much. Ta.

TRALEE: Here's to your continuing vitality, Mr Lodwick.

MR LODWICK: Cheers. Here's to yours, er—

TRALEE: Tralee.


TRALEE: My grandmother comes from there.


TRALEE: Just as well it wasn't the other one—she came from Cracow; but she's Polish and altogether too bloody healthy.

MR LODWICK: Well—Good health, Tralee.

TRALEE: Cheerihoh, Mr Lodwick.

(They drink. A silence. Noise from upstairs)

MR LODWICK: What's that?

TRALEE: Could be Mrs Lodwick—


(They both stand, arms stretched out. She takes his hand, for protection)

TRALEE: Can't have been anything. These old houses.

MR LODWICK: It's a new house.

TRALEE: Settling down, probably. These new houses.

MR LODWICK: Do you live round here? I can't remember seeing you around the place?


Excerpted from John McGrath â" Plays for England by Nadine Holdsworth. Copyright © 2005 The estate of John McGrath (texts), Michael Billington (foreword) and Nadine Holdsworth (introduction). Excerpted by permission of University of Exeter Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

The late John McGrath made his name as a playwright and television writer and director, founding the 7:84 Theatre Companies, as well as the hit TV series Z-Cars. He wrote over 50 plays for theatre and numerous feature film screenplays, and ran his own film production company, Freeway Films. He was Visiting Fellow in Theatre at Cambridge University, and Visiting Professor in Media Studies at Royal Holloway College. Nadine Holdsworth is Lecturer in Theatre Studies at Warwick University. She is the editor of John McGrath's Naked Thoughts that Roam About: Reflections on Theatre, (Nick Hern Books, 2002). Her research specialises in post-war British drama, cultural policy, popular performance, and the intersections of these with class, gender, and race She has been at Warwick since January 2000. She studied Drama (BA Hons) at the University of Loughborough between 1987 and 1990. Her doctorate on '7:84 England: Performance and Ideological Transaction', also completed at Loughborough, was awarded in 1995.

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