Susan Pedersen at the LRB:
Selina Todd’s biography of Delaney does two things well. It helps us understand how someone the press insisted on calling a ‘Salford teenager’ was able to create this remarkable work – and it shows how hard the people who brought the play to stage and screen worked to shift the spotlight away from that intense mother-daughter dynamic. There was a script, too, for ‘new writers’ in the late 1950s and 1960s: they were to be young, authentic and, if possible, working class; they were to be masculine, rebellious and shocking. When, in April 1958, Delaney sent her play to Joan Littlewood, the director of the avant-garde Theatre Workshop in East London, she adopted a naive, Northern persona that was more than a little misleading. ‘A fortnight ago I didn’t know the theatre existed,’ she gushed to Littlewood – but then a friend had taken her to see a play and she had discovered ‘something that meant more to me than myself’. She now knew she wanted to write plays, and in two weeks had produced the enclosed ‘epic’. ‘Please can you help me? I’m willing enough to help myself.’ Christened plain ‘Sheila’, she signed the letter ‘Shelagh Delaney’, the name by which she would be known from then on.