Peter Barnes (playwright)
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Peter Barnes (10 January 1931 – 1 July 2004) was an English Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His most famous work is the play The Ruling Class, which was made into a 1972 film for which Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination.
Bored with his job, Barnes took a correspondence course in theology. It was at this time that he began to visit the British Museum reading room, which he used as an office on a daily basis. During this period he worked as a film critic, story editor, and a screenwriter. He achieved critical and box-office success with his baroque comedy The Ruling Class (1968), which debuted at the Nottingham Playhouse. The play was notorious for its anti-naturalistic approach, unusual in theatre at the time. Critic Harold Hobson deemed it to be one of the best first plays of its generation. Following a successful three-month run in the West End, Barnes adapted the play for the 1972 film of the same name, which featured a highly acclaimed performance by Peter O'Toole.
Following his initial success, Barnes wrote a series of plays offering apocalyptic visions of various periods in history:
- Leonardo's Last Supper (1969) portrayed Leonardo da Vinci being prematurely declared dead, with his subsequent "resurrection" in a filthy charnel-house.
- The Bewitched (1974), which he produced with the RSC, showed the Spanish state attempting to produce an heir for Carlos II, whom Barnes portrayed as being impotent and imbecile.
- Laughter! (1978) was his most controversial work, a double-bill that jumped from the reign of Ivan the Terrible to a satire based on the tedious bureaucracy required to sustain Auschwitz.
- Red Noses (1985) depicts a sprightly priest, originally played by Antony Sher, who travelled around the plague-affected villages of 14th century France with a band of fools, known as God's Zanies, offering holy assistance. It was for this play that Barnes won his Olivier award.
In his later years Barnes turned his attention more in the direction of films, radio, and television. His screenplay for Elizabeth von Arnim's Enchanted April earned him a nomination for the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 1992. He also wrote several mini-series for U.S. television, including mArabian Nights Merlin and Noah's Ark. For BBC Radio 3 he wrote a series of monologues entitled Barnes's People, for which he attracted a large number of well known actors: Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen.
Barnes's second wife, Christie, gave birth to his first daughter Leela in 2000 when he was 69. Barnes, who never received much American mainstream media attention for his plays, quickly became a tabloid obsession in 2002 when his wife gave birth again, this time to triplets Abigail, Nathaniel and Zachary, who are now all actors and are following their father's path in Hollywood as well as their sister Leela. The last play that Barnes completed was Babies, which is based on his experiences as an elderly father. It is currently being adapted for British TV.
- Woolland, Brian (2004). Dark Attractions: The Theatre of Peter Barnes. London, Methuen, ISBN 0-413-77442-2.