Today's dramatists are failing to confront issues of injustice, writing instead "for attention spans of 10 minutes between adverts", leading political playwright Athol Fugard has said.It's risky to decry changes in form as simply a decline in quality (I'm not sure I would still want to be doing day-long passion plays simply because that's how we started), I'm not going to discount the thoughts of someone whose work was so dangerous to the status quo it endangered the lives of that artist and his collaborators.
Fugard was a courageous dramatic voice throughout the apartheid era in his native South Africa, enduring censorship, police surveillance, phone-tapping and raids. He was the first to put black and white actors together on the South African stage.The first thing of note is that your correspondent's writing is not nearly at a level to change the world, as Fugard's did -- so I'm operating at a disadvantage. Second, I'm not sure that art has to be profound to be good. But in our short experience, we have found that the moment one's focus turns to the marketing of a play, or its reception, the immediate consequence is that the work itself suffers. What artistes so disdainfully call "commercial concerns" do threaten quality if only because the mind can't accommodate being both perceiver and perceived. So of course he's right.
Fugard, 78, is still writing and directing – a new play premieres in Britain this autumn. Speaking to the Guardian, he said he wants "to pass on the baton" to the next generation but is dismayed by a general failure to engage with political issues.
He applauded some of the "extraordinary" political work that has emerged from British and American theatre, singling out Sir David Hare for praise. But he added: "They're not doing enough … at the moment. The world we're living is getting worse, not better."
Playwrights are not adequately confronting subjects such as China's dictatorship and its new colonialism, which are "without significant protest", nor the decline of western morality, African leaders like Robert Mugabe, or drug abuse worldwide, he said.