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Hugh Leonard, playwright

About his work for stage, page and screen

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Plays by Hugh Leonard

Sherlock Holmes and the Mask of Moriarty

“Oh, Miss, I am dead. The two men…they have killed-“

An impossible murder in the fog on Waterloo Bridge. So, begins The Mask of Moriarty. a full length play by Hugh Leonard. This Sherlock Holmes spoof is an original work by Leonard based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the Mask of Moriarty, Hugh Leonard brings together Holmes, Watson, Inspector Lestrade and of course Moriarty.  There are multiple references to other literary figures from the period with references to  Bunny Manders from E W Hornung’s Raffles stories, Dorian Gray, and (with a lapse of time) Jekyll and Hyde.   While the play is a comedy, there is a genuine whodunit to solve and the mystery content is substantial.

The play was commissioned by the Gate Theatre in Dublin where it premiered in 1985 with Tom Baker in the role of Sherlock Holmes and Alan Stanford as Doctor Watson. It was subsequently staged in Britain with Geoffrey Palmer as Holmes and James Grout as Watson, and at the Williamstown Theatre festival with Paxton Whitehead as Holmes.   Tom Baker and Alan Stanford in the Mask of Moriarty, Gate Theatre, 1985.

PICT (Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre) presented the Mask of Moriarty in 2011. The play has been translated into and performed in Finnish at the Sipoo Theatre.

The Mask of Moriarty was founded in a genuine affection for, and knowledge of the work of Conan Doyle: Leonard had previously adapted The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Study in Scarlet for the BBC in 1968.

 

 

Stephen D.

Hugh Leonard and James Joyce: Stephen D

“Stephen D is a most difficult and intricate play, which will stand or fall depending upon its director’s imagination”, Hugh Leonard in his production note to the US edition of the script.

Stephen D, as described by Michael Coveney of The Guardian newspaper, was “a skilful conflation of two James Joyce works, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, [it] made [Hugh Leonard] a name to reckon with at the Dublin theatre festival”.

stephend1963cast

 

Leonard’s production note also observes that  “… Joyce’s main objective was not to portray external truths; his intent was to write from within, to show the influences under which the mind of Stephen Dedalus (or Joyce, if you like) rebelled against and finally rejected the four greats “F’s” of Ireland: faith, fatherland, family and friendship.  This was Joyce’s aim, and it is the objective of Stephen D.”

And that “The play’s construction is episodic, within a flashback framework, and there is a minimum of linking devices…. as it progresses the narrator, Stephen, steps into the action, which resolves itself into a number of longer, more sharply defined sequences.”  Emilie Pine writes in The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary Irish Playwrights that in Stephen D “Leonard played with stage conventions and impressionistic techniques in an accessible style a format that would inform much of his own original drama in later years”.

Hugh Leonard subsequently adapted Dubliners for the stage as a full-length play, Dublin 1, and The Dead for the stage as a one act play.

 Premiers

Stephen D was first presented at the Gate Theatre, Dublin on 24 September 1962 and subsequently at the St Martin’s Theatre, London, on 12 February 1963. The Dublin cast is shown in the illustration.

It was presented in New York City at the East 74th Street Theatre on September 24 1967 with Stephen Joyce (sic) as Stephen.  Roy Scheider’s Cranly earned him an Obie for a “distinguished performance”.

Stephen D was the BBC Play of the month in 1972 and starred Donal McCann as Stephen and Tony Doyle as Cranly.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847702/

Summer

Summer

Towards the end of Hugh Leonard’s life he expressed the view that Summer was his best play. This article notes what he and some critics have said about it.

HL wrote disparagingly in an unpublished memoir “Critically, my play Summer far outdid Da at Olney – I have noticed that if a play features a number of characters lying on grass, one of them strumming a guitar, the critics rave and dust off the superlative “Chekhovian.”

Some years earlier he also wrote “In my play Summer, I began with the idea of two picnics six years apart.  I wanted to see what time had done to my people.  At the beginning, a metaphor was in the back of my head, and it was that at a certain point in our lives we move from a bus to a tramcar which travels along an ordained route, unable to change its course.  We, the passengers move around inside it, giving ourselves the delusion of freedom of choice and destination.”

summer by hugh leonard

The illustration accompanying this article is, I believe, from the 1980 off-Broadway production at the Hudson Guild Theatre.  The New York Times critic Frank Rich wrote of this scene : “the lights come up on a grassy hill high above Dublin, and we find eight people relaxing after a picnic lunch, reclining in the sod, saying nothing.  It’s obvious that these people all belong to the same part, but, for this extended instant, each character is isolated, staring off into a lonely space of his own choosing… And while no one has spoken a line, the audience has already been treated to a poignant foreboding of the evening’s subject.  The tranquil hush of the hill, the beatific stares on the faces, the translucent glow of the sky all summon up an utter stillness that cannot be confused with anything but death”.

In his obituary and evaluation of Hugh Leonard in 2009, the Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole wrote “For the second half of what is perhaps Hugh Leonard’s best play, Summer, three married couples reassemble at a beauty spot in Dalkey where we have seen them have a picnic six years earlier. As they take stock of the landscape, they are struck by the changes. The Celtic cross that had marked the spot has been removed to the National Museum. A crane dominates the horizon. The talk is of the property boom and political cronyism….The remarkable thing about this scene is that it is set not at the height of the Celtic Tiger, but in 1974, the year the play was first produced. That it could be cutting-edge contemporary theatre reminds us of the neat dramatic timing of Hugh Leonard’s final exit.”

Summer was first produced at the Olney (Maryland) Theatre in 1974 and staged again in that year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.  It was produced off-Broadway in 1980 at the Hudson Guild Theatre with a  cast that included Swoosie Kurtz, Pauline Flanagan and Mia Dillon.  A rehearsed reading was staged at the New Theatre in Dublin in 2007 as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival 50th anniversary programme.

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