Peter Nichols

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Plays by Peter Nichols

Blue Murder

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Blue Murder is a two-part farce, energetic and impossibly self-referential, in which conservative suburbia and Whitehall collide with murders, porn stars and blackmailers, and a playwright trying to keep up with them all.

Subtitled ‘a play or two’, Blue Murder opens with ‘Foreign Bodies’ where swinging London meets bourgeois Shrewsbury and the drinks are laced with cyanide. As the son of the household struggles to write his first play, a murder story is offered to him on a plate. The second half, ‘A Game of Soldiers’, is a Whitehall farce taking place in St James's Palace. The same dramatist has brought his complete play to be censored but the Lord Chamberlain's Men have a few shameful secrets of their own to hide, including a priapic guardsman. Once the actors start to have tantrums about the size of their parts, the whole ridiculous structure begins to tumble.

Nichol’s play was first presented in 1995 at the Quakers Friars, Bristol.

Born in the Gardens

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Not much has changed in the days since Maud’s husband, Victor, died, except for the addition of the casket in the music room. She and her son Maurice are still pottering around the house, watching television and enjoying their eccentric hobbies.

Everything becomes much less comfortable, however, when her other children arrive for the funeral. Quirky, dark, and hilarious, Born in the Gardens combines a commentary on Thatcherite politics with an examination of a family in transition.

Born in the Gardens was written by Peter Nichols for the bicentennial anniversary of the Theatre Royal, now the Bristol Old Vic, in 1979, and then transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. After a television adaptation in 1986, it was revived by the Peter Hall Company in 2008.

Chez Nous

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the wake of the publication of his controversial book on adolescent sexuality, Dick and his wife, Liz, have retreated with their family to the French countryside. Joined by their friends Phil and Diana for a child-free weekend, they enjoy the sunshine and the cheap wine until certain unsavoury revelations come to light. At the worst moment possible, two reporters appear to interview Dick, causing great worry among the couples that all their secrets will be aired in the press.

Playwright Peter Nichols drew inspiration for Chez Nous from time spent at his own family’s home in France. This darkly comedic, and sometimes deeply shocking play was first produced in London in 1976. It went on to be performed at the Manhattan Theatre Club in a production starring Sam Waterston.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A frank and remarkable play based on the author’s experience of having a disabled child, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is about two parents caring for their 10-year-old girl Josephine.

Since birth Josephine has not been able to move or speak, and experiences frequent debilitating fits. Her father Bri, a weary schoolteacher, relies on desperate black humour to deal with the situation, while her mother Sheila still nurses hopes of a miraculous recovery.

In the first act the couple play out, for the audience’s benefit, the various scenes of condolence visited upon them by doctors and vicars, in comic routines that seem sadly well-rehearsed. The second act introduces another couple and Bri’s mother, creating an awkward sitting-room comedy that confronts the secret angers and fantasies of a family struggling to cope. The play’s treatment of taboos surrounding disability provokes both laughter and shock in the same moment, as the couple’s persistent jokes fail to disguise the strain placed on their marriage.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg was first performed in 1967 at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow.

Forget-me-not Lane

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Forget-me-not Lane is a bittersweet play about fathers, families and nostalgia – about (in Nichol’s words) a youth which was bitter to live through but sweet to remember.

Middle-aged Frank is packing his suitcase, and starts to tell the audience about his life. He summons up memories of his childhood and adolescence during the Second World War, watching the experiences of his younger self with a mixture of amiable amusement, mortification and nostalgia. Frank relives the grammatical pedantry of his father Charles, the bickering between his parents, his adventures in transvestism with his best friend Ivor, a juvenile attraction to the vivacious star of the local stage, and his awkward flirtations with Ursula, later to be his wife. Frank is gloomily disappointed by the contrast between his teenage sweetheart and the tired mother Ursula has become, his reminiscences gradually exposing his dissatisfaction with familial life.

Forget-me-not Lane was first performed in 1971 at the Greenwich Theatre, London.

The Freeway

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Nichols’s commentary on the modern attachment to the automobile, the traffic on the freeway has come to a complete standstill.

May, Les, Wally and Evelyn – elderly travellers doing the sights and on their way to Hadrian’s Wall – step out of their mobile home to stretch their legs. Next door, James and his dowager mother Nancy were on their way to the opera, but now they’re getting out of their estate car and picnicking on the verge. Grant returns to his wife, children and sports car from his reconnaissance of the traffic jam: nothing’s moving.

But what begins as an inconvenience – easily taken in the stride of the resourceful British motorist – becomes rather more desperate as the days wear on and there’s no way of going anywhere. Three very different sets of people try to keep their spirits up as the picnics run out, and wonder if this is the fair price of modern mobility.

The Freeway was first presented at the Old Vic in 1974.

The National Health

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The National Health is a bleak and blackly comic glimpse into the everyday life of the NHS and its patients.

Five beds in a hospital ward; one empty, having been vacated overnight, soon to be filled by the arrival of an MP with leg cramps and memory loss. The four other beds are filled with carping patients in various stages of convalescence or decline, and various stages of resignation to the boredoms and humiliations of the hospital. The nurses and doctors on the ward struggle against long hours, low funding and overwork. Intercut with the darkly comic scenes are scenes from a histrionic hospital soap opera, the reality behind them giving the lie to whitewashed scenes of medical glamour.

The first production of The National Health was given in 1969 at the National Theatre, London.

Passion Play

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Eleanor is blindsided when she discovers that her husband James is having an affair with the seductive Kate. Nichols adopts an effective psychological device to amplify the characters of Eleanor and James – each character is accompanied by a double representing their inner thoughts.

Peter Nichols examines the intricacies of adultery and betrayal in Passion Play, a play which is known simply as Passion in the United States. It was first produced at the Aldwych Theatre, London by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1983, winning the Evening Standard’s Best Play Award, after which it transferred to Broadway. In 2013, a revival starring Zoe Wanamaker achieved great success on the West End.

A Piece of My Mind

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In A Piece of My Mind, Nichols wittily transforms writer’s block into a meta-farce, the story of a frustrated playwright that is written and lived and performed at the same time.

Ted Forrest is the playwright within the play, who has retired to the countryside to write a novel. He can’t get past rewriting the first page, and is tormented by the astronomical success of his former protégé Miles Whittier, whose plays have taken the world completely by storm while Ted’s languish unnoticed in small theatres and close early.

But as he goes along he turns his frustrations into a playful and hilariously self-aware drama about creativity and family, woven of flashbacks and theatre reviews and inevitable farce. Actors step out of their parts, complain they haven’t had enough time for a costume change, or refuse to be killed off as Ted is driven to despair by the failure of his creation. A Piece of My Mind is a masterful feat of theatrical irony and knowingness as well as a heartfelt portrait of jealousy and disappointment.

A Piece of My Mind was first performed in 1987 at the Apollo Theatre, London.

Poppy

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In Poppy, playwright Peter Nichols subverts the pantomime, an archetypal piece of Victoriana, to explore a particularly dark moment in the history of Victorian colonialism – the Opium Wars. Classic panto hero Dick Whittington sets sail for India to seek his fortune in the opium trade, encountering such luminaries as the emperor of China and Queen Victoria along the way. Although the British characters ultimately live happily ever after, the implications for the defeated Chinese are much darker.

Poppy won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical when it was first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982. Since then, it has been revived multiple times on the West End to great acclaim.

Picture of Peter Nichols

Peter Nichols was born in Bristol in 1927 and educated there at the Grammar School and Old Vic Theatre School. After National Service in India, Malaya and Hong Kong, he was an actor in repertory and television for five years, then a teacher in London schools.

He has written some twenty original plays and adaptations for television, six feature films and the following stage plays: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, The National Health, Forget-Me-Not Lane, The Freeway, Chez Nous, Privates on Parade, Born in the Gardens, Passion Play, Poppy, and A Piece of My Mind. These have won four Evening Standard Awards, a Society of West End Theatres Award for Best Comedy and two Best Musical Awards.

He was resident playwright at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, where he co-directed The National Health. He has also directed revivals of Joe Egg and Forget-Me-Not Lane at Greenwich and the first production of Born in the Gardens at Bristol. The 1985 Broadway revival of Joe Egg won two Tonys. Feeling You're Behind, a book of memoirs, came out in 1984.