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Brenda Chamberlain

The Protagonists

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‘A work to which her whole oeuvre can be said to gather... profoundly confessional as well as a political cry.’ Damian Walford Davies

Lemon, venetian vetches; orchis, fritillary. How hard to remember an olive tree when the soul is behind bars...

Never before published, written ‘at white-heat in three weeks’ in autumn 1967 after two visits to the detention island of Léros in the Greek Dodecanese, the play is Chamberlain’s response – both heartbreakingly lyrical and disturbingly visceral – to the right-wing Colonels’ Coup of April 1967.

A dangerous, dissident text that draws on the conventions of Absurdist theatre, The Protagonists is the dark culmination of Chamberlain’s profound, career-long exploration of individuality, belonging, incarceration, imaginative freedom and the social role of the artist. It is also a startlingly candid articulation of her own emotional and psychological ‘internment’ at this time.

Edited by Professor Damian Walford Davies, Head of the Department of English & Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. His latest poetry collection, Witch (Seren 2012), was published in May 2012 and launched at the Hay Festival. He is also the General Editor of the forthcoming The Oxford Literary History of Wales (OUP).

Brenda Chamberlain was born at Bangor in 1912. In 1931 she went to train as a painter at the Royal Academy Schools in London and five years later, after marrying the artist-craftsman John Petts, settled in Caernarfonshire. In 1947 she went to live on Bardsey (Ynys Enlli) where she remained until 1961. After six years on the Greek island of Ydra, she returned to Bangor; it was there, depressed and with financial problems, she died from an overdose of sleeping tablets in 1971.