Michael Wilcox

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Plays by Michael Wilcox

Accounts

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A rural counterpart to the urban Rents, according to author Michael Wilcox, Accounts touches on the same themes of homosexuality, money, and survival that the former play introduces. As teenage brothers Andy and Donald Mawson cope with the death of their father, learning how to run a farm with their widowed mother, Mary, the play primarily concerns the family’s processes of discovery – both in being independent land owners for the first time, and in terms of the brothers’ development during adolescence.

A bildungsroman, of sorts, Accounts details the daily routine of the family within their first year on the farm, and specifically demonstrates how Andy and Donald must mature quickly to take responsibility for its financial performance. With this mental maturity comes bodily maturity, as well; the audience becomes privy to Andy and Donald’s awakening sexuality, and in the case of Donald, emerging homosexuality. As a result, Accounts is a ‘coming out’ experience in the Scottish countryside, in the same way that Rents was in Edinburgh, for the play’s characters, the audience, and Wilcox, himself.

Accounts premiered at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre Club in May of 1981, with performances at the Fringe Festival following shortly after. The play made its way over to the US in 1983, and was shown in New York City’s Hudson Guild Theater.

Lent

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in an Edwardian boarding school in Berkshire, that was based on the preparatory school that his own family owned and operated, Michael Wilcox’s Lent is a semi-autobiographical account of boyhood and developing sexuality. As it depicts a ‘young boy centre stage in an adult play’, the work is fraught with the preoccupations of a thirteen-year-old adolescent, superimposed within the larger and more mature themes of orphanage and abandonment, societal and financial pressures, and love and companionship. As protagonist Paul Blake builds a bond with the school’s elderly Latin master, Matey, the relationship they foster is based on mentorship, and is even familial and avuncular. However, there is an ambiguously homoerotic dimension to their interaction, though it is concealed by Paul’s lack of self-awareness and misunderstanding of his own sexuality, along with the careful self-control and self-denial of Matey.

Wilcox’s play takes place in a bygone era, and in an enclosed and inaccessible setting as the Gorse Park School; still, the uncertainties and growing pains associated with young adulthood depicted within Lent transcend these dramatic limitations, and speak clearly to the modern experience.

Lent was originally commissioned in 1983 for performance at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Though it was never produced there, it instead premiered in London’s Hammersmith Lyric Studio in the same year. The play was subsequently reproduced for television and radio, and has continued to be staged in a number of amateur performances.

Massage (Wilcox)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In contrast with Accounts and Lent, Massage presents the confusion of discovering one’s sexuality from the perspective of an adult who is already sexually developed. It tells the story of Tony Dodge, a bicycle builder, and his ambiguous relationship with Simon, the twelve-year-old son of his former girlfriend Jane. As in Lent, this play does not explicitly address the notions of homosexuality and paedophilia that it suggests. Instead, Dodge displaces his feelings of lust toward Simon, and accordingly, his guilt and shame, with Rikki, a boy he hires from a massage agency. Rikki, himself, has endured sexual abuse in his childhood, and thus dissociates the emotional dimension from sexual relations; he considers it merely as an exploitative means to earn money.

Though all of the characters in Lent are technically heterosexual, they relate to each other in a way that Michael Wilcox describes as ‘sexual cannibalism’ – feeding off one another in a disturbing, visceral sense, in order to allay their own feelings of fear, uncertainty, and insecurity.

Massage is a single-scene play set in real time. As such, the audience is able to see on stage an organic response and resolution to the emotional chaos presented within it. The play was first performed in the Hammersmith Lyric Studio in London, in 1986.

Rents

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In his introduction, Michael Wilcox writes: 'I always thought Rents was about money and survival rather than homosexuality . . . [it] was written in Edinbugh and Newcastle in 1976. That's before we had heard of AIDS and at a time when Scottish law had not caught up with English law as far as homosexuality was concerned. In Scotland, all homosexual acts between males of any age and in any circumstances were criminal offences with the ultimate threat of life imprisonment for those found guilty.'

Richard is a university lecturer, looking to have a good time with Phil, the housemate and 'companion' of Robert, who works in a men's clothes shops and is, by his own admission 'Edinburgh's leading authority on inside legs'. Together they form the 'Rents' a group of men whose time can be bartered for or bought, be it by an employer or a client.

Described by Time Out magazine as 'a superb and touching comedy about the lives of two rent-boys in Edinburgh', Rents was first produced by the Traverse Theatre Company during the 1979 Edinburgh International Festival.

Michael Wilcox was resident playwright at the Dovecot Arts Centre, Stockton-on-Tees from 1977 to 1978 and in 1980 became resident playwright at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

His many plays include Mrs. Steinberg and the Byker Boys (Bush, 2000); Rock'n'roll and Barbirolli (Snap Touring Co, 1999); Time Windows (Westcliff-on-Sea, 1992); Green Fingers (Northern Stage/Live Theatre, 1990); Massage (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1986); 78 Revolutions (Traverse/Lyric, Hammersmith, 1984); Lent (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1983); Rents (Traverse 1979); Accounts (Traverse/ Riverside Studios, 1981; Hudson Guild Theatre, New York, 1983); Phantom of the Fells (Live Theatre Co, 1977); Pioneers, Mowgli and The Blacketts of Bright Street (Dovecot Arts, 1977-78).