Lavery, Bryony 1947-

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LAVERY, Bryony 1947-


Born December 21, 1947, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England. Education: University of London, B.A. (honors), 1969.


Agent—PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.


Playwright and director. Artistic director for Les Oeurfs Malades, 1976-78, Extraordinary Productions, 1979-80, and Female Trouble, 1981-83, all London, England; Unicorn Theatre for Young People, London, England, resident dramatist, 1986-88; Gay Sweatshop, London, England, artistic director, 1989-91; Birmingham University, tutor-lecturer on the M.A. playwriting course, 1989-92.


Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award nomination for best play, 2004, for Frozen; honorary Doctor of Arts, De Montfort University.


Tallulah Bankhead (biography), Absolute (Bath, England), 1999.


Of All Living, produced in London, England, 1967.

Days at Court, produced in London, England, 1968.

Warbeck, produced in London, England, 1969.

(And director) I Was Too Young at the Time to Understand Why My Mother Was Crying, produced in London, England, 1976.

(And director) Sharing, produced in London, England, 1976.

(With Peter Lebourne) Germany Calling, produced in London, England, 1976.

(And director) Grandmother's Footsteps, produced in London, England, 1977.

Snakes, produced in London, England, 1977.

(And director) The Catering Service, produced in London, England, 1977.

(With others) Floorshow, produced in London, England, 1978.

(And director) Helen and Her Friends, produced in London, England, 1978.

(And director) Bag, produced in London, England, 1979.

Time Gentlemen Please (cabaret), produced in London, England, 1979.

The Wild Bunch (for children), (produced in London, England, 1979), published in Responses, edited by Don Shiach, Thomas Nelson (London, England), 1990.

Sugar and Spice (for children), produced in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, 1979.

(And director) Unemployment: An Occupational Hazard? (for children), produced in London, England, 1979.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (adaptation of the novel by Anita Loos), produced in London, England, 1980.

(And director) The Joker (for children), produced in London, England, 1980.

(And director) The Family Album, produced in London, England, 1980.

Pamela Stephenson One Woman Show (cabaret), produced in London, England, 1981.

Missing, produced in London, England, at Old Half Moon Theatre, 1981.

(With Patrick Barlow) Zulu, produced in London, England, at I.C.A. Theatre, 1981.

Female Trouble (cabaret), produced in London, England, at Theatre Space, 1981.

The Black Hole of Calcutta, produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1982.

(With Patrick Barlow and Susan Todd) Gotterdammerung (also known as Twilight of the Gods), produced in London, England, at National Theatre of Brent, 1982.

For Maggie, Betty and Ida, produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1982.

More Female Trouble (cabaret), produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1982, and London, England, at Tricycle Theatre, 1983.

(With Yvonne Allen, Annie Lewis, Geoff Parker, Tracy Thomas, Isobel Ward, and Elly Wilkie) Cocktail Cabaret, produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1984.

Calamity, produced in London, England, at Tricycle Theatre, 1984.

(With Su Elliott, Sally Greenwood, and Pippa Sparkes) The Wandsworth Warmers (cabaret), produced in London, England, 1984.

The Zulu Hut Club (for children), produced in London, England, 1984.

Hot Time, produced in London, England, 1984.

Origin of the Species, produced in Birmingham, England, 1984, and London, England, at Drill Hall, 1985.

Witchcraze, produced in London, England, at Battersea Arts Centre, 1985.

(Lyricist) Getting Through, produced in various cities, 1985; produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1987.

The Wandsworth Warmers Christmas Carol Concert, produced in London, England, 1985.

The Wandsworth Warmers in Unbridled Passions, produced in London, England, 1986.

Sore Points (for children), produced in London, England, 1986.

(With Sally Owen and L. Ortolja) Mummy: A Family Who Cheated Death, produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1987.

The Headless Body (music by Stephanie Nunn), produced in London, England, 1987.

Madagascar (for children), produced in London, England, 1987.

Puppet States, produced in London, England, at Riverside Studios, 1988.

The Dragon Wakes, produced in London, England, 1988.

(With Nona Sheppard) The Drury Lane Ghost, produced in London, England, 1989.

Two Marias, produced in London, England, 1989.

Wicked, produced in London, England, at Oval House, 1990.

Kitchen Matters, produced in London, England, at Theatre Upstairs, 1990, and London, England, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 1991.

Her Aching Heart, produced in London, England, at Oval House, 1990, and London, England, at I.C.A., 1991.

(With Nona Shepphard) Peter Pan (based on the book by J. M. Barrie), produced in London, England, at Drill Hall, 1991.

Her Aching Heart, Two Marias, Wicked, Methuen (London, England), 1991.

Flight, produced in London, England, 1991.

(With Nona Shepphard) The Sleeping Beauty, produced in London, England, 1992.

Nothing Compares to You, produced in Birmingham, England, at Birmingham Repertory Studio, 1995.

Goliath, produced in London, England, at Sphinx Theatre, 1997.

Bryony Lavery: Plays One, Methuen (London, England), 1998.

Frozen (two-act; produced in England at Birmingham Repertory Theater, 1998; in London, England, at the Royal National Theater, 2002; and on Broadway, 2004), Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2004.

A Wedding Story (produced in London, England, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 2001), Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2000.

More Light, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2001.

The Magic Toyshop (adapted from the novel by Angela Carter), produced in Wolsey and Ipswich, England, 2001.

Cherished Disappointments in Love, produced in London, England, 2001.

Last Easter, produced in New York at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 2004.

Also author of Over and Out, first produced on tour; Ophelia produced by Milton Keynes, 1996, selected scenes published in Mythic Women/Real Woman, edited by Lizbeth Goodman, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1998; Discontented Winter: House Remix; and Precious Bane, Oberon, 2003. Other published plays include The Wild Bunch and Other Plays, Nelson, and Her Aching Heart and Other Plays, Methuen. Author's works have appeared in It Isn't Over Till the Fat Lady Sings, Bodley Head; Masks and Faces, Macmillan; Women in Theatre, Faber & Faber; Women Writers Handbook, Aurora Metro Press; and Plays by Women, Methuen.


Wuthering Heights (adaptation for "Classic Serial Slot"), Radio 4 (England), 1994.

My Cousin Rachel (adaptation for "Classic Serial Slot"), Radio 4 (England), 1994.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Radio 4 (England), 1994.

Velma and Therese, Radio 4 (England), 1996.

No Joan of Arc, Radio 4 (England), 1997.

The Smell of Him, Radio 4 (England), 1998.

A High Wind in Jamaica (two-part adaptation), Radio 4 (England), 2000.

Requiem, Radio 3 (England), 2000.

Lady Audley's Secret (adaptation for "Classic Serial Slot"), Radio 4 (England), 2000.

Wise Children (adaptation for 11.30 slot), Radio 4 (England), 2003.

Also author of radio plays Changes at Work (series), 1970; Fire the Life-Giver, 1979; Uniform and Uniformed, 1983; Numerical Man, 1983; Magical Beasts, 1987; Cliffhanger (series), 1990; Laying Ghosts, 1992; and No Joan of Arc, 1997.


Revolting Women, British Broadcasting Corporation-2, 2000.

Buy (thirty-minute film), Channel Four, 2000.

Also author of television plays Revolting Women (series; with others), 1981; Rita of the Rovers, 1989; and The Cab Wars, 1989; and the video plays The Lift, 1988, and Twelve Dancing Princesses, 1989; and Restless Farewell (screenplay) and Goodbye?


Bryony Lavery began her career working in the British alternative theater, both as a playwright and director known for her comedic touch. She also worked extensively in children's theater and with several theater groups. According to a contributor to Contemporary Dramatists, "by drawing on this wide range of experience, Lavery developed a voice quite unique in British theater and a style that reaches beyond the typical middle-class forms of farce and drawing-room humor."

One of Lavery's best-known early plays, Origin of the Species, was first produced in England in 1984 and tells the story of an anthropologist who digs up a living woman-creature. In Her Aching Heart, first produced in London, England, in 1990, Lavery tells the story of two women who are reading the same historical romance and begin to develop a love affair parallel to the story in the novel. The Contemporary Dramatists contributor noted, "That the two lovers are both women is important, but it is not the key to the play's politics. Rather, the interweaving of the modern and the 'historical,' the real and the fictional, and the serious and the silly results in a delightful and complicated play."

Lavery's plays also often address contemporary social issues, such as Kitchen Matters, which she wrote for the Gay Sweatshop feminist theater company and is about the company's struggle to survive economically. Lavery based her play Goliath, first produced in London in 1997, on the book by Bea Campbell about working-class England and the class and race conflicts that abound in this part of English society. Goliath was produced as a one-woman show, with the actor playing all of the characters. As noted in Contemporary Dramatists, "the play makes serious political points, but it conveys its messages through emotion and through the vision (and the visionary quality of writing) of a set of characters trapped in time and place. Lavery allows the characters the freedom to strive for means of change, yet she does not offer any easy solutions."

Although best known in London theater circles, Lavery debuted on Broadway in 2004 with her play Frozen, which received a Tony Award nomination for best play and greatly increased the public's awareness of her in the United States. The play's primary characters are a social activist named Nancy, whose daughter has been murdered; the pedophile and serial killer who murdered her; and a psychiatrist studying the killer. The ten-year-old daughter of Nancy disappeared while going to visit her grandmother, but her remains are not discovered until two decades later buried on the property of the convicted pedophile, Ralph, who seems to feel no guilt for his deeds. Writing in Variety, Charles Isherwood pointed out that "the drama, set in the U.K., unfolds over the course of more than two decades, and is initially structured as three separate monologues woven together." In one monologue, Nancy describes the day her daughter disappeared and her own evolution into an activist who finds a group that searches for missing children. In another monologue, Ralph describes how he lured Nancy's daughter into his van, how he is upset with how the police exhumed the bodies he has buried, and how he is outraged over the destruction of his child pornography collection. Dr. Agnetha Gottmundsdottir is the psychiatrist-researcher who provides her own perspective of Ralph in the third monologue.

In his review in Variety, Isherwood found that Lavery produces "few revelations" in her play and thought that many in the audience "may come away with questions large and small about this play's plausibility." He also noted, however, that "the characters are, for the most part, drawn in convincing detail." In a review of the 2002 London performance of the play, New Statesman contributor Katherine Duncan Jones commented that "Lavery's tragedy … is less concerned with telling the grisly tale than with exploring the complex and changing responses of its three characters." Jones went on to note, "Bryony Lavery believes that 'theatre should be cathartic', and to my amazement this profoundly upsetting play is also strangely uplifting. There are some particularly moving touches in the closing dialogue between the two women." Hilton Als, writing in the New Yorker, called the play "extremely well-crafted."

In an interview with Matt Wolf for the New York Times, Lavery commented on her approach to playwriting, noting that "there always must be hope at the end of a play," which she believes is not easy to achieve. She told Wolf, "Hopelessness is a much safer place. You don't have to work quite as hard if everything is hopeless. You can just despair." As an example, she told Wolf that in Frozen she wanted to emphasize "the notion of forgiveness, which I wanted the play to explore." The play also generated controversy for Lavery when a psychiatrist, Dorothy Otnow Lewis, and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell accused her of plagiarizing passages from a 1997 article by Gladwell and a 1998 book by Lewis.

Lavery's play Last Easter tells the story of how a group of theater people help one of their friends and colleagues deal with her impending death from cancer. The group makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes but is so uncomfortable with what they find there that they began to make wisecracks and sing show tunes. "I think it's a play about how miraculous life is," Lavery told Erik Piepenburg for an article in the New York Times. "I wanted to let the characters delight us in all their inconsistencies and their bravery as well. They're such an unlikely bunch of saints because they do, in my view, great things for their friends. They're so loving."

In addition to her plays, Lavery is also the author of Tallulah Bankhead, a biography of the actress who became a star and, as noted by Hugh Massingberd in the Spectator, was the "stylish embodiment of the Twenties." The biography was written as part of Absolute Press's "Outlines" series, which focuses on the lives of lesbians and gay men. Writing in the Lambda Book Report, Bill Greaves commented that Lavery provides a portrait that includes "what reportedly happened in Tallulah's life" bolstered with "but-what-really-probably-happened insights." Greaves also noted that the "writing has the shine and snap of good repartee," adding, Lavery "brings to Tallulah a great affection for 'bad girls.'" In his review in the Spectator, Massingberd was less than enamored with Lavery's writing style and said it "might be categorised as Sapphic Solipsism." However, he also noted that "if one can ignore the embarrassing nonsense and the Sapphic special pleading, somehow there is a perceptive study struggling to escape from underneath the persiflage. The biographical material is handled with deceptive deftness."



Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Biography, fall, 2000, Peter Matthews, review of Tallulah Bankhead, p. 790.

Daily Variety, May 6, 2004, Robert Hofler, "Scribe Melts at Frozen Bow," p. 15.

Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 2004, Melissa Rose, review of Frozen, p. 95.

Hollywood Reporter, March 24, 2004, Frank Scheck, review of Frozen, p. 66.

Lambda Book Report, February, 2000, Bill Greaves "Iconography" (includes review of Tallulah Bankhead), p. 22.

New Republic, May 31, 2004, "On Theater—Pyrotechnics and Ice" (includes review of Frozen), p. 29.

New Statesman (1996) (London, England), July 22, 2002, Katherine Duncan Jones, review of Frozen, p. 40.

New Yorker, March 29, 2004, Hilton Als, review of Frozen, p. 100.

New York Times, March 14, 2004, Matt Wolf, review of Frozen (includes interview with Bryony Lavery), section 2, p. 7; September 12, 2004, Erik Piepenburg, "The Playwright of the Moment Cracks Up," section 2, p. 7; September 25, 2004, Jessie McKinley, "Playwright Created a Psychiatrist by Plagiarizing One, Accusers Say," section B, p. 1.

Spectator (London, England), July 17, 1999, Hugh Massingberd, review of Tallulah Bankhead, p. 30.

Variety, March 22, 2004, Charles Isherwood, review of Frozen, p. 49; May 17, 2004, "Scribes at Work: Tony-Nominated Playwrights Look to the Future," section B, p. 2.*

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Lavery, Bryony 1947-

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