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Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: September 8, 1933 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: playwright, novelist, essayist, translator, screenwriter, teacher, journalist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Acclaimed playwright and novelist Michael Frayn initially rose to prominence in his British homeland writing satirical columns, first for Manchester Guardian and later for The Observer. His early books were compilations of his columns, but he soon graduated to autobiographical novels like "The Russian Interpreter" (1966) and "Toward the End of the Morning" (1967), the latter chronicling his days as a Fleet Street journalist. Though he had co-scripted "Zounds!" for the Cambridge University Footlights while a student, it had failed to move to the West End as expected, so his first professional production was "The Two of Us" (1970), four playlets performed by Richard Briers and Lynn Redgrave. Trained by the British Army to speak Russian, he has used his expertise most frequently to translate Chekhov's plays, beginning with the National Theatre's "The Cherry Orchard" (1977), followed by "Wild Honey" (1984), "The Three Sisters" (1985), "The Seagull" (1986) and "Uncle Vanya" (1987).After inaugurating his longstanding collaboration with director Michael Blakemore on "Make and Break" (1980), Frayn reteamed with Blakemore on the wonderful back-stage farce "Noises Off" (1982), called by Frank Rich, the former...

Acclaimed playwright and novelist Michael Frayn initially rose to prominence in his British homeland writing satirical columns, first for Manchester Guardian and later for The Observer. His early books were compilations of his columns, but he soon graduated to autobiographical novels like "The Russian Interpreter" (1966) and "Toward the End of the Morning" (1967), the latter chronicling his days as a Fleet Street journalist. Though he had co-scripted "Zounds!" for the Cambridge University Footlights while a student, it had failed to move to the West End as expected, so his first professional production was "The Two of Us" (1970), four playlets performed by Richard Briers and Lynn Redgrave. Trained by the British Army to speak Russian, he has used his expertise most frequently to translate Chekhov's plays, beginning with the National Theatre's "The Cherry Orchard" (1977), followed by "Wild Honey" (1984), "The Three Sisters" (1985), "The Seagull" (1986) and "Uncle Vanya" (1987).

After inaugurating his longstanding collaboration with director Michael Blakemore on "Make and Break" (1980), Frayn reteamed with Blakemore on the wonderful back-stage farce "Noises Off" (1982), called by Frank Rich, the former chief drama critic of The New York Times: "The single funniest play I ever saw on the job." Featuring a puerile play-within-a-play sex comedy entitled "Nothing On" and a cast of mediocre British actors on tour in the provinces, "Noises Off" sends up those calamitous (yet engaging) nights in the theater and the real-life illicit love triangles, paralleling those in "Nothing On", that can wreak havoc on a company. The wild romp earned Frayn his first Tony nomination, and he and Blakemore returned to Broadway in 1986 with "Benefactors", a much different kettle of fish which brought him a second Tony nod. A comedy only in the darkest sense, it confirmed the author's contention that "my works are about an ordered world breaking down into disorder." In "Benefactors", marriages and principles are the casualties when the idealized order of modern liberal society comes apart at the seems.

Undaunted by the failures of "Look, Look", which closed after only 27 London performances in 1990, and "Now You Know", which toured the United Kingdom but failed to make it to the West End, Frayn embarked on arguably his most cerebral play, "Copenhagen" (1998), doing for German physicist Werner Heisenberg's Principle what Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" had done for Chaos Theory. "Copenhagen" investigates the unreliability of memory, the ambiguity of human motives and the conflicting loyalties of scientists in wartime by imagining what happened at the famous meeting in 1941 between Heisenberg, who was working for the Nazis at the time, and Neils Bohr, the half-Jewish Danish physicist who had mentored him before the war. Despite demanding an audience to sit up and pay attention, the play directed by Blakemore was a surprise hit in the West End and earned Frayn another Tony nomination when it debuted on Broadway with a completely different cast. Simultaneously, "Headlong", his clever novel about a man who thinks he has found a missing Brueghel in the home of an acquaintance and schemes to acquire it for himself, was short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize.

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CAST: (feature film)

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Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in the London suburb of Ewell
1952:
Served in the Artillery and Intelligence Corps of the British Army; sent to Cambridge where he learned (along with Alan Bennett) to speak Russian from Dame Elizabeth Hill
1957:
Co-wrote (with John Edwards) "Zounds!" for the Cambridge University Footlights; suffered the rare indignity of the production's failing to transfer to London's West End
:
Worked as a reporter for <i>Manchester Guardian</i>, Manchester, England
:
Promoted to columnist at the <i>Manchester Guardian</i>
:
Became columnist for <i>The Observer</i>, London, England
1966:
Published first novel, "The Tin Men"
1970:
First play professionally produced, "The Two of Us"; commissioned by Alexander H Cohen to write a two-character sketch, expanded idea into four playlets starring Richard Briers and Lynn Redgrave
:
Wrote six-part BBC comedy "Making Faces" starring Eleanor Bron
1975:
After London performances, "Alphabetical Order" produced at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre
1976:
Wrote "Clouds", a play about Cuba that starred Tom Courtenay and Felicity Kendal
1977:
First performance of a play translated by him from Russian, "The Cherry Orchard" at the National Theatre
1980:
First association with director Michael Blakemore, "Make and Break"
1982:
Reteamed with Blakemore for the extremely successful "Noises Off", which moved to Broadway and earned a 1984 Tony nomination for Best Play
1984:
Translated Chekhov's first play, "Wild Honey", which enjoyed productions in London and in NYC (1986), starring Ian McKellan
1986:
First screenplay credit, "Clockwise"
1986:
Received second Tony nomination for "Benefactors" (originally produced in London in 1984); also directed by Blakemore
1989:
Wrote screenplay for "First and Last"
1990:
Had a spectacular failure with "Look, Look", which closed after just 27 London performances
:
His play "Now You Know" toured the United Kingdom but failed to make it to the West End
1997:
Scripted Nick Hurran's feature "Remember Me?"
1998:
Reteamed with Blakemore for "Copenhagen", his first original (not a translation) play at London's National Theater; moved to Broadway in 2000 and earned Tony Award for Best Play; 16th original work for the stage and the sixth directed by Blakemore, who also directed "Alarms and Excursions" (short sketches by Frayn) touring Britain during the summer of 1998
2004:
Reteamed with Blakemore for "Democracy"; received a Tony nomination for Best Play
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Education

Sutton High School for Boys: -
Dothboys Hall: -
Kingston Grammar School: -
Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge: - 1954 - 1957

Notes

"I think I know him well. I've spent a lot of time with him, and we're near the top of each other's social lists. Yet I've very seldom learned anything about his personal life. He's totally a writer, he lives and thinks as a writer, everything he does is as a writer. Other playwrights tell you about their children, their children's illnesses, their early sex lives, their disasters, and so on. Michael seems to leave his private life at home when he comes into the office. ..." --playwright Michael Rudman quoted in "Michael Frayn: The Entertaining Intellect" by Bernard Nightingale, The New York Times Magazine, December 8, 1985

"With nearly everybody you think that they're primarily a novelist or primarily a playwright, but Michael's genuinely, equally both. And there are two sides to him, in both the theater and fiction. On the one hand he has a real taste for farce, but he's also a very serious-minded man, with an almost dry academic temperment and a slightly professorial look about him." --writer and critic Blake Morrison quoted in The New York Times, October 25, 1999

"I'm suggesting [in 'Copenhagen'] that there's a kind of parallel between physical uncertainty, as stated in the Heisenberg Principle, and the uncertainty of human thoughts and motivations. There's always a theoretical difficulty in knowing what people are thinking and knowing why they do what they do." --Michael Frayn to Logan Hill in New York, April 3, 2000

"Anyone who's not a fool is apprehensive about how things go in the theater, because it's a very very uncertain world, as I can tell you from both happy and unhappy experiences." --Frayn to Ellen Tumposky in Daily News, April 9, 2000

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Gillian Palmer. Photojournalist. Married on February 18, 1960; separated c. 1980; divorced in 1990.
wife:
Claire Tomalin. Biographer, historian. Began living together in 1981; married c. 1993; former editor of the London <i>Sunday Times</i>.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Thomas Allen Frayn. Sales representative. Worked for an asbestos company; gave children asbestos samples to play with; despite being deaf, wrote comic sketches to perform at Christmas.
mother:
Violet Alice Frayn. Shop assistant. Died of a heart attack at age 45 in 1945.
daughter:
Rebecca Frayn. Writer. Born c, 1962; eldest of his three daughters; mother, Gillian Palmer; married Andy Harries, the head of comedy at Granada TV, who hoped to bring a televised version of Frayn's novel "Towards the End of Morning" (1967) to the screen eldest of his three.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Day of the Dog" William Collins and Sons
"The Book of Fub" William Collins and Sons
"Never Put off to Gomorrah" Pantheon
"The Tin Men" William Collins and Sons
"The Russian Interpreter" William Collins and Sons
"At Bay in Gear Street" William Collins and Sons
"Towards the End of the Morning" William Collins and Sons
"A Very Private Life" William Collins and Sons
"Sweet Dreams" William Collins and Sons
"Constructions"
"The Trick of It" Viking
"Now You Know" Viking
"A Landing on the Sun"
"Headlong" Metropolitan
"The Copenhagen Papers" Metropolitan Books
"Spies" Faber and Faber
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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