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Posted 06 June 2016 - 01:15 AM
"Bill MacIlwraith, who has died aged 88, was a stage and television dramatist who became best known for his 1966 black comedy The Anniversary.
The play focuses on Mrs Taggart, a grotesque, eye-patch sporting matriarch who likes to keep her three grown-up sons under her thumb, binding them to the maternal breast with gifts, threats, and ruthless exploitation of their weaknesses. The sons and various hangers-on gather for “Mum’s” 40th wedding anniversary party, her husband, the owner of a cowboy building enterprise, having found “ a bit of peace at last” by dying some years earlier. When one son outs himself as a transvestite, another announces his emigration and the third says he intends to marry his pregnant girlfriend, the celebrations spiral into a battle of wits as the manipulative mother uses any means necessary to keep her chicks in the nest.
The monstrous matriarch (“If I could stuff you, I’d put you in that cabinet over there. And that’s love!” she shrieks) was a plum comic part, and attracted some of the world’s leading actresses. The play was first staged at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, in 1966 and subsequently enjoyed a long West End run at The Duke of York’s Theatre, with Mona Washbourne as Mrs Taggart.
In 1968 it was filmed by Hammer Studios with Bette Davis in the starring role and in 2005 Sheila Hancock, who had appeared as Karen, the none-too-easily cowed daughter-in-law, in the play’s first London outing and in the film version, took the role of Mrs Taggart in a West End revival, directed by Denis Lawson, which proved that The Anniversary had lost none of its popular appeal. “Just when she finally seems to be defeated, she comes back to life like the villain in a slasher movie with another piece of devilry,” one critic observed.
“Take your mother-in-law, if you have one, to The Anniversary,” advised another, “and if you don’t, well, see the show anyway, and be grateful for small mercies.”
Bill MacIlwraith was born in north London on April 13 1928 to Scottish parents. His father was in the printing trade. An older brother would be killed on active service with Bomber Command in the Second World War. After leaving school aged 15 Bill got a job with the Tottenham & District Gas Company, writing scripts in his spare time. While he was serving with the RAF in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency, he edited an in-service sports paper."
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