Before he was known the world over for portraying Chianti-loving, cultured, cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins was a talented stage performer. On 2 May 1985, he debuted in a show that would win him a Laurence Olivier Award, Pravda.
Staged at the National’s vast Olivier theatre, Pravda was a comedy from the twin talents of Howard Brenton and David Hare, based on recent events in the world of British newspapers.
South African tycoon Lambert Le Roux, played by Hopkins, buys up newspapers and offers an editorial policy whereby anything can be written as long as it does not hinder either his ambition or his profits. The actions of Le Roux bore more than a slight resemblance to those of media magnates Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell.
Hopkins revelled in the larger than life caricature of Le Roux, with John Barber of the Daily Telegraph describing his performance as a “portrait of naked power on the rampage”.
At this stage in his career, the Welsh actor, who was knighted in 1993, was far from being unknown. His big break had come in 1967 when, as part of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre, he took over from Olivier in The Dance Of Death when the theatre figurehead was indisposed with appendicitis. But, by 1985, he was not yet the world-renowned actor that The Silence Of The Lambs would make him.
Hare and Brenton were also established names by this point, and had already worked together on Brassneck, a play about local government corruption, in 1973.
By 1985, Hare had already established himself as one of Britain’s most prolific political playwrights, with pieces including The Great Exhibition and Knuckle, which attacked political corruption and capitalism. In 1984, he was made Associate Director of the National Theatre, where he subsequently staged The Secret Rapture, Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, The Absence Of War and Amy’s View. Hare’s more recent plays include the exploration of the privatisation of British Rail, The Permanent War, the Iraq war drama, Stuff Happens, and, most recently, The Vertical Hour.
Brenton, like Hare, was not afraid to push boundaries and tackle difficult subjects in his pieces. Most famously, his 1980 play The Romans In Britain led to a failed private prosecution under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956, brought due to a graphic scene portraying male rape. His more recent plays include Paul, which re-evaluated the life of St Paul, In Extremis, and 2008 piece Never So Good. While not writing plays, Brenton was a key writer for BBC MI-5 series Spooks.