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the Complete Review
the complete review - theatre diary

An Unnatural Pursuit

Simon Gray

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase An Unnatural Pursuit

Title: An Unnatural Pursuit
Author: Simon Gray
Genre: Theatre diary
Written: 1985
Length: 239 pages
Availability: An Unnatural Pursuit - US
An Unnatural Pursuit - UK
An Unnatural Pursuit - Canada
  • and other Pieces
  • With a Foreword by Harold Pinter
  • With eight pages of photographs and illustrations
  • A number of the pieces were previously published, between 1968 and 1984

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly entertaining insight into the production of a play, and some fun small pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/4/1986 Mel Gussow
TLS . 6/9/1985 Philip Oakes

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The complete review's Review:

       Most of An Unnatural Pursuit is made up of a journal Simon Gray kept from November, 1983 through August, 1984 about the production of his then new play, The Common Pursuit. Actually, Gray recorded his thoughts and impressions on tape during this period, and then reworked the material afterwards, presenting it as it is here. It makes for an interesting look at what goes into producing a play, and Gray's general approach (and his salty asides) make it an entertaining read as well.
       From finding a producer and a theatre to casting the roles, Gray provides a useful account of these basic difficulties in getting a play to the stage in the first place. With Gray as playwright and Harold Pinter directing one might not expect it would have been too hard, but the road was not entirely smooth. Settling on the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, for the first run the hope was to be able to transfer it then to London's West End -- a move that, as Gray recounts with surprising calm, could not take place because of unfortunate and foolish managerial decisions made early one.
       Gray does a fine job of explaining the day to day problems that crop up in rehearsal as well, and the difficulty (and sometimes surprising ease) of dealing with the actors. It is an interesting look behind the scenes -- interesting also because it shows how damn dreary the whole business of putting on a show can be.
       The play comes off fairly well, though the reviews are a major issue. Gray takes his time in dealing with them (and even in dealing with the anticipation of them).
       Anticlimactically the show does not go on -- to the West End, that is. At least not this time round. But Gray also offers other unnatural pieces in this volume. There are the cricket pieces -- Gray does not seem quite as obsessed with the sport as Pinter is, but it comes up fairly often in the rest of the book as well. There are some autobiographical pieces, notably the informative My Cambridge, recounting Gray's odd academic career, as well as Gray's piece on The Pursuit of F.R.Leavis.
       There are further theatrical anecdotes in the fun but bitter Flops and other Fragments, and there is the early Confessions of a TV Playwright (first published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1968).
       Gray writes well. Throughout the humour is sharp and he does not shy away from criticizing. He is unsparing (and self-deprecating). Sometimes his concerns seem horribly misplaced -- so when he gets all in a huff about not being included in a production photograph -- but it also shows him as quite human.
       Gray's attacks -- on the media, on himself, on the Royal Shakespeare Company -- are sharp and often very funny indeed. He acknowledges being "the only person I know to have left after a mere three hours or so of Nicholas Nickelby", and says of that David Edgar adaptation: "I didn't much like the play either, thinking it would probably work better as a novel."

       An Unnatural Pursuit is a theatrical book, and anyone interested in the stage-world should find it of great interest. For those less entranced with theatre much of it might seem rather dull, like a book about manufacturing a product -- which is, of course, exactly what it is.

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Simon Gray: Other books by Simon Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • David Hare's acting diary, Acting Up
  • Michael Frayn and David Burke tell Celia's Secret from the Copenhagen backstage

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About the Author:

       British author Simon Gray (1936-2008) wrote numerous plays, as well as works of fiction and non-fiction.

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© 2001-2010 the complete review

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