Thursday, October 10, 2013


I have recently been going through old scripts, the first one of course being The River Of Sand, a play I must have written around 1954/5 and I remember it did take me a long time to finish it, almost two years. A much later play, Rosemary took just five days. Having left South Africa in ‘53 that first play, influenced by my favourite American writers, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and novelists like John Steinbeck  was of course about that country, set in 1904 just after the Boer War. Reading it again I feel justly proud of a beautiful piece of work even though I have to say so myself. It was once performed with the greatest success, as the Victorians used to say, as a play reading in the studio of the actress Janet Barrow but that is the only light of day it has seen despite numerous submissions including a couple quite recently. Apart from two I can’t remember in those early days to whom it was sent but the two remembered are Flora Robson and Granada TV. I thought Miss Robson was perfect casting for the lead but the play came back with a little note which read in part. ‘I couldn’t possibly play a part like that. What would my fans say?’ To this day I do not understand what she meant by ‘a part like that.’ Maybe she felt having played Elizabeth 1 anything less grand was beneath her. I would have thought any actress worth her salt would leap at a lead so powerful and sympathetic but then you never can tell with actresses. They continually moan that there are no parts written for women above a certain age but when presented with them they turn them down. Not all actresses are like the wonderful Joanna Lumley who is prepared to make the most fabulous fool of herself and is totally brilliant with it. Dulcie Grey was perfect casting for Mrs Borrodaile in Beautiful For Ever and when I was in a play with her at The Haymarket I gave her the script but when she read the description of Mrs Borrodaile she nearly had conniptions. Flora Robson, had she sill been alive, would have made an ideal Madam Rachel though more than likely she would have turned the part down in case her fans disapproved.
As for Granada TV and River of Sand the answer that came back was ‘Who’s interested in South Africa?’  Then came Sharpeville and suddenly everyone was interested in South Africa. Timing is everything and I am usually arse about face when it comes to timing, either to late or too soon. I have a play called Between Two Sighs which basically deals with two babies, one “divinely formed and fair” and the other deformed. The producer at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry at the time wanted to do it but the committee hummed and ha’d saying what if there were people in the audience in just such a position and how would they feel? And while they were fandangling along came A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg. End of Coventry and Between Two Sighs.
My second play, The Narrow Lane is autobiographical which I suppose is par for the course with a young budding playwright and it is toe-curling embarrassing, not because of content but because of the writing. In places some of the dialogue is appalling though in others there are signs of progress and the development of a certain sense of humour. However it is not a good play and will never see daylight but stay in the archives. The script is prefaced with a quotation by John Wolcot, ‘Truth is a narrow lane all full of quags, leading to broken heads, abuse and rags.’
Cameron Mackintosh maintains that it was the musical Salad Days that inspired him and I can quite believe it. I thoroughly enjoyed it when seated in the audience of a West End theatre. I didn’t enjoy it quite so much when playing in it and realised what a rather trite piece of whimsy it is. It is though, whichever way you look at it, a popular success and, like Cameron, having been inspired by Salad Days and with two plays under my belt I decided the next thing I would write would be a musical. The fact that I didn’t have a clue as to what to write, had never written a lyric in my life, and didn’t even have a title didn’t seem insurmountable problems. Eventually for lack of any other idea it was called Opus One; how pretentious can you get? Somewhere along the way the first act has got lost, no great loss to literature or musical theatre. The second act is still among my scripts and I really wouldn’t mind if that was lost as well but I am forbidden to touch it. It’s archive material after all. Since those far off days I have written over fifty plays including film and television. I have absolutely no idea what Opus One was all about and since then I have written the book and lyrics for Prancing Ahmadou from the book Prancing Nigger  by Ronald Firbank (no composer), Pickwick (no composer), Cupid (composer Kenny Clayton), Black Maria (composer Kenny Clayton)  La Belle Otero (composer Chris Littlewood), Alice in Winterland  (no composer), Peter Pan (composer Andy Davidson), Fugue In Two Flats (composer Paul Knight) and songs for The Double Deckers (composer Ivor Slaney), 78 lyrics in all. A long way from my first tentative attempt.

P.S. Rosemary and Peter Pan are both available on Amazon.

No comments: