The Common Pursuit

Play by Simon Gray. 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...

Originally staged in 1984 by Harold Pinter at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, London, a hoped for West End transfers did not materialise. Following this Simon Gray revised the play, and it then made its West End Premiere in 1988, in a re-cast production featuring a trio of comedians - Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, and John Sessions.

1984 Original London Production at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

1988 Original West End London Production at the Phoenix Theatre

2008 London Revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory

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

Original London Production 1984

Previewed 30 June 1984, Opened 3 July 1984, Closed 11 August 1984 at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

The cast featured Clive Francis as 'Humphry', Robert East as 'Nick', Nicholas Le Prevost as 'Stuart', Simon Williams as 'Peter', Nina Thomas as 'Marigold', and Ian Ogilvy as 'Martin'.

Directed by Harold Pinter, with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Liz Waller, and lighting by Dave Horn.

Original West End London Production 1988

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

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

The original cast from Tuesday 29 March to Saturday 2 July 1998 featured Stephen Fry as 'Humphry', Rik Mayall as 'Nick', John Sessions as 'Stuart', John Gordon Sinclair as 'Peter', Sarah Berger as 'Marigold', and Paul Mooney as 'Martin'.

The cast from Monday 4 July to 30 July 1988 featured Patrick Barlow as 'Humphry', John Gordon Sinclair as 'Nick', James Wilby as 'Stuart', Jason Carter as 'Peter', Sarah Berger as 'Marigold', and Paul Mooney as 'Martin'.

Directed by Simon Gray, with sets by David Jenkins, costumes by Fizz Jones, and lighting by Leonard Tucker.

A transfer from the Watford Palace Theatre, Hertfordshire, where it run from 3 through to 26 March 1988, with the same original cast.

"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

London Revival 2008

Previewed 10 May 2008, Opened 27 May 2008, Closed 20 July 2008 at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Fiona Laird's revival of Simon Gray's comedy The Common Pursuit in London for a strictly limited season

The cast featured James Dreyfus as 'Humphry', Reece Shearsmith as 'Nick', Robert Portal as 'Stuart', Nigel Harman as 'Peter', Mary Stockley as 'Marigold', and Ben Caplan as 'Martin'.

Directed by Fiona Laird, with designs by Anthony Lamble, lighting by Hartley T A Kemp, and sound by Sebastian Frost.

James Dreyfus' London stage credits include the roles of 'Emcee, Master of Ceremonies' in Rufus Norris' revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre in 2006; 'A V Quine, BA' in Jeremy Sams's revival of Michael Frayn's Donkeys' Years at the Comedy Theatre in 2006; and 'Carmen Ghia' in the original cast of Susan Stroman's production of Mel Brooks' The Producers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2004.

Robert Portal's West End theatre credits include playing the role of 'Thomas MacGreevy' in Edward Hall's production of Michael Hastings' Calico at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2004.

Nigel Harman's London theatre credits include the roles 'Flight-Sergeant Kevin Cartwright' in Michael Grandage's revival of Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2001; 'Eddie' in the original cast of Phyllida Lloyd's prodution of Catherine Johnson's ABBA musical Mamma Mia! at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1999; 'Cousin Kevin' in Des McAnuff's production of the Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff musical Tommy at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1996.

When this production opened Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph praised how "Simon Gray's writing is sharp, funny and clever, and, more than 20 years after the piece's premiere, the dramatist's assumption of intelligence and cultural knowledge on the part of his audience seems breathtakingly daring... Fiona Laird directs a superbly acted production... Robert Portal memorably captures the idealism and loyalty of the magazine's editor... Ben Caplan is deeply touching...James Dreyfus is in terrific form... There's also strong comic support from Reece Shearsmith... and Nigel Harman." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said that in "this gently wistful Simon Gray drama, amiably revived... Robert Portal and Ben Caplan do good work in anchoring the central pairing of Stuart and Martin... Mary Stockley tries hard but struggles with the fact that Marigold is increasingly defined by the job interviews she attends." Benedict Nightingale in the Times thought that "this is a play filled with surprise, incongruity, and dangerous wit: a testimony to its author's abiding excellence." Robert Gore-Langton in the Daily Mail described how, "though well directed by Fiona Laird, I am not sure just how well this tale of tarnished promise and bruised ideals buffs up. I grew impatient with its clever clogs Oxbridge self-regard." Paul Taylor in the Independent commented how, "witty and defiantly literary, it ticks none of the boxes in the campaign against elitism... The dialogue has an erudite, bitchy bounce, and there are entertaining running gags." Simon Edge in the Daily Express said: "I found it hard to warm to this lacklustre revival... The characters are believable enough... The problem is that - in this production at least - they are so charmless you don't give a stuff about any of them... The aura of pointlessness that pervades their lives also haunts the production as a whole." Maddy Costa in the Guardian highlighted that the characters are "stereotypical Oxbridge types, sniping at the other university, dismissive of popular culture. That said, their snobbery is sometimes wickedly funny... But the cast - with the possible exception of Reece Shearsmith - don't brandish this sharp humour with nearly enough intent."

The Common Pursuit in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory previewed from 10 May 2008, opened on 27 May 2008, and closed on 20 July 2008