Michael Hastings, Wide-Ranging British Playwright, Dies at 73

Obituaries   Michael Hastings, Wide-Ranging British Playwright, Dies at 73
 
Michael Hastings, a British playwright who was a contemporary of Shelagh Delaney, who died last week, and was—along with her—drafted unwillingly by critics as a member of the "Angry Young Man" set of the late 1950s, died on Nov. 17. The cause was cancer. He was 74.

Born in London on Sept. 2, 1938, he came to prominence while still a teenager when his first play, Don't Destroy Me, about a tailor's helper in a working-class Jewish family, won plaudits in a 1956 London mounting. Mr. Hastings was in fact Jewish and wrote the drama while actually working as a tailor's apprentice (he never attended college). The play was staged at the New Lindsey theatre club in Notting Hill, just a few weeks after the premiere of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. The following year, his second play, Yes, and After, was produced at the Royal Court Theatre.

The rising writer then perplexed his public, and the critics, by taking off to Europe, where he spent most of the next eight years living in France, Germany and Spain.

Mr. Hastings' most famous work came three decades later. Tom & Viv, a 1984 play about poet T.S. Eliot and his mentally unstable wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, won both praise and—in that pre-reality-television era—criticism for its invasion into the famous couple's private lives. In 1994 it was made into a critically acclaimed movie starring Willem DeFoe and Miranda Richardson. New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane wrote that the play "was based on almost nothing at all, apart from a smattering of blind prejudice and a thick ear for English verse," but allowed that "Hastings has a high old time with stuff-shirt, philistine England, which he thinks of as the ideal refuge for his trussed-up hero."

It wasn't the first time Mr. Hastings put real people in his plays, and it wouldn't be the last. Lee Harvey Oswald, a hit in 1966, was a docudrama that tried to explain the life of President Kennedy’s assassin. For the West (Uganda), produced in 1977, concerned the relationship between British imperialism and the brutal rule of the Uganda dictator Idi Amin. And, Calico, in 2004, examined a love affair between Samuel Beckett and James Joyce’s daughter.

Gloo Joo, a 1978 comic farce about a West Indian facing deportation from the United Kingdom, was a West End hit, and won the Evening Standard Comedy of the Year Award in 1979. Other plays included The World's Baby, starring a young Vanessa Redgrave, For The West, Carnival War a Go Hot, Midnite at the Starlite and The Emperor (which he and Jonathan Miller adapted from a novel by Ryszard Kapuscinski), a controversial depiction of Emperor Haile Selassie, which provoked demonstrations when it was staged at the Royal Court in 1987. Mr. Hastings' talent was far-ranging. In addition to plays, he wrote libretti, biographies, screenplays for both film and television, novels and a collection of poetry.

His survivors include his wife, Victoria Hardie, a librettist and playwright; and three children.

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