Saturday, October 02, 1999

Trevor Griffiths' Comedians

How could Trevor Griffiths have known what he was creating when his play, Comedians opened in 1975? How could he have known that his drama about a group of hopeful entertainers in a Manchester bingo hall, would steer the course of his life in one way or another?

The play's many productions saw Griffiths fetch up in Chicago for an all-black version, and in Liverpool, where an all-female cast performed the play. It also lead, says Manchester-born Griffiths, to a number of productions "far too painful to remember". Before the latest production of the play, directed by Jimmy Fay as Bickerstaffe's contribution to the eircom Dublin Theatre Festival, Griffiths had already made a new rule: "Don't bugger around with it."

The new cast includes something of a cracking selection box of Irish acting talent, including Brian de Salvo, Dan Gordon from A Night in November and two Irish actors just returned from Edinburgh covered in glory, Karl Shiels and Aidan Kelly, the fast-talking stars of Howie the Rookie.

None of these people, as far as Griffiths can tell, have any intention of "buggering around" with the play. Indeed, when he first sat in on a rehearsal for the new show, Griffiths had only the vaguest inkling that not all the Mancunian accents he heard were real.

If the author exhibits an almost protective attitude towards Comedians, it is hardly surprising given the influence it has had on his working life. It was for example, his meeting with the young Stephen Rea, who appeared in the original production, that lead him many years later to direct the same actor in Field Day's Saint Oscar.

It was also Comedians that lead Griffiths to Broadway, where Mike Nichols directed the first American production. It was through Nichols that Griffiths became involved with Warren Beatty. "Nichols brought me to a wedding where I met Warren Beatty under a tree and it started there." That meeting resulting in Beatty asking Griffiths to write the script for Reds.

In the end, Griffiths says he accepted his screenplay credit only because there remained some fragments of his original script with which he was still happy. These days, Griffiths seems pretty sanguine about the experience. "I was always aware of the ironies of trying to make socialist art in that sess pit. But it's like Brecht says: You can't work in a sewer and refuse to handle shit."

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