Plays by Simon Gray

Butley

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Butley

'What is so wondrous about a play so basically defeatist and hurtful is its ability to be funny. The stark, unsentimental approach to the homosexual relationship, the cynical send-up of academic life, the skeptical view of the teacher-pupil associations are all stunningly illuminated by continuous explosions of sardonic, needling, feline, vituperative and civilised lines.' Evening Standard

Cell Mates

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Cell Mates takes as its central characters the spy George Blake and the Irish petty criminal Sean Bourke, who sprang Blake from Wormwood Scrubs prison. It tracks their relationship from their first meeting in prison to their hide-out in London, and on to the flat they shared in Moscow.

Cell Mates was first presented at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on 17 January 1995 and transferred to the Albery Theatre, London, on 16 February 1995

Close of Play

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'Close of Play is, I suppose, the darkest of Simon's plays. It was never appreciated by the critical fraternity, which failed to understand it for what it was – a radical exploration of poetic drama. Its range of operation, its sleight of hand, its command of varying modes of language, its use of monologue and chorus – all this moved far away from its ostensible naturalism. The character of Daisy was a wonderful one.' Harold Pinter

Close of Play was first performed in the Lyttelton auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 24 May 1979.

The Common Pursuit

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'I finished this play at six this morning, having worked through half of the night. I'’d also worked through three packages of cigarettes and half a bottle of malt whisky. But the main thing is that it'’s finished. Olé. I numbered the pages, packed and shaped them into a completed looking pile, toasted myself with a further gulp of whisky and a few more cigarettes, gloated. This, for me, is the only moment of pure happiness I ever experience in the playwriting business.' Simon Gray

'A play that delivers an unexpected depth charge of emotion. Gray'’s writing is sharp, funny and clever, and, more than twenty years after the piece'’s premiere, the dramatist'’s assumption of intelligence and cultural knowledge on the part of his audience seems breathtakingly daring… What a pleasure to re-encounter a splay that combines unabashed intelligence and zinging wit with rare generosity of spirit.' Daily Telegraph

The Common Pursuit was first performed in July 1984 at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London.

Dog Days

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'We’ve got a sociologist called Nuzek coming in this afternoon with his latest book. On Protestantism and Pornography.'

Faced with such a prospect, Peter, the protagonist of this play, finds the idea of sitting at his desk in a publishing house considerably less attractive than attempting to seduce a free-lance cover designer while his wife is out teaching English to foreigners and shopping at Sainsbury's. Dog Days is about the sad and hilarious consequences of Peter'’s disenchantment with his job, his wife, his public school master brother and himself.

The play is a companion piece to Otherwise Engaged and has the same remarkable blend of wit and pathos, humour and despair.

Dog Days was first performed on 26 October 1976 at the Oxford Playhouse.

Dutch Uncle

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The newly acquired wardrobe filling most of the living room of the Godboys' decaying house in Shepherd's Bush really does seem unnecessarily large for most purposes. Eric and Doris upstairs could manage without one, surely. Whatever scheme Mr Godboy has in mind, however, he does seem to be going about it the hard way; and it certainly sorts oddly with his apparent worship of the police force and all it stands for. It's not entirely clear, either, why he married May Godboy in the first place. There's little satisfaction for her in the relationship…

Dutch Uncle was first performed at the Aldwych Theatre, London, on 17 March 1969. 

Hidden Laughter

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Harry is a literary agent. Louise is a writer. They are young and happily married. As the play opens, we find them choosing a country house, an idyllic place where she can write, where small children will be happy, and where they can both relax. Into their country garden walks the local vicar, Ronnie, who with some surprising revelations about faith, brings doubt into Harry and Louise’s smug existence. And, as the play moves on, and everyone grows up or grows older, country life seems to bring less and less joy and peace and proves to be quite the opposite of the idyll they envisage.

Hidden Laughter was first presented in June 1990 at the Vaudeville Theatre, London

The Holy Terror

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The Holy Terror: Melon Revised is a reworking of Simon Gray's earlier play Melon, originally performed in 1987. It was first performed on 15th February 1991 at the Temple of Arts Theatre, Tucson, Arizona.

The Idiot

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The Idiot is a dramatisation of Fyodor Dostoievsky’s original novel. In creating this stage play, Simon Gray chose some of the most vivid and contrasting episodes recounting the strange involvement between Prince Myshkin, the good natured ‘Idiot’, the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna and her desperate lover and husband, Rogozhin. The ambiguity of these episodes and the paradoxical atmosphere of Dostoievsky’s novel – hovering between sombre tragedy and grotesque farce – is heightened by the use of a strange, sinister commentator, the character of Ferdyschenko.

The Idiot was first presented by the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic, London, in July 1970.

Japes

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Simon Gray’s Japes is a black comedy with an unusual slant on the classic love triangle. It was first performed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, on 23 November 2000 before transferring to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, opening on 7 February 2001.

The play spans nearly thirty years, from the 1970s to the 1990s. Brothers Michael and Jason ‘Japes’ Cartts share the house in which they grew up, and then share the woman they both love. The object of their affection, Anita, becomes Michael’s wife whilst remaining Japes’ lover. This ménage-a-trois results in a fraternal relationship based on guilt and dependence ¬as toxic as it is supportive. Michael becomes the successful author whilst Japes’ academic career stalls and he hits the bottle. Anita is stuck between this intense rivalry but is herself afflicted by her indecision and the nagging feeling that she married the wrong brother. The full ramifications of this situation only become clear in the final scene when Gray introduces a fourth character, Michael and Anita's daughter Wendy, and shifts our perspective outside of the central threesome for the first time.

The premiere production was directed by Peter Hall and designed by John Gunter, with Toby Stephens as Jason, Jasper Britton as Michael and Clare Swinburne as Anita/Wendy.

Just the Three of Us

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Simon Gray’s Just the Three of Us is a play that mixes the comic with the macabre to explore ideas about love, both platonic and romantic. It was first performed by the Peter Hall Company at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, on 7 October 1997.

Enid is a best-selling romantic novelist. Her publisher husband, Fred, has confessed to an affair with his temporary PA, Terri. Enid has decided to lure the girl to her country retreat with the aid of her best friend, local vicar Ronnie. When Terri turns up on the pretext of discussing Fred’s surprise birthday party, Enid quite literally puts her in chains. Already fairly inebriated, she begins to tease Terri with a game of cat and mouse whilst Ronnie is trapped in the bathroom listening in. But what follows is wholly unexpected. Terri admits to a one-night stand with Freddie but nothing more. Quite unexpectedly, Enid takes a liking to Terri and resolves to educate her. Over the course of two months an intense bond develops between the women that turns to love. Meanwhile Ronnie can only look on, jealous that his position as the platonic third party in Fred and Enid’s marriage has been usurped.

The premiere production was directed by Peter Hall and designed by Ti Green. The cast was Prunella Scales as Enid, Dinsdale Landen as Ronnie and Carli Norris as Terri. Following the performances at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, the production toured to Brighton, Guildford, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Swansea and Newcastle.

The Late Middle Classes

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Simon Gray’s play The Late Middle Classes is a funny yet melancholic look at the frustrations, secrets and guilt of middle-class respectability in 1950s England. It was first performed at the Palace Theatre, Watford, on 23 March 1999 (previews from 19 March) and produced on tour by the Ambassadors Theatre Group/Turnstile Group Limited.

The play opens in 'the present'. Holliday ('Holly') Smithers, a man in his forties, has come to visit the ageing Thomas Brownlow, who taught him music as a child. The action then rewinds to the Smithers’ household in the early 1950s. Holly, now a twelve-year-old boy, is caught between his parents’ conflicting emotional needs. His mother Celia is bored to distraction by her marriage and fills her time with tennis and gin. Her pathologist husband, Charles, is buried in his work amongst the living and the dead. As their gifted son, Holly begins to take music lessons with Brownlow, who develops an unhealthy obsession with the child.

The play touches obliquely on the subject of paedophilia and shows us, in the opening and closing scenes, how Brownlow’s connection to Holly has afflicted him his whole life. The play also dissects how children can become vessels for the desires and ambitions of the adults closest to them.

The premiere production was directed by Harold Pinter and designed by Eileen Diss. The cast was Nicholas Woodeson, James Fleet, Sam Bedi, Harriet Walter and Angela Pleasance. Following the performances at the Palace Theatre, Watford, the production toured to Brighton, Plymouth, Bath, Woking and Richmond.

The play was revived at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 1 June 2010 (previews from 27 May) in a production directed by David Leveaux and designed by Mike Britton. The cast was Robert Glenister, Peter Sullivan, Harvey Allpress, Laurence Belcher, Felix Zadeck-Ewing, Helen McCrory and Eleanor Bron.

Life Support

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'Like a Henry James novella; circuitous, ambiguous, enthralling and chilling.'

Financial Times on The Late Middle Classes

Little Nell

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Charles Dickens, forty-five years old and married, falls passionately in love with Nelly Ternan, an actress almost thirty years his junior. After a long affair which ends only with Dickens' death in 1870, Nelly marries and has two children, but she carries with her thirteen clandestine years to explain away. In 1922, her son resolves to uncover the truth.

Inspired by Claire Tomalin's book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, Little Nell is an enthralling play about the great Victorian novelist, his little-known mistress and their legacy.

Little Nell was first presented at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in June 2007.

Molly

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'Molly is an adaptation for the stage of the earliest of my television plays – Death of a Teddy Bear – which was written for BBC's Wednesday Play… The source of Death of a Teddy Bear was the Alna Rattenbury case, an account of which I came across in a paperback called (I think) Ten Famous Trials, left discarded in a railway compartment… I flicked through the pages of the paperback – it was stained and swollen as if a dog had urinated over it – in the cursory manner of one who has something of more consequence on the mind… When I arrived at Cambridge I left the book where I’d found it, but for the rest of that day, and for many subsequent days and (especially) nights, I was haunted by Mrs Rattenbury’s story – or what of it I could perceive behind the dozen pages or so in which her trial had been described. So when Kenith Trodd asked me if I'd like to try my hand at a full length television play the subject was already fully there, and at least partially shaped, even though unwritten. Which is perhaps why I didn't go back to Mrs Rattenbury herself, neither to her trial nor to reconstructions of the crime. I based my play on the effect that the dozen pages had had on me (the specifics being pretty well forgotten), changed the names and hoped that my sense of the drama would find its own form.

Molly was first presented in Britain at the Watford Palace Theatre in November 1977.

The Old Masters

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Set in the Villa of I Tatti outside Florence in 1937, under the menacing shadow of Mussolini, Simon Gray's The Old Masters explores the turbulent relationship between the famous art historian Bernard Berenson and the notorious art dealer Joseph Duveen, as they edge towards an explosive final encounter.

The Old Masters premiered at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in June 2004.

Otherwise Engaged

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

'The hero of Otherwise Engaged only prefers brevity when he can't have complete silence – or rather a silence filled with music. Everything in the play flows from that simple fact, which can be confusing on the page unless the reader remembers that , though not uttering, the hero would be visible – highly visible, I like to think, on the stage. This treacherous relationship between stage presence and page absence was illustrated by the response of the play’s first producer who nearly rejected it on the grounds that there was no main part. What lines the hero had I pared down in rehearsal, and then to the bone during our week in Oxford. In previews in London I chipped away at the bone, until we were left with what I fondly assumed was the merest, if not the purest, marrow.' Simon Gray

Otherwise Engaged was first presented by Michael Codron on 30 July 1975, at the Queen's Theatre, London.

Quartermaine's Terms

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

With much humour and an undercurrent of pathos, Quartermaine’s Terms looks at the lives and relationships of seven teachers who gravitate between classes to the faculty common room of their small British school for foreigners. Quartermaine's Terms was named by the Royal National Theatre as one of the best 100 plays of the 20th century.

Quartermaine's Terms was first presented by Michael Codron on 30 July 1981, at the Queen's Theatre, London.

The Rear Column

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The Rear Column tells the story of five soldiers stranded in the jungle of the Congo Free State in 1887. They are awaiting the return of the explorer, Henry Morgan Stanley, who has gone to relieve Emin Pasha, General Gordon’s last surviving lieutenant in the Sudan. As food and medicines run out, and the porters become restless, the endurance and sanity of the whole group, and their relationships with one another, are sorely tested.

The Rear Column was presented in February 1978 at the Globe Theatre, London

Simply Disconnected

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In 1975 Simon Gray wrote a play called Otherwise Engaged about a man (Simon Hench) who tries to keep the world at bay by pretending it doesn’t really exist. The world nevertheless keeps coming at him, in the form of his brother, his lodger, and his wife, demanding of him explanations of his brotherhood, his landlordhood, his husbandhood. In other words, all those closest to him require an explanation for his existence. In 1996 Simon Gray wrote this sequel, in which he explores how Simon Hench responds to the catastrophes and absurdities of his life a quarter century on, when explanations are still being required.

Simply Disconnected was first performed at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, on 10 May 1996

Spoiled

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Simon Gray adapted Spoiled from a television play of the same name. The television version of Spoiled was first broadcast by the BBC on 28th August, 1968, as part of the Wednesday Play series.

Spoiled is a play about the tensions that arise in a schoolmaster’s home when he invites one of his 'O'-level French pupils to spend the weekend before the exam there for some last-minute coaching. Donald is a nervous, over-mothered boy who works in a shop; he is anxious to better himself for his mother’s sake and to please his teacher. Howarth is a born teacher, but his enthusiasm and flair for play-acting and for getting the best out of dull pupils seem to mask a kind of self-indulgence. Joanna, his heavily pregnant wife, full of unease, begins to see this clearly as the weekend progress: the realization only makes her more vulnerable.

Spoiled was first performed at the Close Theatre Club in Glasgow in 1970.

Stage Struck

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In his younger days, Robert Simon was a first-rate stage-manager in provincial rep. Now he keeps house for his West End actress wife, while amusing himself with lots of little sexual adventures. In fact, a thoroughly happy man. Until one evening, through the clumsy intervention of a psychiatrist, his happiness and his marriage are destroyed. He plans a hideous revenge, both on his wife and on the psychiatrist…a revenge which allows him to discover all his old talents.

Stage Struck was first presented on 21st November 1979, at the Vaudeville Theatre

Tartuffe

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

An adaptation of Moliere's classic, Tartuffe was first performed at The Kennedy Center, Washington DC, in May 1982.

'[This] version of Tartuffe…was commissioned by the Kennedy Center, Washington, and performed in May 1982. My impertinent intention in undertaking it was to find, if such a thing were there to be found, a completely English play that could pass under the original title, set in the original social and historical context. The Englishness of it was therefore a matter of the psychology and, of course, the expression. The first entailed the transformation of some of the characters in order that I, at least, should understand why they behave as they do. The second, which followed from the first, entailed that the characters should speak in a language that expressed the needs and fears of their natures as I understood them…

But really I make no apology for having a go—or making a stab—at Tartuffe. However much I might damage my own reputation, I’m unlikely to damage Moliere’s.' — Simon Gray

Wise Child

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

What business have Mrs. Artminster and her son Jerry in the Home Counties that necessitates a long stay in a small-town hotel in the off-season? The explanation they give the proprietor is obviously contrived, but he has his reasons for allowing them to stay.

In Simon Gray’s first play for the stage - which opened at Wyndham’s Theatre in October, 1967 with Sir Alec Guinness in the lead - the truth is complex and its revelation electrifying.

Picture of Simon Gray

Simon Gray was born in 1936. He began his writing career with Colmain (1963), the first of five novels, all published by Faber. He is the author of many plays for TV and radio, also films, including the 1987 adaptation of J L Carr's A Month in the Country, and TV films including Running Late, After Pilkington (winner of the Prix Italia) and Emmy Award-winning Unnatural Pursuits. He wrote more than thirty stage plays amongst them Butley and Otherwise Engaged (which both received Evening Standard Awards for Best Play), Close of Play, The Rear Column, Quartermaine's Terms, The Common Pursuit, Hidden Laughter, The Late Middle Classes (winner of the Barclay's Best Play Award), Japes, The Old Masters (his ninth play to be directed by Harold Pinter) and Little Nell, which premiered at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2007, directed by Peter Hall. Little Nell was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2006, and Missing Dates in 2008. In 1991 he was made BAFTA Writer of the Year. His acclaimed works of non-fiction are: An Unnatural Pursuit, How's That for Telling 'Em, Fat Lady?, Fat Chance, Enter a Fox, The Smoking Diaries, The Year of the Jouncer, The Last Cigarette and Coda. He was appointed CBE in the 2005 New Year's Honours for his services to Drama and Literature. Simon Gray died in August 2008.