Happy Birthday, Ray Cooney, born 30 May 1932
- In the beginning there is THE PLOT. I’m not searching for a ‘comedy’ plot or a ‘funny’ storyline. I’m searching for a tragedy. Farce, more than comedy, is akin to tragedy.
- THE CHARACTERS must be truthful and recognisable. Again, this is why the audience laughs. The characters are believable – it is the situations that are slightly out of the ordinary; ordinary people who are out of their depth in a predicament which is beyond their control and they are unable to contain – tragedy again.
- The ability to RE-WRITE is essential. My farces are pure concoctions. I never get it exactly right the first time. The original script is comparable to a middle-of-the-range Ford motor car. By the time it appears on the West End stage it must have acquired the precision, the elegance and the comfort of a Rolls Royce.
- CASTING is vital. Because of the laughter my kind of play invokes, it is sometimes thought that ‘comedians’ serve farce well. Invariably, disaster! Farce needs actors and actresses who can play tragedy, but also they must have the technique, the stamina, the precision and the dexterity that farce demands. And, almost above all, they must have generosity of spirit. Farce is teamwork. You can’t have selfish actors pulling attention at the wrong moment.
- A rule personal to me is REAL TIME. The two hours spent in the theatre by the audience is two hours in the existence of the characters in the play. No fade-outs. No passage of time between Acts 1 and 2. When the curtain rises on the second act the characters are exactly how we left them at the end of Act 1, and the action is continuous.
- Finally, never underestimate the intelligence of THE AUDIENCE. Several people who first read Run For Your Wife (including my own wife) said, ‘It’s very funny but the complications become so convoluted that I had to keep going back to the script to check what was what, who was who and who’d said what to whom.’ That, of course, was reading the play. Farces have to be performed, not read.
Here endeth the lesson according to Ray Cooney …
Ray Cooney is an English playwright and actor. His biggest success, Run For Your Wife, ran for nine years in London’s West End.
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