Plays by Simon Gray

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

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.