Plays by Snoo Wilson

The Bedbug

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ivan Varlet is making a class change. As he prepares to marry his bourgeois bride, the former mechanic casts off his socialist acquaintances and re-invents himself as ‘Ivor Violet’. Before he can embark on his new life, however, a fire at the wedding kills all the guests, and sees Ivan trapped in the ice cellar, frozen into a state of cryogenesis. Fifty years later, after the creation of a global socialist state following a world war, Ivan is unfrozen into an unrecognizable Russia. He swears, drinks, smokes and feels in a state that eschews pleasure and emotion. He causes women to lose their senses at the plucking of his guitar, and hospitalises men with his introduction of beer. Before this ‘early mammal’ can cause more social unrest, he is brought to the civic zoo and displayed as a specimen of society’s primitive past, where school children can feed him with cigarettes and alcohol.

A satire on the distrust of authority and the threat of the independent voice to the socialist system, Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1929 original was written at a time of growing disillusion with the Soviet Union. The Bedbug, adapted by Snoo Wilson, was commissioned by the National Theatre as one of six new plays, adaptations or translations for the 1995 BT National Connections, a collection of contemporary plays for young people.

Blowjob

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A brutal portrait of Northern English life in the early 1970s, Blowjob is an insightful and raw piece about the nature of alienation and violence. The play plunges into the despair of industrial workers, skinheads and a mentally ill girl named Moira as they struggle to live in their isolated community.

Described by director David Hare as a ‘classic fringe play’, Blowjob juxtaposes Wilson’s unique sense of humour with political outrage and astute social commentary. The Times praised it for having ‘an authentic sense of horror; an intermingling of physical outrage and savage farce.’

Blowjob was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1971, in a production directed by David Hare.

Darwin's Flood

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Darwin’s Flood asks the big questions about life and death with a little help from some of history’s greatest and most controversial philosophers and thinkers. On the night of his death, Charles Darwin is visited by the Belfast-accented Jesus Christ on a bicycle, Nietzsche in a time-travelling wheelbarrow and bondage fetishist Mary Magdalene via helicopter as he comes to grips with his worst nightmare – God exists and evolution doesn’t.

Hailed by the Evening Standard as ‘an explosive and wittily anachronistic collision of historical perspectives on evolution’, it is one of Wilson’s most surreal and provocative plays.

Darwin’s Flood was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 6 May 1994.

The Glad Hand

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In The Glad Hand a wealthy, communist-hating tycoon named Ritsaat leads a motley gang of explorers through the Bermuda triangle – and the space-time continuum – in pursuit of the antichrist, whom he hopes to lure out into the open for a battle, under the cover of the nineteenth century Cowboy Strike which ran in the wake of the American Civil War.

’A full-blooded theatrical experience which is also – praise be – good fun to watch. Its energetic imaginative nonsense spills out ideas, situations, crises, comedy and political harangue in a firework display of non-sequitur whizz-bang high spirits’–Sunday Telegraph

The Glad Hand was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 11 May 1978, with Anthony Sher in the lead role. It was directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

The Grass Widow

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Max Stafford-Clark of the Royal Court Theatre suggested that Wilson write an ‘American’ play and the result was The Grass Widow, a darkly comedic tale of four strangers who assemble to divide the estate of their mutual and mysteriously deceased friend, Morty, in the marijuana-rich valleys of Santa Cruz, California.

The Sunday Telegraph praised The Glass Widow as the play that ‘hilariously confirms that Mr Wilson is the liveliest and the most enlivening English dramatist of his generation.’

The Grass Widow was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 1 November 1983, in a production directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

More Light (Wilson)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

An outrageous mix of history, mythology, Christian doctrine and Shakespearean comedy, More Light is Snoo Wilson’s surrealist foray into the tradition of Elizabethan drama. Giordano Bruno, Renaissance mathematician and astrologist, has been burnt at the stake for heresy against the Catholic Church but his ghost is haunting the dreams of the Pope. In British heaven, Bruno is protected under the jurisdiction of Queen Elizabeth I who reigns supreme, meets a now female Shakespeare who is in the midst of rewriting Love’s Labour’s Lost, and is seduced by a barmaid who just happens to be the daughter of the God of Wine. Can Bruno ever escape the clutches of the Pope trying to burn him alive again and find love in the arms of England’s Virgin Queen?

The Evening Standard praised More Light as ‘a dazzling, theatrical puzzle that amuses by the profligacy of its ideas and the irreverence of its theories’.

Pignight

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pignight, written and first directed by Snoo Wilson, is the madcap story of a German POW, Smitty, who has escaped from the local asylum to work on a pig farm. But Smitty has a problem – the pigs are controlling his mind and they’re telling him to murder and eat the East End gangster and his girlfriend who happen to be running the old pig farm.

Described by the Guardian as ‘A lurid and grotesque commentary which presents a view of atavistic man seen from the sewer upwards’, Pignight is, like much of Wilson’s early work, a stunning combination of intense violence and satirical comedy.

Pignight was first performed by the Portable Theatre playing at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, the Young Vic Studio and the King’s Head Theatre, London, in 1971.

Sabina

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Sabina is based on the true story of the relationship – by turns therapeutic, personal and collegial – between Sabina Spielrein and Carl Jung. Spielrein, who was entrusted to Jung's care in 1905, went on to make a remarkable recovery, and later became one of the first female psychoanalysts. Her bond with Jung has been the subject of much investigation, concerning both the facts and the implications of their friendship.

In Wilson's play, the miraculous nature of Sabina's recovery is seen as the starting point for Jung's belief in the paranormal – effecting a break in the tradition of psychoanalysis between Freud and Jung, and bringing into stark relief the question of patient-doctor rapport – a key feature of the therapeutic alliance even today.

Described by the Tribune as ‘a typically surreal and unrestarined work . . . wonderfully theatrical . . . this is a rough-and-tumble occasion in which theory bumps into farce and poetry is drowned by shouting’, Sabina was first produced at the Bush Theatre, London, in February 1998, in a production directed by Andy Wilson.

The Soul of the White Ant

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in South Africa in the 1980s, this satirical comedy tackles the evils of apartheid – envisioned by Wilson as a termite viciously eating away at the structure of society. Borrowing its title from a book by South African naturalist Eugene Marias, in Wilson’s play Marias returns from the dead to spout his racist views and be treated to drinks at a local bar.

But in this world, the absurd becomes ordinary – killing black Africans is celebrated, a dead body is left behind the bar to fester without notice and a woman who believes adultery is immoral, insists that her lover ejaculate into a Tupperware container.

Considered by some to be Wilson’s masterpiece, The Soul of the White Ant exposes racial violence and political corruption with Wilson’s signature humour.

The Soul of the White Ant was first performed at the Soho Poly Theatre, London, on 2 February 1979. T

Vampire

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘Every age has its own vampires . . .’ – Snoo Wilson

Vampire is a tour de force of theatre which takes us through 150 years of British history. Chronicling the movement from countryside to city and the various forms of repression which have plagued women throughout, each of the three acts examines the ‘vampires’ of its age from the Victorians’ prudishness to the modern S&M culture.

Director Richard Romangnoli described the play as ‘a work of great theatrical imagination based on enduring themes existing in the realms of the real and surreal; a playground full of possibilities whose only limitations are our own imaginations.’

Vampire was written for Paradise Foundry Theatre Company, who gave the first production at the Oval House, London, on 28 April 1973.

Snoo Wilson (1948-2013) was born in Reading, studied at the University of East Anglia and was a founding director of the Portable Theatre, Brighton and London. Wilson was script editor for the Play for Today series, BBC TV, dramaturg for the RSC, director of the Scarab Theatre and taught film script writing at the National Film School.

In 1980 he was awarded a US/UK Bicentennial Fellowship and worked at Santa Cruz University and with the New York Theatre Studio in New York. In 1989 Wilson was Associate Professor, lecturing in play writing, at University College San Diego.

With a writing career from the 1960s, Wilson's place as an important and distinguished playwright was confirmed in his many award-winning plays both in Britain and across America. He received the John Whiting Award in 1978 for The Glad Hand, the San Diego Theater Circle award in 1988 for 80 Days and most recently the Eileen Anderson/Central Broadcasting Premiere Award for Best Night Out for HRH.

Wilson wrote films, libretti, radio plays and two novels. His libretti include an acclaimed adaptation of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld for the English National Opera and the book for 80 Days at the La Jolla Playhouse in California.

Following his sudden death in 2013, the many obituaries honouring both the man and the playwright confirmed that, at their exuberant, inventive and utterly original best, Snoo's plays deserve their place in the country's history of post-war playwrighting:

"He encouraged audiences to go on a rollercoaster ride into the beyond, albeit with engaging and recognisable characters. It was not whimsy. He was a one-off, quite unlike any other dramatist." Dusty Hughes, Guardian.