Sparrowfall; Hampstead

The Times; London; Jul 6, 1976; Ned Chaillet;

A portentous monologue gives the audience fair warning of what is to come in Alan Drury's Sparrowfall. "Nothing's new", it intones. Nothing's pristine...nothing's original. At the start of the second act another monologue mentions in passing that a previous statement is cliche number 123, but I suspect Mr Drury is too modest. His tale of business-world intrigue is so endowed with cliches of character, situation and audience expectation that a mere numbering of familiar phrases does scant justice to his talent for the mundane.

John Chapman gives hardy service to this elevation of the banal in his direction, announcing flashbacks, the plot and the interval with glowing electric signs and pinpointing actors with spotlights that heighten their trivial exchanges to the proportions of the mock epic. That determined musical innovator, Brian Eno, has connected the scenes and underlined some of the dialogue with agreeable and ponderous electronic sounds... The cottage is inhabited by a recluse who fled his wife, his lover and the grey, glistening world of Tanya McCallin's set. His disappearance is the pretext of the play, and his re-entry into the lives of his friends is the action.

Of course there have been re-alignments since Peter Lord disappeared. His business partner, Howard, the one person who knew of his whereabouts, has taken on Peter's lover, a woman drawn to power... There's plenty here for a cliche dealer and Mr Drury leaves little out... He manages to fit in financial and political corruption, betrayal, love and murder with hardly the uttering of an original phrase.

The performers take the whole thing in stride, even gleefully, but Mark Wing-Davey's straight-faced performance as the journalist and John Price's surprisingly sympathetic Peter most catch the proper tone...

It is rather droll, with passing pleasures, but ultimately aimless.


Plays and Players; September, 1976; Geoff Brown;

When a play is called Sparrowfall, however, only a near-lunatic would expect to see an actual sparrow; the garbled Biblical reference leads the audience to expect some general significance from the phrase, but no more. Yet once Alan Drury's piece (at the Hampstead Theatre) has run it's course, the title doesn't immediately slot into place - in fact nothing quite slots into place in this ambitious divertissement. Drury has declared it an attempt to create a B-movie on stage, using characters whose actions and aspirations are defined by B-movie codes of behaviour. The convoluted plot deals with the enforced disappearance of a businessman (John Price) and the various complications which follow his desire to return. The open plan stage is filled with a maze of grey furnishings (doing duty both as office-desks and house interiors); the characters worm their way around them, playing out the collage of scenes from different areas, often isolated by spotlights. Flashing signs at the sides announce the arrival of THE PLOT, FLASHBACK and INTERVAL.

It's a concoction which confuses as much as it entertains. Just what species of B-movie, for instance, did Drury have in mind? We see no Ford Anglias, filing cabinets or long mackintoshes, so he couldn't have been thinking of those British crime thrillers which provide such a good source of laughs on the box. The play's business shenanigans don't really belong in B-movies at all, but in certain TV serials; the sight of Michael Kitchen sitting at his desk curt and oily, immediately brings to mind Colin Baker's Merroney (from the ridiculous The Brothers). NOt only is the play's point of departure obscure, the way it travels afterwards is equally baffling. Part of the time is taken up with parody, plain and simple: the dialogue is peppered with deliberate clinkers ('What's a drink between friends?' and such like), and the actor's delivery often apes standardised inflections (the pace of speech slowing down, for instance, to introduce a flashback). Yet other elements suggest that the whole thing is a fantastic dream: male characters are dressed in grey or light brown suits which blend with the neutral colours of the furniture, hinting at some impersonal, vaguely futuristic environment from which life and individuality have been drained. Brian Eno's droning music (the kind that should accompany someone slowly walking out to sea) accompanies some of the more melodramatic stretches of action, further emphasising the dream atmosphere. And the play concludes with a flurry of weird, random effects: John Price exits naked into a spotlight (or setting sun?) revealed behind two doors, and the final note is one of comic hi-jinks as the voice of the new company director shouts 'Hello everybody!' to be answered by a chorus of 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. Despite the confusions, much of Drury's writing is neat and punchy, and well matched by the acting; all those in search of a good summer curio shouldn't be disappointed.