My top ten plays of all time
The idea of compiling a list of favourite plays has already drawn comparisons with the Desert Island Discs concept on these pages. I have to introduce my lists with a couple of caveats and exclusion clauses.
First, as happens when I try to think of my eight “gramophone records”, each list would probably be substantially different from the one I’d compiled on the preveious attempt. However, certain titles would appear in all compilations no matter when I created them.
Secondly, it would be easy but predictable to list favourites which have appeared in top tens compiled by others for this site, so I will give them honourable mention.
Time After Time (original 1979 production) would always be a favourite, but though I enjoyed the 2006 remake starring Michael Maloney, the attempt at explaining the context in an extra scene at the end of the production detracted from its sense of mystery. It was as if someone had dismantled a rose to see how it’s constructed. They would know what makes a rose a rose, but no longer have a flower on the bench.
I sometimes wonder how that remake would have worked had they updated it to use the Cyndi Lauper song “Time After Time”, rather than the Sinatra standard, as it shares some of the play’s darkness. Miles Davis recorded an instrumental version which would have piped well in the hotel.
One other musical reference I’d like to add: I always think of the Gerry Jones play whenever I hear the Eagles song Hotel California. It pre-dates the play, and I can’t help but wonder if the song inspired the play in any way, with its closing lines:
“Relax said the night man. We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave.”
Under the Loofah Tree by Giles Cooper could have been there, had he not also written one of my perennial must-have titles. It was interesting to hear Kathleen Helme in the two earlier productions. In the third, I might have cast Charlotte Martin (aka Susan Carter from the Archers) as the wife. Whoever plays this part needs to be able to whine for England, and I didn’t quite get the sense of that in the most recent version.
Stephen Gallagher’s The Horn from Fear On Four deserves a mention too, though it has cropped up in other Top Tens.
Condensing this novel into a 90-minute production can’t have been easy, but all of the themes were expertly brought out. It’s often misunderstood as justabout sex and more sex, but, as shown in this play, it’s also about the value of all things organic over what Lawrence calls “Greedy mechanism and mechanised greed”.
At the start of the play and the novel, Lady Chatterley has an affair with an author from Dublin called Michaelis – could Lawrence have been sending up James Joyce? The novel and the play brilliantly convey the idea that if we continue to plunder the earth’s resources relentlessly, eventually the earth will call in its debts.
It’s sobering to think that Lawrence would never have heard of global warming, the devastation of rain forests or fracking, and the play made me think that Lawrence would have found plenty to write about and rail against had he lived in our time. It made the book seem relevant to contemporary issues without having to resort to anachronisms, such as giving Sir Clifford a computer, a trap into which too many adaptations fall. Hogg would later go on to read the abridged novel for Book At Bedtime, and to me, his is the definitive voice of the gamekeeper.
The Sun: Two couples from the West Midlands are taking a holiday on a Greek island. Their characters could have been developed into a sitcom. Everything you hope would never happen to you on a package holiday with your two best friends happens to them. They fall out with each other, fall back in again, get hopelessly lost, get ripped off by local taxi drivers…
The Shadows: Meanwhile, a political thriller is unfolding around them and without their knowledge, as an attempt to assassinate a political leader is revealed among the residents of the island. The tourists become the heroes of the hour, and go home unaware of the crucial part they played in foiling the plot.
One of the holidaymakers is Mrs Malaprop reincarnated, and some of her lines are priceless: “Ooh! I’ve just seen the apocalypse”. “I think I’ll try one of those balaclavas! They look ever so nice!”
I once went on holiday to Sciathos and overheard a couple from the West Midlands who could easily have stepped straight out of Devlin’s play: Woman: “Ooh look! Orry Gar moy flyvered Creesps!” Man: “That’s not Orry Gar moy! That’s ory Gah now, yer daftoy?” (pause) Woman: “Whazznt oy in the Wambles?”
As it turns out, she was no virgin, and had enjoyed her brief life to the full. The handsome, young new incumbent vicar is then haunted by the ghost of the girl, which attempts to seduce him. He also hears, and investigates the reason why he hears the sound of a motorbike accident outside the Church. Her ghost cannot rest because she didn’t want to die with so much life to live, and so many men to be had…and she certainly didn’t want to be remembered as a virgin!
If you listen on headphones, the moment when the spirit manifests itself with a low, seductive “Hel-lo-oh?” to the vicar, as he works alone in the Church, will have you looking around to see who has crept up behind you! It’s very like the way Sharon used to give John Archer the come-on in the early 1990s episodes of the Archers!
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