Oakes, Meredith 1946-
OAKES, Meredith 1946-
Born September 18, 1946, in Sydney, Australia; immigrated to England, 1970; married Tom Sutcliffe (a writer), 1973; children: one son, one daughter. Education: University of Sydney, New South Wales, B.A. (with double honors), 1969.
Agent—Casarotto Ramsay and Associates, Ltd., National House, 60-65 Wardour Street, London W1V 3HP, England; fax: 020-7287-9128.
Playwright. Sydney Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Australia, music critic, 1968-70. Music critic and editorial assistant for various publications in London, England, including Music and Musicians and Listener. Gate Theatre, London, writer-in-residence, 1994; Royal Court Theatre, London, writer-in-residence, 1995. Has also worked as a print room assistant, French teacher, plastic bottle trimmer, and filing clerk.
The Neighbor (produced in London, England, 1993), Oberon Books (London, England), 1993.
The Editing Process (produced at Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1994), Oberon Books (London, England), 1994.
Mind the Gap (produced at Hampstead Theatre, London, England, 1995), Oberon Books (London, England), 1995.
Faith (produced at Royal Court Theatre, London, England, 1997), Oberon Books (London, England), 1997.
Man for Hire, produced at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, England, 2002.
Also author of Her Mother and Bartok, 1999. Adaptor of plays, including The New Menoza, by Jacob Lenz, produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1993; Miss Julie, by August Strindberg, produced in London, England; and Italian Night, by Odon von Horvath. Translator of plays, including Holy Mothers, by Werner Schab, Oberon Books (London, England), 1999; and The Man Who Never Yet Saw Woman's Nakedness, by Moritz Rinke (produced in Los Angeles, CA, 2001), Oberon Books (London, England), 2001. Translator of plays and radio plays, including Elizabeth II, by Thomas Bernhard, produced in London, England, 1992; and Pebbles for Your Thirst, by Fatima Gallaire, 2002.
Librettist of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, by Gerald Barry; The Black Monk, by Haflidi Hallgrimson; and Jump into My Sack, by Julian Grant, among others. Also author of radio plays, including Glide, 1998; Trampoline, 2000, and The Mind of the Meeting, 2002. Author of teleplay Prime Suspect 4. Author's adaptation of The New Mendoza also published in Lenz: Three Plays, Oberon Books (London, England), 1993.
Born in Australia, Meredith Oakes found success as a playwright, librettist, and translator in Britain. Her incisive commentary on modern British life in plays like The Editing Process and The Neighbor, as well as her adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest as a modern opera, reveal Oakes as a versatile and accomplished dramatist.
The Editing Process is set in the offices of a small, somewhat fusty but respected periodical, Footnotes in History. William, the pedantic old editor, is contrasted to his thirty-year-old assistant, Ted, who yearns to get ahead. Peggy, who has grown old in faithful service to the journal, stands in counterpoint to Eleanor, an ambitious twenty two year old who has used vague family connections to begin what she hopes will be a glamorous career in the world of publishing. Into this mix comes Lionel, the hard-driving, bullying general manager of the company that has bought out the little magazine, and Tamara Del Fuego, an expensive design consultant purposely overdrawn as a comic caricature. Similarly, in Oakes's play Faith, which is set on the Falklands during the war, Toby Spiers, the old sergeant looking for a comfortable retirement, conflicts with energetic Lance Corporal Adam Ziller. When an American mercenary fighting for Argentina is captured, Spiers plays for time while Ziller presses for a decision, even if that decision is a grim one with wider international implications.
"Worn red bricks, wire mesh, the dust of indifference and the grit of common cruelty are the foundations of a London housing project in the powerful The Neighbor," according to Los Angeles Times reviewer Jana J. Monji. James, who lives with his girlfriend, Stephi, and his older sister, stresses his needs to the exclusion of everyone else's, including his need for "inner space." When his new neighbor, John, starts taking an interest in Stephi, the two are headed toward a dramatic and ultimately tragic confrontation. Along the way, Oakes "offers a sharp, acute, caustic study of a council estate bully," noted Manchester Guardian contributor Michael Billington, and also reveals an "eye for the relation of character to environment."
Oakes has also found success writing librettos, including a modern musical adaptation of The Tempest. Reviewing a Royal Opera House production for the Guardian, Charlotte Higgins wrote, "Some won't like Meredith Oakes's relentless rhyming libretto. There will be those who will object to Oakes's and Ades's take on the play, which is big on love's redemptive power." "Who cares?," Higgins went on to note: "The evening worked. In all kinds of ways, The Tempest represented a textbook example of how to get it right when staging a new opera." Shakespeare's magical play has delighted audiences and attracted opera composers for centuries, but many have foundered on the effort to draw dramatic tension from the nearly God-like powers of Prospero, the drama's main character. When Ades took on the project of bringing this problematic figure to the operatic stage, he "wisely assigned the libretto to Meredith Oakes, a seasoned playwright with the guts to rewrite Shakespeare. They have solved the Prospero problem by making the great magician a more fallible, vulnerable being," noted Alex Ross in the New Yorker. According to Ross, "veterans of contemporary premieres will be relieved to find that for once a librettist and a composer have taken charge of a sacred text and made it their own."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Back Stage West, September 20, 2001, Polly Warfield, review of The Man Who Never Yet Saw Woman's Nakedness, p. 10.
Guardian (Manchester, England), May 4, 1993, Michael Billington, review of The Neighbor; December 6, 1997, Michael Billington, "The New Kids," review of Holy Mothers, p. 7; June 10, 2002, Andrew Clements, review of The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, p. 16; February 12, 2004, Charlotte Higgins, review of The Tempest, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1998, Jana J. Monji, "'The Neighbor' Reflects on Brutal Truths about the Human Condition," p. 28.
New Yorker, March 1, 2004, Alex Ross, "Rich and Strange," review of The Tempest.