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Perry Pontac Plays

PERRY PONTAC

Perry Pontac is an American living in London, whose voice was heard in a recent programme about THE WIZARD OF OZ (as the nephew of one of the writers of the film version). He is a remarkably consistent and successful comic writer, with a manner all his own. All of the thirteen plays he has so far written for radio exploit extreme situations and ornate language for comic purposes.

His first play, THE EVENT OF THE SEASON, was broadcast in 1987 and it established in abundance the mode to which his admirers have since become accustomed. It is his only full-length play, a tour-de-force of elegant, exaggerated language and outrageous comic invention, fizzing with wit and grotesque fancy. The dialogue is very carefully wrought, evoking comparisons with Wilde, Ronald Firbank and Joe Orton. It has some of Orton's flippant brutality and continually confuses the trivial and the profound, like Wilde at his best. The event of the title is Lady Wulfruna's house party, which has to be shelved when nuclear war breaks out. The household retreats to an underground shelter, where life goes on, with the butler in attendance. Geraldine McEwan played Lady Wulfruna with marvellous disdain for the lower orders of creation, and Maureen Lipman and George Baker also handled the dialogue with great aplomb.

ODD MOMENTS followed in 1988, the first of a sequence of shorter plays. Again there is a haughty, self-regarding woman, despising lower mortals (and played by Judy Parfitt to the manner born). Brenda Blethyn was the infinitely obliging servanr who eventually turns the tables. Yet another snotty lady dominates STRANGE DELIGHTS (Sian Phillips this time); but she fails to achieve her repressive ends and unorthodoxy triumphs.

Pontac attracts first-rate performers and certain actors feature repeatedly in his plays. John Moffat made his Pontac debut in SECRETS OF THE PRISON HOUSE, as a hapless lawyer summoned to act for a deranged murderess (played with relish by Miriam Margolyes); and he recurred in THE POINT OF THE STORY, a small masterpiece, which unfolds itself through a series of brief encounters, each leading logically to the next, and then returns to the source by way of the same chain in reverse; and in two mocking sequels in verse to Shakespeare, HAMLET, PART II and FATAL LOINS. The latter is Pontac's latest play, a masterpiece of sustained absurdity, sending up ROMEO & JULIET in bravura style (and finding for Romeo a replacement lover equivalent to the least likely person in a detective story). Peter Jeffrey was also in HAMLET, PART II and he recurred inn three later plays: in A DIFFERENT WOMAN, as a self-regarding plastic surgeon; in AFTER ALBERT, as a Disraeli in retreat from the widowed Queen Victoria, who has given him the come-hither; and as the self-important buffoon of a detective in CASUAL SLAUGHTERS, a send-up of the classical whodunit.

All Perry Pontac's plays are fun. He dispels gloom and invites listeners to relish absurdity and delight in his wit. He disappeared from the schedules for some years after CASUAL SLAUGHTERS, so that FATAL LOINS was all the more welcome when it appeared. Let us hope he does not vanish again.

Barry Pike / 2002

The event of the Season 16 Feb 87
Strange Delights 22 Dec 88
Odd moments 1988
Secrets of the Prison House Oct 89
The point of the story 29 Aug 90
A Different Woman
The morning of the wedding 13 Aug 91
Nothing personal
Hamlet part II
Rustic glee 21 Dec 93
The Lunchtime of the gods 29 Nov 94
Prince Lear 18 Nov 94
After Albert 12 Nov 96
Casual Slaughters 18 Apr 98
Fatal Loins: Romeo and Juliet reconsidered 29 Oct 01
The Bards of Bromley 25 Mar 04
Incurable Romantics 16 Dec 05

All of these broadcast on BBC radio 4

NOTES

NOTHING PERSONAL
This is the play about the Eskimo and the bank manager...with Norman Bird as Mrs. Pinsley-Weatherthorne and Stephen Thorne as Mr. Fermage. Also stars Caroline Gruber. Directed by Richard Wortley.

A DIFFERENT WOMAN
"You'd look, I'm sure, quite lovely without your glasses, Miss Dinnage. And without your nose, those particular teeth, and of course with a body considerably re-designed and re-proportioned ..." A pompous plastic surgeon proposes marriage to his dowdy receptionist in order to use her as a showcase for his talents, remodelling her from top to bottom into a "different woman" indeed. A deliciously macabre bit of nonsense in which Perry Pontac casts a jaundiced eye over the world of cosmetic surgery.

Credits: Melda Dinnage Alison Steadman
Dr Bratcher Peter Jeffrey
Dr Wardle Ronald Herdman
Dr Markham-Crombie Andrew Wincott
Dr Slythe Peter Penry-Jones
Dr Mossman Fraser Kerr
Dr Foxwell John Church
Directed for the BBC by Richard Wortley; repeated on ABC National, 9 Jan 1996.

RUSTIC GLEE....1993
Rpt. ABC, 16 Oct 96.(info. from ABC website)
Satire at its best. At first this sounds like a conventional "upstairs, downstairs" comedy. But it doesn't take long to spot the difference. For a start, the characters are not quite who they seem. Take the butler: "Humpage did a recitation from Simpson's Guide to Household Management. And a touch of yodelling. Such a surprising man." Lady Fransham has trouble on her hands.....

Cast:
Lady Fransham: Anne Massey
Miss Bilmes: Samantha Bond
Humpage: John Moffatt
Directed by Richard Wortley for the BBC.

THE BARDS OF BROMLEY....2004
Another excellent piece of nonsense from Perry Pontac. When Mrs. Swerdlow conducts a writers' workshop in Bromley, it is attended by an unusually promising group of writers: A.A.Milne, Wordsworth, Strindberg, George Eliot and Goethe. With Julia McKenzie, John Moffatt, Timothy West, Paul Rhys, Amanda Root, John Rowe, Philip Fox, Director David Hunter.

The play was very well-received, judging by the comments on the BBC drama messageboard. "..... ....a beautiful pun on writing groups and the way they demolish everyone's writing...it must have been so much fun, not only to write, but to act in and direct" ........and "..just finished laughing uncontrollably at this play......makes me regret I didn't pay more attention in English "O"-level literature - lots of the jokes must have passed me by. I now have a completely revised impression of Wordsworth..."

.............I found this on the RADIO NEW ZEALAND website.....readers may recognise part of it as coming from Barry Pike's review....

This afternoon’s play (Sun 7 Nov 04, Radio NZ) THE BARDS OF BROMLEY is written by American playwright, Perry Pontac, a remarkably consistent and successful comic writer, with a manner all his own.

All of the 13 plays he has written for radio so far exploit extreme situations and ornate language for comic purposes. The Bards of Bromley asks what would happen if the greats of European literature all turned up to the same creative writing workshop? Writers like Goethe, Wordsworth, George Eliot, Strindberg and AA Milne?

The quintet pitch up in the South London classroom of Jacqueline Swerdlow, "a woman who wouldn’t know an original talent if she saw one." Wordsworth’s poem The Daffodils, she declares is "jingly" and "singy-songy" and Strindberg’s play The Dance of Death is "not likely to attract the passing trade on Shaftesbury Avenue". Soon the assembled geniuses begin to tear each other apart. Strindberg informs Wordsworth that "daffodils are nourished by rotting corpses and the worms that feed on them". His victim meanwhile confides that he "cannot abide Swedes. I speak of course of the people, not the root vegetable." It’s all great fun!

INCURABLE ROMANTICS....2006
I was pleased to see a Perry Pontac play on the schedules; he's one of our best comic writers. Readers may remember his "Hamlet, part II" and "Nothing Personal" - the play about the eskimo and the bank manager. In the words of a guy on the R4 messageboard: I was having a lousy day...dealt with Alzheimer afflicted mother...sat in cat vomit on the window sill..put off yet again cleaning filthy house...then I heard the start of Perry Pontac's "Incurable Romantics" (R4, 1130, 16 Dec 05) and my day was transformed.

Three geriatric gents in a rest home in Florence turn out to be Shelley, Keats and Byron who, contrary to popular myth, did not die tragically and romantically but are eking out their old age no doubt paid for by the top sales of their oeuvres due to their early demise. Fanny Brawn, Keats' early love interest arrives as a raddled old hag looking up her old flame after her Texan husband dies. Byron chats her up and she comments "I'm sweatin' like a weasel in a waffle iron". Funny, literate, and beautifully comically acted.
John Moffatt played Keats, John Rowe was Shelley and John Wood was Byron; Sandra Dickinson was Fanny, and the director David Hunter. ........ND, VRPCC review, Dec 2005...

Perry Pontac's work is also discussed in Richard Wortley's radio memoir. The easiest way to find this is to use Google and to type in RADIO PLAYS RICHARD WORTLEY.

Nigel Deacon / Barry Pike

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