The works of Michael Frayn have certainly played a significant part in the career of Roger Allam. As Willy Brandt in Frayn’s play Democracy, Allam won critical acclaim and was nominated for an Olivier Award; the next year he was back at the National Theatre to star in another Michael Frayn play, Afterlife, and it more recently it was Frayn’s translation of Uncle Vanya that Allam starred in in Chichester.
Unfortunately the ITV coverage of the event cut out Roger Allam’s contribution to proceedings, but the presentation did air on the radio and a recording can be downloaded here. Below is a transcript of the speech given:
“Tonight we are honouring Michael Frayn, playwright, and we’ve already heard that as a playwright he is a master of both the comic and the serious. The trouble is, there seem to be so many different Michael Frayns who seem to be equally masterly and successful writers in so many different fields: as a journalist and columnist, as a novelist, as a humourist and satirist, as a screenwriter, and as our greatest translator of Chekov.
His first attempts in the theatre, however, were failures. When he was at Cambridge, he wrote for the Footlights Review the first time it didn’t transfer to the West End. His next try, thirteen years later, led to hostile reviews from the critics- a hostility apparently shared by a member of the audience who reputedly spat at him in the street. Michael says that this story isn’t true.
His first love, however, is philosophy. He has written a book about philosophy and a philosophical treatise. He read Philosophy at Cambridge where apparently he said that when he read the opening sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus– a work simply itching to be turned into a musical- ‘the world is everything that is the case,’ that it made him want to dance. Michael says that this story isn’t true. But he could be wrong about that.
Philosophy certainly underpins all of his work and brings all the different Michael Frayns together. His play Alphabetical Order, set in a newspaper office, explores the nature of facts and how we consciously explore the world; Donkey’s Years takes place during a university college reunion, and explores memory and how we unconsciously explore the world; Clouds, the subjectivity of perception, when a novelist, a journalist, an academic and a local guide travel around Cuba and have vastly conflicting views of it; how we perceive things, how we try to describe the world, memory, how different versions of events conflict, how these things affect our moral judgement- and that’s just in Noises Off, his dazzling farce, probably the funniest play in the world.
Copenhagen explores memory again, and the uncertainty of our motives; motives resurface in Democracy, his play about Willy Brandt and the East German spy Gunter Guillaume. Our different perceptions, the different lives we lead, the different possibilities we might have had if we had taken a slightly different course of action, the many contradictory people that are within us. ‘I contain multitudes,’ says Willy Brandt.
So, in gratitude that of the many writers within Michael Frayn a fair proportion of them have written such funny, serious, stimulating, dazzling, hilarious, and contemplative plays, it gives me great pleasure to present this special award to Michael Frayn.”