Peter Barnes (playwright)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Photo of Barnes by Denis Thorpe

Peter Barnes (10 January 1931 – 1 July 2004)[1] was an English Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His best known work is the play The Ruling Class, which was made into a 1972 film for which Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination.[2]


Early career[edit]

Barnes was educated at Marling School in Stroud, Gloucestershire and performed his national service with the Royal Air Force. He then worked briefly for London County Council.[3]

Bored with his job, Barnes took a correspondence course in theology and began to visit the British Museum Reading Room, which he used as an office on a daily basis.[4] During this period he worked as a film critic, story editor, and a screenwriter.[5] He achieved critical and box-office success with his baroque comedy The Ruling Class (1968), which debuted at the Nottingham Playhouse.[6] The play was notorious for its anti-naturalistic approach, unusual in theatre at the time.[7] Critic Harold Hobson deemed it to be one of the best first plays of its generation.[4] 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.[8]

Later plays[edit]

Following his initial success, Barnes wrote a series of plays offering apocalyptic visions of various periods in history:

Later life[edit]

In his later years Barnes turned his attention more in the direction of films, radio, and television.[11] His screenplay for Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April earned him a nomination for the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 1992.[13] He also wrote several hugely successful mini-series for U.S. television, including Arabian Nights, Merlin and Noah's Ark.[14] 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.[15] His television miniseries for ABC and NBC were the most popular of the day with record audiences.[16]

Barnes continued writing historical comedies throughout the 1990s. These include Sunsets and Glories (1990), Dreaming (1999) which transferred to London's West End, and Jubilee (2001).[17][4] He was the Royal Shakespeare Company's most produced living playwright at the time.[18]

The last play that Barnes completed was Babies, which is based on his experiences as an elderly father.[3] His second wife gave birth to a daughter when he was 69, followed by triplets a year later.[19]

John Irvin directed his The Moon and the Stars with Alfred Molina about the film business in 1930s' Rome.[20] A revival of his Noonday Demons was produced by renowned theatre designer John Napier.[21] Barnes television miniseries are shown yearly as holiday favourites.


Theatre plays[edit]

  • The Time of the Barracudas, Curran Theatre, San Francisco, 1963
  • Sclerosis, Aldwych Theatre, 1965
  • The Ruling Class, Nottingham/Piccadilly Theatre, 1968
  • Leonardo’s Last Supper, Open Space, 1969
  • Noonday Demons, Open Space, 1969
  • The Bewitched, RSC at the Aldwych Theatre, 1974
  • Laughter!, Royal Court, 1978
  • Somersaults (revue), Leicester, 1981
  • Red Noses, RSC, 1985
  • Sunsets And Glories, Yorkshire Playhouse, 1990
  • Luna Park Eclipses, National Theatre Studio, 1995
  • Corpsing (revue), Tristan Bates Theatre, 1996
  • Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, (first act was to have been performed in 1967, second act written in 1996)
  • Heaven’s Blessings, Florida State University, 1997
  • Dreaming, Royal, Exchange & Queen’s Theatre, 1999
  • Jubilee, RSC, 2001

Original works for radio[edit]

  • My Ben Johnson, 1973
  • Barnes' People : Seven Monologues, 1981
  • Barnes' People II: Seven Duologues, 1984
  • Barnes People III: Eight Trialogues, 1986
  • No End to Dreaming, 1987
  • More Barnes' People, 1990

Original screenplays[edit]

Original teleplays[edit]

  • Checkmate (No Hiding Place TV series 1959)
  • With Suicidal Intent (No Hiding Place TV series 1959)
  • Who Is Gustav Varnia? (No Hiding Place TV series 1959)
  • The Man with a Feather in His Hat (Armchair Mystery Theatre TV Series 1960)
  • Breakout (Kraft Mystery Theater TV Series 1961)
  • Nobody Here but Us Chickens: Nobody Here but Us Chickens, More than a Touch of Zen, Not as Bad as They Seem (Channel 4, 1989)
  • Revolutionary Witness: The Patriot, The Preacher, The Butcher, The Amazon 1989
  • The Spirit of Man (BBC Two 1990)
  • Bye Bye Columbus (BBC Two 1992)
  • Merlin (Hallmark 1998): two episodes

Adaptations for stage, screen and radio[edit]

  • Lulu: A Sex Tragedy (adaptation of Frank Wedekind's plays Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box), produced at Nottingham Playhouse / Royal Court Theatre, London, 1970
  • The Alchemist (adaptation of a play by Ben Jonson), produced at Old Vic Theatre, 1970
  • The Devil Is an Ass (adaptation of a play by Ben Jonson), produced at Nottingham Playhouse, 1973 revised version, Edinburgh Festival, 1976 then National Theatre, London, 1977
  • For All Those Who Get Despondent (cabaret; based on works by Bertolt Brecht and Frank Wedekind), produced at Theatre Upstairs, 1976
  • The Frontiers of Farce (adaptation of the plays The Purging by Georges Feydeau and The Singer by Frank Wedekind), produced at Old Vic Theatre, 1976
  • Bartholomew Fair (based on the play by Ben Jonson), produced at Round House Theatre, 1978 then London, 1987
  • Antonio (based on John Marston's plays Antonio' and Mellida and Antonio's Revenge), produced at Nottingham Playhouse, 1979
  • Chaste Maid in Cheapside (radio adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton), BBC, 1979
  • The Two Hangmen (radio adaptation of Barnes's stage play For All Those Who Get Despondent), 1979
  • Eulogy on Baldness (radio adaptation of a work by Synesius of Cyrene), BBC, 1980
  • The Devil Himself (revue; adaptation of works by Frank Wedekind), music by Carl Davis and Stephen Deutsch, produced at Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, London, 1980
  • The Atheist (radio adaptation of play by Thomas Otway), BBC, 1981
  • The Singer (radio adaptation of work by Frank Wedekind), 1981
  • The Soldier's Fortune (radio adaptation of a play by Thomas Otway), BBC, 1981
  • The Dutch Courtesan (radio adaptation of play by John Marston), BBC, 1982
  • The Magician, radio adaptation of work by Maxim Gorky, 1982
  • A Mad World, My Masters (radio adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton), 1983
  • The Primrose Path (radio adaptation of a play by Georges Feydeau), 1984
  • A Trick to Catch the Old One (radio adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton), 1985
  • Scenes from a Marriage (based on the play by Georges Feydeau), produced at Barbican Theatre, London, 1986
  • The Old Law (radio adaptation of a play by Thomas Middleton, William Rowley and Philip Massinger), 1986
  • Woman of Paris (radio adaptation of work by Henri Becque), 1986
  • Don Juan and Faust (radio adaptation of by C. D. Grabbe), 1987
  • The Magnetic Lady (radio adaptation of a play by Ben Jonson), 1987
  • Tango at the End of Winter (based on a play by Kunio Shimizu), produced in London, 1991
  • Hard Times (television adaptation of the novel by Charles Dickens), BBC, 1994
  • Enchanted April (screen adaptation of the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim), Miramax, 1992
  • Voices (aka Voices from a Locked Room, screen adaptation written with Nicholas Meyer of the book Double Jeopardy by Mark A. Stuart), 1995
  • Noah's Ark (television adaptation) Hallmark, 1999
  • A Christmas Carol (television adaptation) Hallmark, 1999
  • Alice in Wonderland (television adaptation) Hallmark, 1999
  • Arabian Nights (television adaptation) Hallmark, 2000

Selected filmography[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Barnes, who had two sons and two daughters, in 1958 to Charlotte Beck.


  1. ^ Strachan, Alan (5 July 2004). "Peter Barnes: Surprising and adventurous dramatist". The Independent. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  2. ^ Dwyer, Michael. "Peter O'Toole (74) gets eighth Oscar nomination for best actor". The Irish Times.
  3. ^ a b "Peter Barnes". 4 July 2004 – via
  4. ^ a b c d "Obituary: Peter Barnes". 5 July 2004.
  5. ^ "Dramatist celebrated subversive power of laughter". The Irish Times.
  6. ^ "50 Years at Wellington Circus: The Sixties". Nottingham Playhouse.
  7. ^ "Forgotten authors No.29: Peter Barnes". The Independent. 29 March 2009. Archived from the original on 2 April 2009.
  8. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (3 July 2004). "Peter Barnes, Playwright Known For 'The Ruling Class,' Dies at 73" – via
  9. ^ "Leonardo's Last Supper – Drama Online".
  10. ^ "Barnes, Peter – Drama Online".
  11. ^ a b Wolf, Matt (5 July 2004). "Peter Barnes".
  12. ^ "Olivier Winners 1985". Olivier Awards.
  13. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards | 1993". | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  14. ^ "Peter Barnes". BFI.
  15. ^ "Barnes' People". 27 September 1981. p. 45 – via BBC Genome.
  16. ^ Carter, Bill (29 April 1998). "TV Notes; Merlin Sparks Ratings Magic" – via
  17. ^ Head, Dominic (26 January 2006). The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521831796.
  18. ^ Associates, Casarotto Ramsay &. "Peter Barnes". Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.
  19. ^ "Obituary: Peter Barnes". 2 July 2004 – via
  20. ^ "The Moon and the Stars (2007) – John Irvin | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  21. ^ Billington, Michael (15 July 2015). "Noonday Demons review – rival hermits declare holy war in caustic comedy" – via


  • Woolland, Brian (2004). Dark Attractions: The Theatre of Peter Barnes. London, Methuen, ISBN 0-413-77442-2.

External links[edit]