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THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

ORIGINS

In 2011 Peter Nichols’ controversial hit from 1967 returns to the Citizens Theatre main stage 44 years after it first premiered there. We looked out some of the fascinating facts and archive material about this seminal production.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

CONTENTS OBTAINING AND DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT CHALLENGING THE BOARD AND LORD CHAMBERLAIN CASTING PRESS AND PUBLIC REACTIONS THE JOE EGG EFFECT JOE EGG AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

APPENDICES LETTERS NOTES ON THE ORIGINAL COMPANY -----------------------------------------------------------------------------THANKS Research by Jenny Knotts. Photos and scans courtesy of the Scottish Theatre Archive. special.lib.gla.ac.uk/STA/search/ With thanks to Claire McKendrick at the Special Collections Department of Glasgow University Library.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG OBTAINING AND DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT •

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg opened at the Citizens Theatre on May 9th 1967 and ran for three weeks. It was the second consecutive world premiere at the Citizens following Scottish writer Stewart Conn’s ‘I Didn’t Always Live Here’ in April 1967. Both new plays were supported by the Scottish Arts Council under its scheme for the promotion of new drama and granted a guarantee against losses (around £350).

Nichols was well known for his screenplays ‘Georgy Girl’ and ‘Catch Us If You Can´ and his numerous television plays include ‘Where the Wind Blows’ and ‘Continuity Man’ yet he was eager to achieve success on stage. On the strength of his television work he was awarded an Arts Council bursary. His first stage play ‘The Hooded Terror’ was produced by the Bristol Old Vic.

Joe Egg was rejected by many theatres in London’s West End including the Royal Court and Hampstead. Sending it to Michael Blakemore at the Citizens was a last resort for Nichols. However following its successful Glasgow opening the Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company questioned Nichols as to why he hadn’t send them the script to which he answered ‘I did, but you never replied.’

In addition to their professional relationship (Blakemore was Assistant Director on Nichols’ screenplay ‘Catch Us If You Can’). Nichols and Blakemore had enjoyed many years friendship prior to Joe Egg and often discussed and offered advice on each other’s writings. (Blakemore published a novel entitled ‘Next Season’ in 1969).

Blakemore was instrumental in developing the script and in particular its use of direct address to the audience. On receiving the first draft of the play he was struck by its ‘brilliant beginning’ - Bri addressing the audience as if they were unruly school children. This was a reworking of a sketch Nichols (a former school teacher) had written at teacher’s training college. However Blakemore was disappointed by the conventional form of the remainder of the play, which saw Bri and Sheila confide in their visitors. He suggested as Nichols had already established the convention, ‘couldn’t Bri and Sheila tell their story straight to the audience, about whom, unlike their visitors, there is always a presumption of sympathy and understanding?’ Nichols took his advice and following the second draft Blakemore recommended the play be significantly cut and re-structured to form two instead of three acts.

Blakemore was passionate about finding both new and rarely-performed plays and prior to Joe Egg directed two plays that had never been performed out with London, Doris Lessing’s ‘Play With a Tiger’ and Hugh Leonard’s ‘Stephen D’. When interviewed for the job of associate director, Blakemore ‘stressed the importance of finding new


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG writing if the theatre was to make a wider reputation for itself and attract the best talent.’ He recalls receiving the second draft of Joe Egg: “There remained the problem of finding that new play which would put the Citizens at the front rank of British Theatres. Through the post one day arrived the second draft of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. It was now sitting on my knees in the back of a taxi home, and I was reading it in a state of staring excitement. Everything in the play was now in accord with its unconventional opening...I telephoned Peter that night and told him that if I could get it past the Board, the Citizens Theatre would certainly present his play.”

Blakemore encouraged and supported Nichols through a third draft that would restructure the play into two acts. Nichols, wearily, told him ‘You’ll have to show what to do, then. I’ve been working on it so long I can’t see it anymore.’ Blakemore recalls Nichols staying with him in Glasgow working on the script while Blakemore was in bed ill. ‘I was in bed, the script propped up on my knees, with Peter sitting beside like a doctor, taking notes on his pad. Then he returned to Bristol, implemented the changes and a few weeks later sent me the final draft.’

Nichols appears to have been frustrated with the final draft of Joe Egg. In the letter accompanying the third draft he writes to ‘Mike’ Blakemore: “Been on it so long now I begin to be offended by the reoccurrence of certain letters. Too many ‘t’s in that line and so on…whether it’s any improvement, I couldn’t say. It seems a bit thin and nervous now, as though the flesh had been stripped off showing the twitching nerves underneath. And too many of the lines seem functional. Fetching things and giving orders. Perhaps the balance is wrong. Anyway it’ll have to stay now. I can’t do more.” Further on in the letter however he notes with enthusiasm the developments in casting and comments ‘I hope we have something special here.’

The production featured a live four piece jazz band on stage (Pianist, flautist, bassist and percussionist, led by Andy Parks, in a stage box to the side), heightening the play’s vaudevillian feel. It occurred to Blakemore as he watched Park’s band play, in the Close Theatre that music should be integral in the play. He states:

“...nothing summed up provincial yearnings for a wider world more than some basement where jazz was played. With music we could get the show off to an unexpected start, challenging at once the received ideas surrounding its subject, and it would dramatise and heighten the play’s mercurial changes of direction.”

Nichols had several alternate titles in mind including: Life’s too short; No Room at the Quality Inn; Since You Came Along. He notes that while the last is ‘cooler than the present title’ (A Day in the Death of Joe Egg) it was less striking.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

After Blakemore received the green light from the board and rehearsals got underway ‘the whisper was around town that something controversial, and maybe extraordinary was about to be unveiled at the Citizens. In the theatre we seemed to be on a tiptoe of anticipatory excitement and when I ran into someone along a corridor we would start grinning complicity at each other as if we were both sitting on top of a whopping surprise.’

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CHALLENGING THE BOARD AND LORD CHAMBERLAIN •

Blakemore had previously had a run-in with the board regarding his choice of plays. For the autumn season of 1966 he wanted to direct Tennessee William’s ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’ but after reading the play the Board rejected it as ‘unsuitable’. Blakemore requested it be noted in the minutes of the Board meeting that he thoroughly deplored this decision. He recalls in his memoir that, had he had the clout and the track record to do so, he would have resigned over the decision.

Joe Egg was given to the play-selecting committee (made up of members of the Board) in late summer 1966. Tony Paterson, who would a few months later be appointed as Literary Advisor of the Citizens, remarked:

“In many ways this is a remarkable play…it could well be unbearably painful for an audience to watch and it would benefit from cutting - for more reasons than one. Most of the time, however, the writing is quite excellent and Mr Nichols has an unusually keen ear for off-beat contemporary dialogue, which can be very funny or deeply moving, sometimes both at once.”

Blakemore recalls the crucial meeting with the committee noting that ‘it was dramatic enough to go straight on stage’:

“I went into the meeting with our young front-of house-manager, Andrew Leigh, coldly resolved that this time I would use the threat of resignation as a weapon. It soon transpired that I was not alone in this tactic. Tom Taylor (Vice-chairman of the committee) was the first to speak. He described the play as a disgrace, a travesty in appalling taste that made cruel fun of the disabled, and one which, if performed on the stage of the Citizens’ would force him to consider his position. Next to speak was Colin Chandler, but he was so angry with what he saw as a gross misunderstanding of the play that it undermined his effectiveness as an advocate…His defence of the play became a kind of furious splutter which trailed away into silence…Michael Goldberg began to address the meeting…very gently he turned the argument towards the play itself. Certainly it was shocking, and certainly it had the power to give offence, but was this because it was a bad play? Might it not be true that it was a very good play attempting to say something that


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG had not been said before, and daring to say it in a way which itself was unprecedented. Slowly it was becoming clear that Michael not only understood the material but wanted to see it staged at the Citizens as much as anyone in the room. ‘When something like this comes our way’ he concluded ‘we have a duty to do our best by it.”

The Board agreed that the play would go ahead on the condition that a warning about its controversial content was issued on all promotional material. Nichols in a letter to Blakemore expressed his wish to oversee the wording of the warning. It was printed in previews both in Citizens programmes and newspapers and read:

“The Citizens’ feel obliged to warn the public that this play deals with the case of a chronically retarded child and that not only the subject but the extraordinary way it is treated may possibly give offence. However such is the honesty of this play, and so grounded in it in first-hand experience that we believe it entirely vindicates its production in our theatre.”

Following the favourable reactions of audience and press, the warning was dropped after the first night.” •

In adherence to censorship laws (abolished the following year in 1968) the play had to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain before it could be performed. The main concern expressed by the Lord Chamberlain was that the child ought not to actually appear onstage. However as Blakemore, and later many critics, pointed out ‘her presence is crucial to the style of the play.’

Final approval of the play was not granted until the very last moment. Under the headline PLAY RUNS INTO TROUBLE WITH CENSOR the Daily Mail notes that on May 4th approval had still not been granted despite the fact the show was due to open in a few days. Had it not arrived in time, the play would have to be abandoned despite the fact the cast had travelled from London for several weeks’ rehearsal.

Nichols said of the cuts imposed by the Lord Chamberlain ‘I deeply resent them, but on the other hand I am very surprised that the play has been passed at all.’


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

Following the success of the Glasgow run Blakemore wrote again to the Lord Chamberlain to appeal against cuts and pleaded that they may be included in the imminent London run at the Comedy Theatre (July 1967). He writes:

“The author is concerned by the notice that suggests that the subject may have been softened a shade beyond the point of reasonable honesty, and has asked me to write to you to see if the cuts can be considered for restoration. Speech p20 of Act 2 beginning - ‘so I underdressed her and applied a suppository’. He feels that though in another context this speech might be unnecessary, in the case of this child it is central to her condition and the daily routines that surround her existence. As I rather hoped in performance the play is far less shocking than it appears on the page. Its honesty and lack of obliqueness are respected by audiences.”

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CASTING •

Nichols suggested Joe Melia for Bri having seen him on television. He felt he had ‘the right zest and comic intelligence.’ Melia confessed in interviews that Bri was only his second straight role, the first being Goldberg in Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’. He was a relative newcomer to theatre having only been on the stage six years and was better known for comic roles. In 1958 the Daily Express ran an interview with Melia under the heading – IS THIS THE COMEDIAN OF THE FUTURE? (To which Melia responded by telegram ‘No!’). Speaking about Joe Egg he told the Sunday Express ‘As soon as I read the script I wanted to do the play… The part was great - like playing West End Comedy and Ibsen at the same time – though the money wouldn’t make my agent happy.’

Blakemore suggested Zena Walker for Sheila as she was a contemporary of his from drama school.’ I knew her to be an actress of skill and feeling.’ She, too, was passionate about the play stating: ’I think this is a very human play. I would never have sacrificed three months of my career to do it unless it was worthwhile.’


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

Company Stage Manager Tony Jones ‘insisted there was only one actress who could play the part of Bri’s mother, the incomparable Joan Hickson.’ Hickson’s son, Nicholas Butler was manager of the Close Theatre at the time. Joe Egg marked her return to the stage after nearly ten years. She would accompany the production to London in the summer of 1967 and then to Broadway the following year and revived her role as Bri’s mother for the 1972 film version. In an interview in 1967 Hickson asserted that she had ‘tremendous confidence’ in the play.

Nichols and Blakemore exchanged letters suggesting actors for the show such as Terence Brady and Ray Brooks. Blakemore wrote to Judi Dench asking if he may send her a script as it included a ‘very good female part’.

The role of Freddie was turned down by Peter Whitbread who felt the play ‘left a bad taste in (his) mouth’. He writes: “I’m sorry but I wasn’t too keen on the play. Freddie isn’t for me I think- I might be able to play him if he was a little more of a caricature- but he’s not, certainly, and I think it has to be played by someone who is it – I saw blindingly in the part, Charles Grey, a few years younger. I felt more in common with Bri – who of course has more humour and more depth - as a person as well as a character. It’s not for me. I’m not prudish – indeed in ‘John Thomas’ at Bristol I happily had an orgasm on stage (Not too happily I hasten to add). There’s something about this that worries me. It nauseated Alec - but I thought it was intended to – the theme of ‘where does a human soul start’ I found interesting and the characterisations first-rate – and the humour. But there’s a bad taste in my mouth somehow – you can never tell for certain how successful a piece will be you can only trust your instincts can’t you - and be wrong 50% or more of the time – at least your average is probably better than mine.”

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THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG PRESS AND PUBLIC REACTIONS •

Despite its controversial subject matter Joe Egg did not receive a single complaint or expression of shock.

In the run up to opening night several newspapers including the Herald and the Scotsman published the warning issued by the Board. Anticipation of this seemingly controversial event grew and under the headline SPECIAL OCCASION AT THE CITIZENS The Herald ran a preview stating the Joe Egg promises to be ‘an occasion of more than ordinary interest.’ It explains ‘Much argument is expected about the subject and its treatment – the play concerns the case of a chronically retarded child- and the Citizens Management have already issued a warning that these ‘may possibly give offence’ expressing at the same time their conviction that the play’s honesty and grounding in first-hand experience ‘entirely vindicate its production is our theatre.’

The opening night audience was made up of two opposing groups. In the stalls sat the Board and their contemporaries, in the circle, the staff including Blakemore and Nichols and their friends and in the upper, students from the drama school (no doubt encouraged by their head Colin Chandler) to offer support. Blakemore writes of the moment when Bri pushes Joe in her wheelchair on stage for the first time: ‘ The Theatre was now so absolutely silent it was as if the air had been sucked out of the building and we were all sitting in a vacuum. I was rigid in my seat wondering if the audience would ever make a sound again...Very cautiously the laughter started again, first in the gallery then little by little in the rest of the house, as the audience was forced to acknowledge the honesty of what they were watching and the skill with which it was being represented. In these parts Joe and Zena were to give the performances of their lives.’

The play received fantastic reviews across the board and the Citizens were congratulated for making the brave decision


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG to produce the play. As such the mandatory warning was now dropped. Some key press quotes include: “These are all exceedingly well acted in a production which may fairly be called brilliant... All this makes a highly stimulating and (to judge by the ready acceptance of Mr Nichol’s tormented jests) diverting evening, and the Citizens are to be congratulated on putting it on. It is not, one should point out, in any way an offensive one, at least not in the sense that might be expected... Mr Nichols has not written a tragedy but a very clever, vehement, voluble, witty protest, which is not the same thing.” The Herald (Christopher Small)

“A long and controversial career lies ahead of the play which had its world premiere last night at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow... Watching ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’ by Peter Nichols is like looking at someone who is on the point of desecrating a work of art. Mr Nichols seems poised to smash all the canons of good taste but it is only our inhibitions that he cracks.” The Scotsman (Allen Wright)

ALMOST BANNED, BUT PLAY IS A HIT “The play that was almost banned by the Lord Chamberlain ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’ had its world premiere last night. Everyone who saw the play at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, must be grateful that the company was finally given the green light. Peter Nichols sympathetic and often brilliant script had the kind of impact last experienced at the Citizens when they produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?... Joe Melia and Zena Walker were magnificent as their parents, and had powerful support from Michael Murray, Carol Boyer and Joan HIckson”. Daily Record (Ruth Wishart)


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG ‘CITIZENS BRINGS TABOO OUT INTO THE OPEN “Some people may be initially offended by the idea of a retarded spastic child being the basis for a funny play. Once such prejudices have been overcome everyone should agree that Peter Nichols ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’ given its world premiere at the Citizens last night is one of the most original, perceptive and brilliant plays by any modern dramatist....The play is directed by Michael Blakemore, whose depth of understanding, vivid imagination and flair for naturalistic acting ensures that the production could not be bettered.” Evening Times (Paul Foster)

“’To think’, said someone behind me ‘that one can laugh and not feel guilty.’ But that is what is so marvellous about Peter Nichols new play “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” now in its first production at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow: you can and do laugh, and the laughter turns the awfulness of the thing into something nearly normal, like almost any other everyday problem.... The psychological problem of her parents is many fold and layers deep and these the author (who, you never need to be told, understands the thing from the inside) organises and controls so brilliantly as to leave one lost in admiration. For me it is one of the best constructed –but far more than that, one of the most disturbing – new plays in years. It makes much use of short cut convention; breaching the ‘fourth wall’ by addressing the audience direct; ‘acting out’ past situations, not in flashback but consciously, in all of which there is a kind of music hall immediacy that brings ‘The Entertainer’ momentarily to mind, though in ‘Joe Egg’ it never slows down the action... I have seldom felt, at any curtain fall, such a sense of time continuing... If producer and cast have a remarkable play to work on, the author too has been fortunate, for Michael Blakemore and his players (Zena Walker and Joe Melia) are beyond praise as the young husband and wife: Joan Hickson, Michael Murray and Carole Boyer giving substance to the subsidiary characters, and even young Barbara Goldman whose face and form clothe the child Joe, bring to its production and performance what one can only call intelligent devotion.” The Manchester Guardian (Cordelia Oliver)


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

Blakemore was particularly pleased with the notice from the Guardian but as it was as northern publication it would not be seen in London. He telephoned the newspaper to request that it be reprinted in the London Guardian and within a week important telephone calls were coming in and before long directors and producers were flying up from the capital to see this new extraordinary play.

Kenneth Tynam of the National Theatre requested to see a script. Blakemore, having no other to offer, sent his own and later found out that Sir Lawrence Olivier made it a priority to read it, and did so in his dressing room between a matinee and evening show.

The play was bought by Albert Finney’s Memorial Enterprises for £1000 before the end of the Glasgow run. Finney had caused a stir at the Citizens three years previously when he appeared in Henry IV and directed two other shows. It ran in the summer of 1967 at The Comedy Theatre, London (recently renamed The Harold Pinter Theatre).

Other offers included one from the National Theatre who wanted to produce it with their own cast, accepting Finney’s proposal meant that the current leading actors, and Blakemore, could still be involved. Nichols however promised to keep the National in mind when writing his next play (National Health, which was directed at the National by Blakemore. •

Blakemore had previously been in correspondence with the Royal Court about a London run straight after the Glasgow one; this could be used as bait to secure as good a cast as possible. He writes: It’s an extraordinary play in that it takes wild risks in the way it deals with a somewhat dodgy subject, but because it’s so obviously grounded in first hand experience I think it gets away with it magnificently. There are none of those concessions in the way of a sentimental gravity that tend to mar other plays about a ‘problem.’ Blakemore tells Melia in a letter prior to the Glasgow opening: we (Blakemore and Bill Gaskell) discussed Joe Egg which he has read and likes, but feels a little nervous about putting it on direct at the Court. We discussed, however, the possibility of a transfer of the


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG Glasgow production and he seemed very interested in the idea.’ •

The London production in the summer of 1967 also received rave reviews, most notably from The Times:

‘This is one of the rare occasions on which audiences can feel the earth moving under their feet. It marks the theatrical arrival of a young dramatist capable of the hardest task in his trade: treating an intensely painful taboo subject with absolute truthfulness and yet without alienating the public. In achieving this I believe that Peter Nichols and a dazzling cast have significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’

The play was transferred to Broadway and opened in early 1968 and ran for 154 performances. Finney took over the part of Bri and Blakemore was requested to be involved in the production and was released from his duties at the Citizens to do so.

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THE JOE EGG EFFECT •

Joe Egg was instrumental in establishing the Citizens as a forward thinking and exciting theatre that was not afraid to push boundaries and that could well rival the theatres of London (The aim of the Citizens Theatre company as set out by Bridie). The Scotsman ran an article before the end of the Glasgow run entitled THE CITIZENS PULLS ITS WEIGHT, which congratulated the Citizens on its encouragement of new writing. Allen Wright exclaims:

‘Two new plays provided an exciting climax to the season at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow – The first season under the direction of Michael Meacham and his associate Michael Blakemore. The final play “A day in the Death of Joe Egg” will be presented in London where it could gain prestige for the Citizens, with the Scots play “I Didn’t Always Live Here”, the Citizens recovered some of its national and local identity. These achievements lend force to this week’s offer from the Scottish Arts Council of greater incentives to playwrights and theatre for new drama.”

At this point in time there were rumours that the Citizens might be offered a grant to employ a full time literary advisor. These whisperings were confirmed when on 1st October Tony Paterson was appointed to the role. This was only the third position of its kind in the UK and the only one outside of London.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG JOE EGG AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY •

Much emphasis was placed on this fact during the early stages of promotion in an attempt to soften the controversial nature of the play’s subject matter. Nichols and his wife had a disabled child, Abigail, who was five at the time of the production and who sadly passed away at ten years old, the age Joe is in the play. Blakemore recalls Nichols use of humour when dealing with his emotions regarding his daughter as well as the ‘skits’ he would perform with his wife.

Nichols was keen to shy away from this tag, stating in a letter to Blakemore: I reckon we must stop mentioning that the play is autobiographic now. Certainly we don’t want to make the audience feel they’re being blackmailed, the way you are with Oxfam posters. Okay for raising money, unfair for playwrights.

However on seeing the first half for the first time Nichols was noticeably moved: ‘When I turned to Peter at the end of the act he had tears streaming down his face, and was reaching for a handkerchief to wipe them away. ‘Don’t!’ I said. ‘Come into the green room and let Joe and Zena see you just as you are’. So a sniffing, swallowing Peter who had never once been able to shed a tear over the real-life Joe Egg, but whose feelings this performance of his own story had unlocked, presented himself to the cast and said a few eloquent words. But for all of us those tears were praise enough.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

LETTERS The following are interesting extracts and quotes from letters relating to “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” Script record - received and read by Tony Paterson (attached handwritten note 28/8/66) “In many ways this is a remarkable play…it could well be unbearably painful for an audience to watch, and it would benefit from cutting – for more reasons than one. Most of the time, however, the writing is quite excellent and Mr Nichols has an unusually keen ear for off-beat contemporary dialogue, which can be very funny or deeply moving sometimes both at once. Characterisation, too, is exceptional”

Director Michael Blakemore to actress Joan Hickson. 3rd April 1967 “To Joan Hickson (also rest of cast) The re-writes on the play are complete and the scripts should be done by the end of the week. There should be one in the post for you on Friday. Most of the changes affect the second act, which is considerably reduced and now part of the third act (making it a two act play). It was much too long in its original form, something had to go, and I think the second act, which was mainly further exposition about the child, was the best place to lose it. It is a much tighter piece now with a stronger narrative line. Any favourite lines missing that you would like back will, of course, be considered. I wish I could say as much about the Lord Chamberlain’s attitude to us. He has the script at the moment and we wait, holding our breaths, for his decisions. Best wishes, Yours, Michael Blakemore.”

Director Michael Blakemore to actor Joe Melia – 14th March “Start rehearsal on Wed 19th April, opens three weeks later on Tues 9th, cast coming from London, cast start rehearsals two days earlier if cast feel necessary. The author arrives today and we hope to have the re-writes (affecting mainly the second half of the play) thrashed out within a fortnight. As soon as we have cleared the final hurdle of the Lord Chamberlain we will immediately send you a final script. Peter Nichols is delighted that you want to do the play (as indeed I am) and I am glad to say the rest of the casting is going


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG very well indeed. I look forward enormously to working on it with you.”

Director Michael Blakemore to Writer Peter Nichols – 23rd August 1966. “Goldberg read the play and most impressed. He thinks it needs some cutting and reconsidering here and there but as far as I can tell is excited about it and quite prepared to advocate it as a play for next season. I have spoken to Peggy Ramsay and she has explained that you hope for a London production possibly at Hampstead, and I agree this would probably be the best for you and the play, but if this seems unlikely or even uncertain please let us know…it would be a shame if we lost the chance of doing your play through misunderstanding.”

Director Michael Blakemore to Peter Bridge (Bridge Productions) “It is a genuine original.”

Director Michael Blakemore to actor Joe Melia - 3rd Feb - sent script “Some changes being considered in second and third acts but this will give you a very good idea of the play’s quality.”

Director Michael Blakemore to actor Albert Finney – 13th May - sent notices of play. “As you can see we have had quite a success with it. It is a remarkable piece and I don’t think a trip to Glasgow to see it would be wasted.”

Director Michael Blakemore to Kenneth Tynan (literary manager) at National Theatre 13th May “The only copy of the script I can lay my hands on at the moment is my own, somewhat defaced with scribbles. The modified or extended stage directions, incidentally, are there to please the Lord Chamberlain whose objections to the simplest of sentences was occasionally most curious (for example, “moves up-stage turning his back”). Our main censorship fight was over the issue of whether the child was to be actually seen on stage.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG Her presence is crucial to the style of the play, and fortunately, after discussion, this point was conceded. I do hope you will be able to see our production, mainly because of the excellence of the playing. Certainly Joe Melia and Zena Walker could hardly be improved upon.”

Director Michael Blakemore to Brain Rix at Garrick Theatre - 11th May - Sent notices. “Most successful opening on Tuesday night. The author himself has a spastic child and he has taken risks with this subject that only someone writing from the inside would dare to. We had a battle with our board to do the play at all because they were frightened it would give offence, but the staunchest advocates of the play have been those who know the subject at first hand. Incidentally, there is some talk about a special charity performance before the run ends on May 27th, but this has yet to be organised.” --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Director Michael Blakemore to Greville Poke at Royal Court Theatre - 1st March “It would be very nice if there was just the possibility of our company running it at the Court at the end of our season, because it would mean we could use this as further bait in casting it. Our regular company will have disbanded by then and as the play has only five characters we hope to cast it more or less ideally from London. Offers to send script. “It’s an extraordinary play in that it takes wild risks in the way it deals with a somewhat dodgy subject, but because it’s so obviously grounded in first hand experience I think it gets away with it magnificently. There are none of those concessions in the way of a sentimental gravity that tend to mar other plays about a ‘problem.’” Reply to handwritten note from Poke 27th Feb “His wife stayed with Colin Chandler, heard about Joe Egg and talked about doing it at Royal Court after and wanted to get him a script to read. Mentioned idea to Gaskill who has read play. Wife wrote to him and Gaskill coming to Brecht- may speak about play then.”

Director Michael Blakemore to Kenneth Tynan (literary manager) at National Theatre 11th May “I think you should know about a new play… What makes this play so remarkable is that he has brought to bear a talent, which in its natural state inclines towards sharply observed comedy with farcical overtones, on a subject for which, on the face of it, it is wholly inappropriate. That this unlikely marriage


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG between material and temperament works I think the notices show. The reception of the play has particularly pleased us because we had to battle a long time to do it at all. Much to their credit our Board finally agreed to its production, but only on the condition that warnings to the public appeared in all our advertising material. In the event the play’s honesty has ensured it against giving offence, though it remains a startling and original evening. I do hope you will be able to see it.”

Actor Peter Whitbread to Director Michael Blakemore – 20th March “Thanks for script - now on its way to Joan Hickson. I’m sorry but I wasn’t too keen on the play. Freddie isn’t for me I think - I might be able to play him if he was a little more of a caricature - but he’s not, certainly, and I think it has to be played by someone who is it – I saw blindingly in the part, Charles Grey, a few years younger. I felt more in common with Bri – who of course has more humour and more depth - as a person as well as a character. It’s not for me. I’m not prudish – indeed in ‘John Thomas’ at Bristol I happily had an orgasm on stage (Not too happily I hasten to add). There’s something about this that worries me. It nauseated Alec- but I thought it was intended to – the theme of ‘where does a human soul start’ I found interesting and the characterisations first-rate –and the humour. But there’s a bad taste in my mouth somehow – you can never tell for certain how successful a piece will be you can only trust your instincts can’t you- and be wrong 50% or more of the time – at least your average is probably better than mine. I’m very sorry about it because I would have loved to have come up again, particularly under your baton. Only once before have I ever turned down a role – in rep or wherever and that was Jimmy Porter…I knew I could never play him because I had no point of contact with him at all. I feel a bit like that now - the loss is mine I’m sure – not yours.”

To the Lord Chamberlain from Director Michael Blakemore – 29th May - Sent notices “It has worked out rather as both you and ourselves hoped it would. Production bought by Finney or London, Blakemore redirecting in July. The author is concerned by the notice that suggests that the subject may have been softened a shade beyond the point of reasonable honesty, and has asked me to write to you to see if the cuts can be considered for restoration. Speech pg 20 of act 2 beginning – ‘so I undressed her and applied a suppository’. He feels that though in another context this speech might be unnecessary, in the case of this child it is central to her condition and the daily routines that surround her


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG existence. As I rather hoped in performance the play is far less shocking than it appears on the page. It’s honesty and lack of obliqueness are respected by audiences (especially by people who have first hand experience of the subject themselves) and we have not had a single complaint or expression of shock. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Director Michael Blakemore to writer Peter Nichols – no date “Dear Mike. Final revisions. Been on it so long now I begin to be offended by the reoccurrence of certain letters. Too many ‘t’s in that line and so on. …whether it’s any improvement, I couldn’t say. It seems a bit thin and nervous now, as though the flesh had been stripped off showing the twitching nerves underneath. And too many of the lines seem functional. Fetching things and giving orders. Perhaps the balance is wrong. Anyway, it’ll have to stay now. I can’t do more. Casting very encouraging. I hope we have something special here. It would be nice if your letter to the Privy Comptroller of Royal Filth was not entirely hyperbolic. I read it with interest and have filed it among my press cutting. The only doubts I had were over your pointing out that ‘intelligent married couples’ talk rude to each other. Mightn’t a pompous civil servant feel affronted by that? By the way Charles tells me that he went with Osborne about ‘Meal on Wheels’ and wore his regimental tie and the men they met were mostly colonels but they didn’t get a word changed. In other words, the censor gets his way because the law’s on his side and why should he give in? We can only hope for the best. I think it was good to point out the way you are going to do the child but perhaps you should left the ordinary dirty dialogue to sneak past as it may. One other thing, I reckon we must stop mentioning that the play is autobiographic now. Certainly we don’t want to make the audience feel they’re being blackmailed, the way you are with Oxfam posters. Okay for raising money but unfair for playwrights.”

Writer Peter Nichols to Director Michael Blakemore – no date “Casting- Terence Brady? Ray Brooks? New titles - Life’s too short; No room at the Quality Inn; Since You Came Along. And the last I think most likely. It’s cooler than the present title but, of course, less striking.


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG As the committee have imposed a condition of advance warning on this play, I’d like to have some say in the exact wording of the announcement. It could so easily be harmfully mis-worded.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Director Michael Blakemore to actor Joe Melia – 4th March “Spoke to Bill Gaskell- we discussed Joe Egg which he has read and likes, but feels a little nervous about putting it on direct at the Court. We discussed, however, the possibility of a transfer of the Glasgow production and he seemed very interested in the idea.”

MINUTES FROM BOARD MEETINGS 1966-67 Minutes - spring programme - first 3 plays announced/discussed in December 1966. In January 1967 Joe Egg added. ‘The fourth play has not yet been decided upon. Mr Blakemore felt that when he was acting he could not give his full artistic powers to producing the next production. The board, however, realised Mr Blakemore’s difficulties and appreciated his efforts. Application for literary agent put to arts council (May) – would be deferred until full meeting of arts council in July May - the cast of Joe Egg wished to do a charity show for the spastics if an evening could be arranged. It was agreed to arrange a meeting with the spastics society. June 1967 - cost sheets for Beaux Stratagem, I didn’t always live here and Joe Egg- deficit before grant £5,965, £3,663 and £3,358. June 67 - a London company was interested in producing Joe Egg, offered £1,000 for citizens theatre production which had been accepted. Rehearsals to take place in London for a fortnight - Blakemore released for it. 24th November - Joe Egg to be produced on Broadway - Singleton announced. Received a request for Blakemore to be released in connection with the Broadway production. The Board unanimously congratulated Blakemore and agreed that he should be released and that the question of finance should be agreed between him and chairman’s committee. For autumn 1966 Blakemore wanted Sweet Bird of Youth – board felt unsuitable. Blakemore asked for it to be noted in minutes that he deplored this decision.”


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG

NOTES ON THE ORIGINAL 1967 COMPANY JOE MELIA Better known for comedy than drama before Joe Egg. Was a member of comedy troupe the Cambridge Footlights in late 1950s. Several T.V. appearances in series including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bill and Birds of a Feather. Made a name for himself in television presenting, most notably Call My Bluff and was ‘Storyteller’ for Jackanory between 1969 and 1971. Won ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ Laurence Olivier award for Good.

ZENA WALKER Studied at RADA and turned down an offer from Alexander Korda to continue her training but left the institution a year later to join Stratford Memorial Theatre. Made her name on the stage after several television appearances. Won Tony Award for ‘Best Featured Actress’ in Joe Egg on Broadway opposite Albert Finney. Her performance in Joe Egg is still regarded as her most memorable. She appeared with Finney again several years later in a guest appearance in The Dresser (1983) Walker continued to appear on stage and on television until her death in 2003. JOAN HICKSON Enjoyed a successful stage, television and film career. Appeared in many Carry On Films. Appeared in Agatha Christie play in 1940’s, Christie, in the audience, remarked ‘I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.’ She played Marple in 12 adaptations earning a two BAFTA nominations and OBE. Reprised the role of Grace in Joe Egg for the 1970 film (released 1972). Husband, Eric Butler, passed away 1967. CAROLE BOYER Studied with Albert Finney at RADA. Appeared in several television series in late 1960s. Turned to television writing in 1970’s/80’s. Parents famous dancing duo Boyer and Ravel. MICHAEL MURRAY He performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966 (Trojan Women and The Winters Tale) alongside Jane Asher for Pop Theatre Company, and was directed by Frank Dunlop who later directed for The National Theatre, The Old and Young Vic and the RSC and who ran the Edinburgh Festival between 1984 and 1991. He also appeared in the 1976 Cambridge Footlights Revue 'A Kick in the Stalls'. (Melia was also a member of the footlights in the 1950's).


THE STORY BEHIND A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG DIRECTOR | MICHAEL BLAKEMORE •

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Acted at the Citizens from 1966-67, where his parts included George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' and Maitland in Inadmissible Evidence. During this period and after acting for some 15 years, Blakemore decided that his true calling was in directing. For the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow he directed The Investigation, Little Malcolm, Stephen D and Nightmare Abbey in 1966; and The Strange Case of Martin Richter, The Visions of Simone Machard, A Choice of Wars and Rosmersholm in 1967. He became its Co-Artistic Director in 1968 and had a great success with Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in 1967, accompanying the play on its moves to London that year and to Broadway in 1968. The West End run earned him his first Tony nomination for directing. In 1969, Blakemore joined the National Theatre at the Old Vic to direct The National Health by Peter Nichols (1969) and, in 1971, became Associate Director under Laurence Olivier. He directed Olivier in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night (1971).

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A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG Citizens Theatre 19 October – 12 November 2011 citz.co.uk Box Office 0141 429 0022


The ORIGINS of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg