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Desperado Corner is a play written for the stage by English playwright Shaun Lawton. It started out as a collection of performance poems and monologues written and performed by Lawton in London between 1973 and 1976. It is set in the seaside town of Redcar in the north east of England in 1959.
The play was turned down by a number of theatres in London and it was not until 1981, due to the efforts of Riverside Studios Dramaturg Paul Kember that it finally premiered at the Citizens Theatre, in Glasgow, on 16 January of that year, with Di Trevis directing the following cast:
- Bob: Jim Cartwright
- Big Larry: Andrew Wilde
- Mattie: Gary Oldman
- Bazza: Mark Rylance
- Lily: Katherine Kitowitz
- Val: Johanna Kirby
- Frank: Ciarán Hinds
- Alderman: Patrick Hannaway
- Builder: Gordon Hammersley
- Policeman: Roger McKern
- Geordie: Shaun Lawton
Due to its success, a further production was staged that same year at the Citizens, this time directed by Robert David MacDonald. Frances Barber took over the role of Val while Jill Spurrier took over the role of Lily.
There was also a production of the play by final year students at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at their Vanbrugh Theatre in London.
Because of its unrestrained street language the play was considered controversial by some, yet it was hugely popular with a predominantly (and formerly) working-class audience in Glasgow, and received positive reviews, notably in the Times, The Guardian and The Scotsman.
On Jan 19th. 1981 Cordelia Oliver wrote in The Guardian: "
...those passages which are genuinely moving are those in which Lawton has found expression for the bitterness, the anger or the bewilderment which together drive the play along."
"...Mr. Lawton's special achievement is to signal the deeper feelings through the obscenity and the joking."
And Trevor Griffiths writing in The Scotsman on 19th Jan 1981 said:
"I could simply lift the repellent aspects of Shaun Lawton's Desperado Corner at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre and you would probably think it was a grim and depressing evening of social realism. Yet, despite the sordid catalogue of brutal events portrayed in graphic detail, ranging from the anal impaling of a canary via the killing of a baby and occasional razor slashings to vomitting into roadworks and onto workmen, the production achieved a kind of manic lyricism amid several moments of high comedy." He added: "Savagely funny, but not for the squeamish"
For many of the actors it was a stepping-stone in their careers. At least two of them were immediately snapped up by agents, while Gary Oldman went on to play in Robert David MacDonald's Summit Conference and appeared in Mike Leigh's Mean Time. Five years later Jim Cartwright wrote his own first play, Road (1986) which enjoyed considerable success.