English dramatist, columnist, reporter and translator Michael
Frayn was born on September 8, 1933, in the suburbs of London.
His mother, a once promising young violinist, died when Frayn
was only 12, and his father, a rep for an asbestos and roofing
materials firm, was forced to withdraw the young boy from the
expensive private school he was used to attending in favor of
a cheaper public education. Frayn, however, thrived in this new
environment. Growing up in Ewell, south London, the young boy
displayed a talent for music and poetry, and by the time he was
a teenager, he knew that he wanted to be a writer of some sort.
After a brief stint in the army during which time he served
as a Russian interpreter, Frayn attended the University of Cambridge.
Graduating in 1957 with a degree in "moral sciences",
he soon began his writing career as a reporter and columnist
for the Manchester Guardian (1957-62) and The
Observer (1962-68). During this time, he published several
collections of essays from his columns and also wrote several
novels including The Tin Men (1965), The Russian Interpreter
(1966), and A Very Private Life (1968).
Frayn's first play was written for an evening of one-acts,
but was rejected by the producer. Irritated, Frayn decided he
would simply write several more pieces and put on an evening
of his own short plays. Unfortunately, The Two of Us (1970),
starring Lynne Redgrave and Richard Briars, was fairly disastrous.
The production made back its money thanks mostly to the performances
of Redgrave and Briars, but it was viciously attacked by the
critics, and after the premiere, Frayn was spat upon in the street
by audience members. Undaunted, however, Frayn continued to write
for the stage, and his next efforts were far more successful.
Alphabetical Order (1975) tells the story of a newspaper
office that loses its identity when an overly efficient employee
attempts to impose order on the chaotic environment. This time,
the play received raves from the critics and won Frayn the Evening
Standard Award for "Best Comedy of the Year". He followed
this success with Clouds (1976), Donkey's Years
(1977), and Make or Break (1980) which also won the Evening
Standard Award. However, Frayn is perhaps best know for Noises
Off (1982), a frenetic behind the scenes look at an English
theatrical troupe putting on a typically English farce. Noises
Off won Frayn a third Evening Standard Award for "Best
Comedy of the Year" and enjoyed a run of four years in London's
West End. A companion piece, Look Look (1990), attempted
to add a new twist. This time, the audience would watch an audience
watching a play, but the idea didn't entirely hold together and
the production only lasted 27 performances.
One of Frayn's most recent efforts, Copenhagen (1998),
dramatizes the disastrous 1941 meeting between German physicist
Werner Heisenberg and a former colleague and friend, Danish physicist
Nils Bohr. Hailed as an imaginative and fascinating recreation
of the historical meeting, Copenhagen earned "Best
Play" honors at the 1998 Evening Standard Awards and brought
Frayn once again to the attention of international audiences.
Frayn has also translated several plays by Chekhov including
The Cherry Orchard (1978), Three Sisters (1983),
and Uncle Vanya (1988), Chekhov's first, untitled play
as Wild Honey, and four of his one-acts: The Evils
of Tobacco, Swan Song, The Bear and The
Proposal. His first film, Clockwise (1986), featured
John Cleese, and his second film, First and Last (1990),
won an international Emmy Award. The film adaptation of Noises
Off was produced by Disney with a star-studded cast and Alphabetical
Order, Donkey's Years, Make and Break, and
Benefactors have all been filmed for UK television. One
of Frayn's novels, A Landing on the Sun (1991), was presented
on the BBC in 1994, and another, Headlong (1999) was a
contender for the Booker Prize.
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