Heathcote Williams’s first new play in many years is to open Sept. 21 at The Cockpit, where it received a reading last February. The company advertises itself as a radical fringe “theatre of disruptive panache, angry critique and useful, progressive ideas for the future.” “Killing Kit” traces “the volcanic life and mysterious death of Christopher Marlowe — poet, playwright, and proto-punk; sworn enemy of Queen Elizabeth’s court and of her Church; a gay spy ensnared by the Tudors’s secret state, and William Shakespeare’s greatest influence.” Seamus Heaney has called Marlowe “a cross between Oscar Wilde and Jack the Ripper,” and Williams has noted in a preface to the play that “Marlowe was a force of nature” who “catches the imagination like almost no one else.” Similar in age to Shakespeare but not at all like him, Marlowe was “an anarchist atheist and a subversive blasphemer, murdered at the age of 29 at the request of one of a number of persons not unknown.”
Williams was 28 when his first full-length play, “AC/DC,” a scathing attack on the mental health industry, was produced in 1970 at the Royal Court Theatre. It won the London Evening Standard’s Most Promising Play Award. Charles Marowitz, reviewing it in the Times Literary Supplement, called it “the first play of the 21st century.” It also received the 1972 John Whiting Award as “a new and distinctive development in dramatic writing with particular relevance to contemporary society.” Williams’s other plays include “Hancock’s Last Half Hour,” “The Immortalist,” “Remember the Truth Dentist,” and “The Local Stigmatic,” which Al Pacino made as a movie. Harold Pinter was a longtime champion of Williams’s plays and other writings, among them the narrative polemical poems Sacred Elephant, Autogeddon and, most famously, Whale Nation.