Bartlett, Neil 1958-
Bartlett, Neil 1958-
Born 1958, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England; son of Trevor and Pamela Bartlett; partner of James Gardiner. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A., 1981.
Agent—The Agency, 24 Pottery Ln., London W11 4LZ, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Actor, director, translator, designer, librettist, playwright, and novelist. 1982 Theatre Company, England, founder and member, 1982-86; Gloria (music-theatre collective), London, England, founder and member, 1988-98; Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, artistic director, 1994-2004. Director of stage plays, including The Magic Flute, Institute of Contemporary Arts Theatre, London, 1985; a version of his own play A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, Institute of Contemporary Arts Theatre, 1987; Twelfth Night, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, 1990; Aspazija's The Avenging Woman, Kabata, Riga, Latvia, 1991; Dido, Queen of Carthage, American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA, 2005; The Rake's Progress, Aldeburgh Festival, Aldeburgh, England, 2006; and many stage plays at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Affiliate of Consenting Adults in Public, September in the Pink, International AIDS Day, Theatre de Complicite, and National Review of Live Art.
Perrier Award, 1985, for More Bigger Snacks Now; Time Out/Dance Umbrella Award, 1989, for A Vision of Love; Writers Guild of Great Britain Award, 1991, for Sarrasine; Time Out Award, 1992, for A Judgement in Stone; nominated for Whitbread Prize, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1996, for Mr. Clive and Mr. Page; decorated officer, Order of the British Empire, 2000.
Dressing Up, produced in London, England, 1983.
Pornography, produced in London, England, at Institute of Contemporary Arts Theatre, 1984.
A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep 1, produced in England, 1985.
(Adaptor and director) Lady Audley's Secret (based on work by Mary E. Braddon), produced in London, England, at Institute of Contemporary Arts Theatre, 1988.
That's What Friends Are For (television play), 1988.
Where Is Love (television play), 1988.
(With Stuart Marshall) Pedagogue (screenplay), 1988.
A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep 2, produced in England, 1989.
Now that It's Morning (television play), 1989.
That's How Strong My Love Is (television play), 1989.
A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep 3 (produced in London, England, at Drill Hall Theatre, 1990), Methuen (London, England), 1990.
(Adaptor) Sarrasine (based on work by Honore de Balzac), 1990.
(Adaptor and director) Let Them Call It Jazz (based on work by Jean Rhys), produced in London, England, at Drill Hall Theatre, 1991.
(Adaptor and director) A Judgement in Stone (based on work by Ruth Rendell, produced in London, England, at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, 1992.
Night after Night (produced in London, England, at Royal Court Theatre, 1993), Methuen (London, England), 1993.
The Seven Sacraments of Nicolas Poussin (produced in London, England, at Royal London Hospital Theatre, 1997), Artangel (London, England), 1997.
In Extremis: A Love Letter (produced in London, England, at National Theatre, 2000), Oberon (London, England), 2000.
(Adaptor; with David Bryer) The Prince of Homburg (based on work by Heinrich von Kleist), Oberon (London, England), 2002.
(Adaptor) Camille (based on the work by Alexandre Dumas), Oberon (London, England), 2003.
Solo Voices: Monologues 1987-2004, Oberon (London, England), 2005.
Also adaptor of the Charles Dickens works A Christmas Carol, 2002, and Oliver Twist, 2004.
(And director) Moliere, The School for Wives, produced in Derby, England, at Derby Playhouse, 1989.
(And director) Pierre Marivaux, The Game of Love and Chance, produced in London, England, at National Theatre, 1992.
Jean Genet, Splendid's, introduction by Edmund White, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1995.
Eugene Labiche, The Threesome, produced in London, England, at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, 2000.
Sophie Faucher, La Casa Azul: Inspired by the Writings of Frida Kahlo, Oberon (London, England), 2002.
Pierre Marivaux, The Island of Slaves, Oberon (London, England), 2002.
Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (biography), Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1989.
Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
The Ten Commandments (short stories), Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1992.
Mr. Clive and Mr. Page (novel), Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1996, published as The House on Brooke Street, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Skin Lane (novel), Serpent's Tail (London, England), 2007.
Contributor to books, including High Risk 2: Writings on Sex, Death, and Subversion, edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverberg, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1994; The Mammoth Book of Gay Short Stories, edited by Peter Burton, Carol & Graf (New York, NY), 1997; Flowers and Revolution, edited by Barbara Read, Middlesex University Press, 1997; and Bend Sinister, Gay Man's Press (London, England), 2002.
Neil Bartlett is a prolific London-based playwright. In addition, he designs, manages, and directs his stage productions and acts in them as well, sometimes in multiple roles. Commenting in British Dramatists, Bartlett noted: "I do not consider my work ‘playwriting’ because my performance work has its professional roots in collectively devised small-scale work, physical theatre, and performance art."
Bartlett characterizes all of his work in the field of performance art as "gay theater." Bartlett's plays have moved from the stages of "fringe theater" to the theatre mainstream because they are "accessible, controlled, and immaculate works of art with a backbone of political steel," according to Contemporary British Dramatists essayist Alasdair Cameron.
A thematic constant in Bartlett's work is his interest in the hidden history of gay men. His 1983 play Dressing Up consists of fragments from the lives of gay men in London from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, performed before a rack of costumes. Pornography consists of monologues about love and betrayal based in part on personal memories of the actors themselves. In A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep 1 Bartlett draws parallels between his life and that of Victorian writer Simeone Solomon, whose career was ruined when he was prosecuted for gross indecency. Bartlett performed the piece in the nude, according to Cameron "to prevent audiences from wasting time wondering whether he would take his clothes off."
Several of Bartlett's works have been musicals. Sarrasine, Bartlett's adaptation of a short story by Honore de Balzac, tells the story of a young man's obsession with a castrato singer whom he believes to be "the perfect woman." Staged as an opera with four actor/singers around whom the play is written, Bartlett explained to Clarence Bard Cole for Christopher Street: "It's very much about them, because it's about what it means to be a performer." In Night after Night Bartlett links his love of musicals with his straight father's love of the same; but since the musicals feature gay men, his father finds himself drawn to a genre whose codes he does not understand; in show business, "musical" used to be a synonym for "gay." Bartlett's "musical thriller," A Judgement in Stone, is about the dilemma of the outsider, in this case an illiterate housekeeper who murders her employers as they watch a televised performance of Don Giovanni. The stage piece was adapted from a popular novel by British mystery writer Ruth Rendell. The largest of his recent musical theater pieces, The Seven Sacraments of Nicolas Poussin, set fragments of The Book of Common Prayer in collision with a contemporary gay voice, using a full orchestra, three choirs, and a children's chorus.
Bartlett's translation of Pierre Marivaux's The Game of Love and Chance deals with the obstacles posed by gender, class, and deception. In the play, a betrothed couple who have never met in person separately decide to pose as their servants in order to take some measure of their "intended." While by the drama's end both sets of heterosexual impostors fall in love, the subtext of the play is gay sensibility, according to New Statesman contributor John Dugdale.
Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde, Bartlett's biographical appreciation of the Victorian writer and his time, was the first book to place Wilde's life and ideas in their historical gay setting, according to Gay and Lesbian Literature essayist Michael Bronski. Bronski refers to the work as "a breakthrough for gay male writing and scholarship." Going beyond the newspapers, journals, police reports, crime magazines and literature of the period during which Wilde lived, Bartlett also conducts a dialogue with the dead author. In so doing, he uncovers a gay male history and sensibility that continues over several historical periods and at the same time finds a way to understand the critique of that history.
In his first novel, Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, Bartlett writes of Boy and O (The Older Man), a couple who are stage-managed into a courtship by Mother, the manager of the bar where the novel is set. Each character serves as a symbol of the gay world, and the plot depicts the nuclear family and its decline and the need for gay men to break from it. Even Father is present, unseen but introduced to the reader through a stream of letters to his son, Boy. Mark Sladen, writing in Listener, observed that Bartlett "succeeds brilliantly … in evoking the elaborate rituals which dominate the characters' lives." A Library Journal critic noted that, although there is a "small, chilling subplot" involving random, unprovoked attacks on gay men, for once there is no one dying of AIDS, and "Bartlett should be commended for addressing and acknowledging HIV-negative men."
The House on Brooke Street, published in England as Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, is a memoir related through a series of flashbacks. Beginning on Christmas Eve, 1956, Mr. Page, a middle-aged, middle-class department store manager attempts to recreate his life—on paper—and come to terms with the fact that his lover is dead and that he himself is, in fact, gay. Thirty years before, Mr. Page had a chance meeting with a man who seemed to be his double; they shared the same birth date, it turns out, and eventually the same attraction for the double's servant-lover, as well as for each other. But the two men differed in education and economic circumstance: Mr. Clive is wealthy and lives in an opulent mansion on Brooke Street. Their affair is short-lived. Mr. Clive is forced to disappear with his young lover because he fears exposure as a homosexual, but no such escape is possible for Mr. Page; also terrorized by the fear of exposure, he is "doomed to a life of continuing apprehension and pretence." In 1952 Page is ordered out of the Turkish bath he has frequented for thirty years because he and a young movie actor attempted to pick each other up. The young actor turns out to be Rock Hudson, in town for a film premiere. In telling his story, Page often pretends it happened to a different person in a different time. A reviewer for Library Journal noted that part of the book reads like a crime novel, but "the real crime is the gay narrator's life in the closet." A contributor for Booklist called The House on Brooke Street "a lush, sumptuous tapestry of mood and memory," while a Times Literary Supplement reviewer concluded that the novel establishes Bartlett "among English fiction's fiercest historians of gay male suffering." Mr. Clive and Mr. Page was nominated for the 1996 Whitbread Prize.
Bartlett told CA: "Everything I write is a response (conscious or not) to my particular circumstances. If I am writing for the theater, I am inspired by a particular performer, the dynamic of a particular auditorium, the demands of budgeting a particularly difficult season. If I am writing fiction, I am driven by the imperatives of an image, a place, and above all, a voice. After ten years in the theater, I have recently returned to novel writing. My third novel, Skin Lane, is written in blood. Freed from the imperative to please a public, I have gone deeper into myself than ever before."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary British Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Booklist, January 1, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of The House on Brooke Street, p. 816.
Library Journal, August, 1991, Kevin M. Roddy, review of Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, p. 140; January, 1997, Roger W. Durbin, review of The House on Brooke Street, p. 142.
Listener, October 4, 1990, Mark Sladen, review of Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, p. 30.
New Statesman and Society, January 22, 1993, John Dugdale, review of The Game of Love and Chance; April 19, 1996, Richard Canning, review of Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, p. 399.
Observer, June 6, 1993, review of Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde.
Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1991, review of Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall, p. 42; December 2, 1996, review of The House on Brooke Street, p. 41.
Spectator, April 13, 1996, Francis Henry King, review of Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, p. 37.
Times Literary Supplement, November 4, 1988, Greogory Woods, review of Who Was That Man?, p. 1234; March 29, 1996, Valentine Cunningham, review of Mr. Clive and Mr. Page, p. 22.