Donkeys' Years

Original London West End Production 1976

1st West End Revival 2006


Comedy by Michael Frayn. A number of graduates - now in their early forties and mostly in responsible, influential positions - gather together for a reunion dinner at a 'lesser college' of an 'older university' in the UK. Everything starts out smoothly, their are the usual conventional greetings and the old-boy reminiscences, but a slightly discordant note being struck by Snell, a man of such insignificance that everyone has forgotten him, and continues to forget him from one moment to the next. As the night goes on, however, the college port causes behaviour surprising in those in positions of political, academic or spiritual authority. Into the resulting bear-garden stumbles Lady Driver, the Master's wife, short-sightedly searching for the lost love of her youth. The insignificant Snell sees in her the chance to make up for all the opportunities of undergraduate life he missed before.

Michael Frayn's West End plays and comedies include Democracy, Benefactors and Noises Off.


Donkeys' Years - Original London West End Production 1976

Opened 15 July 1976, Closed 18 February 1978 at the Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre)

The original cast featured A J Brown as 'Mr S Birklett'; Peter Barkworth as 'C D P B Headingley, MA, MP'; Peter Jeffrey as 'D J Buckle, MB, FRCS'; Andrew Robertson as 'K Snell, MA'; Julian Curry as 'A V Quine, BA'; Harold Innocent as 'The Rev R D Sainsbury, MA'; Jeffrey Wickham as 'N O P Tate, MA'; John Harding as 'W R Taylor, MA, PhD'; and Penelope Keith as 'Lady Driver, MA. Directed by Michael Rudman with designs by Alan Tagg and lighting by Ken Miller.


Donkeys' Years - 1st West End Revival 2006

Previewed 27 April 2006, Opened 9 May 2006, Closed 16 December 2006 at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre)

The original cast featured Edward Petherbridge as 'Mr S Birklett'; David Haig as 'C D P B Headingley, MA, MP'; Michael Simkins as 'D J Buckle, MB, FRCS'; Mark Addy as 'K Snell, MA'; James Dreyfus as 'A V Quine, BA'; Michael Fitzgerald as 'The Rev R D Sainsbury, MA'; Jonathan Coy as 'N O P Tate, MA'; Chris Moran as 'W R Taylor, MA, PhD'; and Samantha Bond as 'Lady Driver, MA'. From 4 September 2006 Karl Theobald played 'K Snell'; Hamish Clark played 'A V Quine'; and Paul Raffield played 'Rev R D Sainsbury'. From 25 September 2006 Janie Dee played 'Lady Driver'. Directed by Jeremy Sams with designs by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Howard Harrison and sound by John Leonard. Jeremy Sams' London theatre credits include Spend Spend Spend (Piccadilly Theatre in 1999).

"This is one of the most brilliant revivals in the West End in years, and Jeremy Sams's production takes the stage with all the confidence of a serious comic masterpiece. Michael Frayn's play seems richer, funnier and more cunning than ever. The point about Frayn is that he can combine the intellectual bravura of Stoppard, the farcical dash and inventiveness of Ray Cooney, and the hard-edged observation of Ayckbourn, ruthlessly ironical and utterly without malice... Unmissable" The Sunday Times

"Silly walks! Musical doors! Cross-dressers of both sexes! Exaggerated myopia! Camp curate! Yikes, there's a woman in my room! Michael Frayn's Donkeys' Years ticks all the classic farce boxes... Jeremy Sams's production is a slow starter, but when full-blown farce erupts in the second act a terrific cast pulls off a symphony of perfectly timed slapstick. David Haig turns in a star performance as Headingley and Jonathan Coy's 'Auntie Norman' is a treat." The Sunday Telegraph

"If you can imagine a Ben Travers farce rewritten by Alan Bennett with additional dialogue by Noel Coward, you will have some idea, though perhaps not a lot, of what is going on in Michael Frayn's Donkeys' Years. Written in 1976, this is a thoughtful farce about a college reunion and what has happened 25 years on... Frayn was to go on to write the backstage Noises Off, the greatest farce of my lifetime's theatregoing, but this earlier script is less intricate depending as it does on a series of shambolic misadventures befalling the graduates on the night of their reunion dinner... They are a mixed bag of politicians, civil servants, journalists, doctors, businessmen and clerics one of each and Frayn has to involve them all in the classic props of farce-mistaken identity... David Haig as the MP brilliantly captures the physical comedy. He's at his best when, with a bad back, he travels around the stage like a man whose legs have been replaced by pogo sticks. Samantha Bond is also very strong as the ruthless Lady Driver... But the rest of a very strong cast seem, like the director Jeremy Sams, to be at the mercy of Frayn's frequent shifts of style: he has a lot to say about college life, about the English in crisis and above all perhaps about the herd instinct. These men are not just ex-students but ex-schoolboys and they are still forming gangs and making sure that there is always someone even worse off than themselves... All in all, an evening of academic shenanigans, vastly lighter than Frayn's more recent political dramas but subtly complex nevertheless in its study of people always too old to be young, who are making a hash of trying to recapture college life too late. But these were never, in Frayn's view, the happiest days of their lives." The Daily Express

"At first, Michael Frayn's frisky, 30-year-old farce Donkeys' Years comes across as a drably conventional comedy about an Oxford University reunion... Happily, the appearance of Samantha Bond soon galvanises the action. As an undergraduate, she used to drive the chaps crazy by dismounting from her bicycle in the college quad. Now, when she mistakenly expresses undying love for Mark Addy's dumpy Welsh misfit, she is forced to hide behind his door while the now drunken rabble fall in and out of the room. But it's not until after the break - when all the men are fixed up with head-splitting hangovers - that Frayn's genius as a farceur and Jeremy Sams's skilful coaching as a director finally pays off. It all happens so fast it's hard to say exactly what does happen - although it makes perfect sense at the time... By now dialogue is reduced to rapid-fire bullet points with doors banging like a machinegun. Thus memories of a laboured first half become dissolved in the closing mayhem, fully justifying the price of your ticket." The Mail on Sunday

Donkeys' Years in London at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre) previewed from 27 April 2006, opened on 9 May 2006 and closed on 16 December 2006.