Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 88

It is not just a mad mad world, my masters, nor a bad bad world, nor a sad sad world; though it is in my opinion at times all of these things, but it is an amazingly small world. A very large house at the bottom of our lane, across from the main road, was started all of fifteen years ago by a man named Manolis. A year or so into the building Manolis died and his son took over but the house remained an empty shell for all those fifteen years and we never expected to see it finished, especially recently with finances being what they are. But lo and behold! The house is finished and habitable because it was been bought by two Israeli brothers who have spent a small fortune on it. The walled swimming pool alone must have set them back fifty grand if not more. Anyway, a few nights back (ago?) they threw a housewarming party and there I met a Greek who started to talk about the Connaught Rangers mutiny in India in 1922, a subject on which I wrote a play, so you can imagine my surprise that he knew anything about it. It turns out however he was in London in 1979 and saw my play ‘The 88’ at The Old Vic. Not only that but, when it was published, he actually bought the script. It seemed that what intrigued him enough to go and see the play in the first place was the, with one notable exception, universal slamming it received at the hands of the London critics. Why, he wondered, did such a good play (his words) receive this absolutely vitriolic criticism? He was full of praise for the play, had a great evening in the theatre, and simply couldn’t understand what the critics were on about. So I told him it really was quite simple and (1) It is an Irish subject that does not reflect well on the British and the English it would seem only like Irish plays if they’re written by Irishmen about Irishmen leaving the Brits out of it and (2) It was a matter of the most unfortunate timing in that it opened very shortly after the murder by the IRA of Louis Mountbatten. It wasn’t just the critics who were up in arms about it. A company called Trident Television sponsored the play and the bigwigs of the company accompanied by their wives were at the first night and stormed out at the end kicking up merry hell and the following morning demanding the company name as sponsors be removed. This of course upset the applecart as far as the theatre was concerned; one of the Old Vic directors, by the name of Benham was heard to say ‘How dare they put on this play in my theatre?’ Note that will you? My theatre. The Vic being his personal fiefdom of course. And, instead of braving the storm, the powers that be weakly caved in and the play came off in a few days.
Now what I will never understand is how it got to a first night anyway if that was the general feeling; after all the script was available for months before rehearsals even started so surely the directors of Trident and the directors of The Vic must have known what the play was about. Or did they not read the script? Or did they not understand the script?
I can only say the audiences’ reactions belied the critics’ opinions. ‘The 88’ opened at the same time as ‘Amadeus’ which went on to be critically acclaimed and a huge success whereas ‘The 88’ died an ignominious death. But I am here to tell you, and I don’t care who knows it, I know which is actually the better play. I would dearly love to see it revived and given its proper appreciation without, as one audience member put it, my undoubtedly being made the subject of a hatchets job but, alas, I doubt very much that will ever be in my lifetime. But how gratifying to meet in Vamos of all places and 33 years after the event a Greek who not only went to see the play but who appreciated it for what it was worth: small small world.

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