Q & A
Ray’s responses to questions asked by Renata Derejczyk,
Artistic Director of the Bagatela Theatre in Poland:
Q. How did it happen that at the age of 14 you managed to perform on the stage and even had a dream of Marlon Brando’s fame?
A. I came from a working-class family and my Mum and Dad loved the theatre and the movies. As there were no such things as ‘baby-sitters’ they took me with them to see all the plays and musicals and all the new films. From the age of ten all I wanted was to be an actor. In the 1940’s you could leave school at 14 so I persuaded my parents to let me get out on my 14th birthday. I’ve never looked back! Even though I never became Marlon Brando or Laurence Olivier.
Q. In 1983 you created the Theatre of Comedy Company and became its Artistic Director. You produced, among other plays, “Pygmalion” with Peter O’Toole. How is it to work with such a big stars?
A. Big stars are no different from ordinary actors. If they have faith in you they adore the work
Q. You are an actor, director, author of theatrical plays, screenwriter and producer. What part of your activity is your favorite one?
A. I still love ‘Acting’ the best. The writing, directing and producing each have their pressures, but to be on stage is to be at home.
Q. Your plays have been loved and adored in France. As we are usually convinced in Poland – English and French sense of humor are completely different. Where do you find the source of your popularity in Europe?
A. I think my plays are popular all over the world because I wasn’t ‘over - educated’ or went to University. The basic premise of each one of my plays is so simple and is recognisable by everyone everywhere - lucky me!
Q. Do you, and if so – for how long, are you “testing”, checking your plays before you have come to final version?
A. My kind of play is not ‘written’ its re-written. I don’t mind how much work I put into it but I have to get it as perfect as I can. I finish the first draft then sit down again and re-write. Then a rehearsed play reading and re-write - Then a ‘try-out’ in a Provincial Theatre - re-write. Another try-out - re-write ! I always appear in the workshops and tryouts so I can get a real feed-back from the audience.
Q. How have did you come to the idea of “Run for Your Wife’?
A. I kept reading in the Press about bigamists! I’m never looking for a ‘funny’ idea. I need a dramatic basic premise which written by a ‘serious’ playwright would be a ‘Tragedy’
Q. A Polish reviewer wrote that the story of London bigamist and his coming out wasn’t interesting for Polish Viewers but, despite that, Polish audiences had been laughing for over two hours! Could you solve the mystery?
A. All over the world the laughs come in the same place. Everybody, everywhere needs to LAUGH.
Q. The Polish name for “Run for Your Wife” is “Mayday” and poses more meanings. Do you like the translator’s idea of using international code for “life in danger”?
A. I love the title ‘MAYDAY’, “RUN FOR YOUR WIFE” is a play on the British saying “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE”.
Q. In your opinion, which of your plays has come to be the biggest success, and which one do you think has been underestimated?
A. I suppose “RUN FOR YOUR WIFE” (or Mayday) should be my favourite because it ran for 9 years in London and has eclipsed that in Poland! However the truth is that, when I’m working on a new play, that one is my favourite because its my ‘baby’ and I have to nurture it and see it through to becoming an ‘Adult’.
Q. You have come back to directing “TWO IN ONE” lately. You wrote it in 1984. What are those meetings after many years? How is it to meet it again after years?
A. What is astonishing about reviving “TWO INTO ONE” after 30 years in that it seems as fresh as it did in 1984! The laughs come in exactly the same place. The little chuckles are still the little chuckles and huge ‘belly laughs’ (as we call them here!) are as huge as they were 30 years ago.
PS. Like I said I’m a lucky guy who’s had ('having’) a lucky and greatly enjoyable career. And I’ve been married to the same wife for 51 years!
Q & A The Guardian
Ray Cooney 73, was born in London and is best known for writing the farces Run For Your Wife and Funny Money. At 14 he appeared in Song Of Norway at the Palace Theatre, London, before joining Brian Rix's company at the Whitehall Theatre in 1956. a successful producer and director, he established the Theatre of Comedy at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London in 1983. Cooney's new play, Tom, Dick and Harry, is co-written with his son Michael and Previewing at the Duke of York's Theatre, London.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
For everybody to have as perfect a life as me
Which living person do you most admire?
My wife - she's put up with me for 43 years.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Not getting my point of view
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your most unappealing habit?
Weeing on the compost heap at night
What is your favorite word?
What is your favorite smell?
A theatre dressing room - make-up, sweat and history
How did you vote in the last election?
I didn't, I was rehearsing
How will you vote in the last election?
I hope I'll be rehearsing
Which Living person do you most despise?
If he's still alive, the critic who described my performance in Harvey in weekly rep thus: 'Ray Cooney went through the entire performance like a tortured cobra'
Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
'Well done, darling' - to an actor, not my wife.
What is your greatest regret?
I don't have a personal one
How often do you have sex?
Sorry, my wife reads the Guardian
What would your motto be?
Make'em laugh, make'em laugh, make'em laugh.
What keeps you awake at nights?
Only the Guardian crossword
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That it's short must be lived for every second.