It is seldom, even today, that a headline in the Radio Times

has some sensational news to impart. But m any readers in

February 1970 must have been pulled up short by ‘ “ This” ,

says D avid M ercer, “ is m y swan-song to politics” .’ ‘This’ was

his latest television play, The Cellar and the Almond Tree, or

rather the trilogy o f which it is the middle section: and the

intelligence would be news indeed, seeing that o f all our new

playwrights M ercer is the one who has most consistently

worried at the political theme in his works. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say that he is the only one who seems to

have felt, as a dramatist, more than an occasional, dutiful

interest in politics, in man as a political animal, and in the

dram atic possibilities o f political life and political action as a

vital part o f his characters’ everyday existence. T h e news, as it happens, is not quite so clear-cut as the

headline-writer made out. In the body o f the piece M ercer is

quoted as saying that the trilogy is ‘partly m y swan-song to

conscious politics in dram a’ and in a television interview on

Line-Up after the play he amplified this statement as rep­

resenting a feeling that he had, not that politics as such was a

dead subject for him, but that it was becoming part o f a

wider and more inclusive world-view which made it less and

less possible for him to confine his characters within an

explicitly political framework. T h at is rather different, and

indeed is something we could have seen for ourselves right

aw ay in his very earliest plays, the trilogy called The Genera­

tions. There the progression was clear enough. The first

play, Where the Difference Begins (1961), was easily the simplest

and, superficially, the most realistic he has ever written; it

was a straightforward piece o f social documentation about the

growing-away o f two sons from their working-class father

because o f the changes made in them by education and by

their inevitable graduation (or decline, i f you like) into the middle classes. T h e second play in the group, A Climate o f

Fear (1962), moved out into a direct confrontation with the

most burning political issue o f the time, nuclear disarmament.