Thursday, 26 January 2012

An evening with Christopher Hampton

British playwright Christopher Hampton, was born on this day in Faial in the Azores archipelago (1946). His father was an engineer for Cable and Wireless and got sent all over the world. His parents were interested in sports and social events. Hampton said, "I was the odd one out in the family, this small boy with thick glasses who read all the time." He went to Oxford, studied modern languages -- and wrote a play, When Did You Last See My Mother? Which was performed at Oxford and made its way to the West End, and at the age of 20, Hampton was the youngest playwright ever to have a play produced on the West End.
He continued to write plays, including the comedy The Philanthropist when he was 23. Hampton said: "I had a conversation with my agent Peggy Ramsay after The Philanthropist. She said, 'You've got a choice: You can write the same play over and over for the next 30 years, and you'll probably get even better at it, or you can decide to do something completely different every time.' So I said, 'As a matter of fact, I have started writing a play about the extermination of the Brazilian Indians in the 1960s.' And she said, 'Well, that'll do it, dear.'"
He wrote the movie Dangerous Liaisons and co-wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Sunset Boulevard, adapted Chekhov's The Seagull for the stage, wrote the screenplay for the film Atonement (2007), adapted from Ian McEwan's novel; and translated several plays by French playwright Yasmina Reza, including 'Art ' (1994)and God of Carnage (2006).

I spent an evening with Hampton and a visiting Russian playwright Mikhail (Misha) Roshchin at Hampton's Tales From Hollywood when it was playing at London's National Theatre in 1984. Hampton's play relies on witty dialogue which made it a difficult evening for Misha who spoke no English. Every time he asked me what someone on stage had stage a theatregoer behind us said'SShhh' loudly, so eventually we went and stood at the back where we could whisper without causing offence. Roshchin's visit was marked by a spectacular feat of acting by my former husband, a diplomat who had never trodden the boards: he and Roshchin arrived at a dinner party packed with theatrical and other celebrities and managed to pass themselves off as the other (being unknown to all but their hostess, Caroline Blakiston).

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