The Common Pursuit

Previewed 29 March 1988, Opened 7 April 1988, Closed 30 July 1988 at the Phoenix Theatre in London

Simon Gray's new comedy The Common Pursuit in London, directed by the playwright himself

A group of friends who meet up together at Cambridge in the early 1960s with the intention of establishing themselves as critics and poets by setting up a new literary magazine along the guiding principles of F. R. Leavis's 1952 collection of essays Scrutiny: The Common Pursuit - but nothing in life is that simple...

The cast from Monday 4 July 1988 features James Wilby, Patrick Barlow, Jason Carter and John Gordon Sinclair with Sarah Berger and Paul Mooney. The cast from Tuesday 29 March to Saturday 2 July 1998 featured Rik Mayall, John Sessions, Stephen Fry and John Gordon Sinclair with Sarah Berger and Paul Mooney. Directed by Simon Gray with designs by David Jenkins.

Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit was originally presented in London at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre four years ago (previewed from 30 June 1984, opened on 3 July 1984 and closed on 11 August 1984) in a production that featured Nicholas Le Prevost, Simon Williams, Clive Francis, Ian Ogilvy, Nina Thomas and Robert East and was directed by Harold Pinter. Unfortunately a hoped for West End transfer did not materialise and Gray revised the play, recast it and redirected it himself for this West End Premiere production.

Simon Gray's West End theatre plays include Quartermaine's Terms, The Last Cigarette, Old Masters, The Holy Terror, Butley, Otherwise Engaged and Life Support.

"Four years ago, Simon Gray's play expired at the Lyric Hammersmith, having been marked down as an inbred literary comedy featuring a thinly disguised Orwellian group of 'verminous little lions' who could only be deciphered by spectators who were in the know... {Now] Gray has finally steered it into the West End where, under his own direction, it emerges as a work of mordant briliance; and a notable addition to his career-long exploration of the relationship between literature and human conduct. The Common Pursuit follows the lives of six friends from their hopeful Cambridge youth to their heavily compromised middle-age 20 years later. The common pursuit that holds them together is at once the undergraduate magazine of that title (a would-be successor to Leavis's Scrutiny), and the decidely non-Leavisite hunt for sex and fame... The piece develops on two fronts, as a comedy of personal loyalties and betrayals, and as the adventures of an elitist publication in a non-elitist age." The Times

"Simon Gray doesn't give up on The Common Pursuit. Since its initial production in Hammersmith four years ago, he has substantially revised it, written two diaries about it and now directs it at the Phoenix with a cast dominated by young alternative comedians. Paradoxically, it emerges as a more serious work by being played with a lighter touch... Now the play seems to vindicate its Leavisite title by being both about the nature of friendship and about a more general cultural descent from intellectual rigour and high seriousness. The mess the six characters make of their lives becomes a reflection of a more widespread ethical vacuum.... Over the years we follow the interwoven lives of Stuart and his chums. He edits 31 issues of a struggling literary magazine before joining the coffee-table publishing house of his friend Martin. Of the others Nick, who has the high ideal of being a drama critic, turns into a chain-smoking media hustler. Peter becomes a lecherous academic gadfly churning out instant books to support his growing family and Humphry, a severely judgemental philosopher, ends up being battered to death in his rooms by a piece of rough trade. The world on display is small and Mr Gray is never one to resist a cheap shot... But lurking behind the play is an almost Arnoldian belief that the barbarians and the philistines are taking over." The Guardian

The Common Pursuit in London at the Phoenix Theatre previewed from 29 March 1988, opened on 7 April 1988 and closed on 30 July 1988