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Chaos, culture and fantasy: The television plays of Howard Schuman

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The single plays of American ex-pat playwright Howard Schuman produced for British television between 1973 and 1983 have received little critical attention. Written in a distinctly un-British madcap, non-naturalistic and often pulpy ‘B movie’ style, they centre around caricatured, hysterical and/or camp characters and make frequent references to popular culture. This article provides a general survey of Schuman’s plays and analyses his sensibility as a screenwriter, drawing extensively on material from interviews with the writer. The article’s particular focus is how and why different cultural forms including music, film and theatre are used and referred to in Schuman’s plays, and how this conditions the plays’ narrative content and visual and aural form. It also considers the reception of Schuman’s plays and their status as non-naturalistic dramas that engage heavily with American pop culture, within the context of British drama. Finally, it explores the writer’s relationship to style and aesthetics, and considers how his written works have been enhanced through creative design decisions, comparing his directions (in one of his scripts) with the realized play to reflect on the use of key devices.
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Keywords: 1970s; British; aesthetics; non-naturalism; single play; studio; television; trans-atlantic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Reading

Publication date: August 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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