THEATRE / BETWEEN THE LINES: Matters of Life and Death: Sam Walters on David Cregan's Transcending and Nice Dorothy

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'I'd like to know one thing only, and it's not a mysterious thing. Why is life difficult? There's no reason I know of why life should be difficult but everybody I've ever heard of has found it so. Of course, the difficulties are relative. I'm not Prince Hamlet, for example.' Transcending, David Cregan (1966)

'I'm in love with a middle-aged person who is behaving badly with a young lad. My world is falling apart, and I don't want it to fall any further so please be careful.' Nice Dorothy, David Cregan (1993)

I HAVE a tendency to cling, terrier-like, to playwrights with whom I felt an empathy early in my career; often playwrights who did not perhaps instantly offer up their meanings to their audiences. Certainly I had to work to delve beneath the texts. David Cregan, whose style is elliptical, is very much such a one. But the first playwright I met was John Whiting, whose A Penny For A Song we have just revived (and after whose Dorcas my elder daughter is named). The first play I directed was by James Saunders. It was Next Time I'll Sing To You, a play I had so loved that I persuaded my parents they should see it, too, so I could go again free and have a better seat. When I first met Saunders to discuss this play, I understood not a word he said. Our working relationship, I am glad to say, survived this and burgeoned, leading to the commissioning of Bodies, Fall and Bye Bye Blues.

However, the first playwright who saw me act a substantial part in one of his plays was David Cregan. It was at the Traverse in 1966 and just at the time that I was becoming certain I wanted to direct rather than act. Cregan was instantly a writer with whom I wanted to work and 27 years after that first meeting we are still working together. He has written Nice Dorothy for the Orange Tree which opens in May.

Cregan is a unique writer whose often farcical humour and extraordinary economy belies a real political and social involvement. His plays appear to skim the surface. But the seeming inconsequentiality is highly deceptive. His characters are always striving to make sense of life and struggling in a morass of moral anguish. Like all of us. Even if we are not Prince Hamlet.

Sam Walters is director of the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

(Photograph omitted)