Brendan Behan



  • (1923 - 64) Irish playwright, who produced only two completeplays in his short turbulent life. Behan joined the IRA at the ageof 14 and spent much of his youth in borstal and prison. His inventivedramas show the influence of Brecht and are notable for their richuse of vernacular. His first play, The Quare Fellow (1954),originally performed in a Gaelic version in Dublin, found wide acclaimwhen produced, by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in 1958.It ran for a total of 452 performances at the Theatre Royal, StratfordEast, and at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End. It tells the storyof a 'quare fellow' awaiting execution in an Irish prison; the titlecharacter is only talked about and never appears on stage. The playis thought to have influenced the campaign that led to the abolitionof capital punishment in Britain.

    Behan's tragicomedy The Hostage (1957) was also premieredin Gaelic before being successfully presented by Littlewood's groupin 1959. The plot concerns an English soldier held prisoner by terroristsin an Irish brothel and eventually murdered. Audiences were also drawnto the theater by the wild speeches Behan used to make from the stage.Although Behan was now a celebrity he added little to his achievement,wasting his talents in raconteurship and self-destructive drinkingbouts. A third play, Richard's Cork Leg, was left unfinishedat his death but performed in 1972 at the Abbey Theatre.