Observations: Dramatists with stage presence

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The Independent Culture

Hull Truck Theatre Company are proud to announce that its resident playwright and artistic director, John Godber, is to take to the stage with his wife, Jane. They will play the married Yorkshire couple who are AWOL in the French capital in a revival of his 1993 comedy two-hander April in Paris. There are degrees of bravery in this practice of wearing two hats, on a scale that runs from Noël Coward at one end, who custom-built roles as starring vehicles for himself (in works such as Private Lives and Present Laughter), to playwrights who do not really double as actors, yet occasionally muck in when the going gets tough. This latter category would include the egregious example of Terry Johnson, who once had to go on with the script when David Haig was indisposed during the run of his play Dead Funny. Johnson had to throw his clothes as well as caution to the wind for a scene in which the hero of the piece had to lie naked for a trust game with his alienated wife (Zoë Wanamaker). It is said that the author did not attempt to cover his embarrassment with the copy of the script he was clutching. He is joined in this category by Sarah Kane, who also helped out in a similar situation by baring all as one of the siblings beleaguered in a dystopian psychiatric institution in her 1998 play Cleansed.

Dramatists who are also thesps are sometimes cast in a revealing light by taking on roles in their own works. Is it a paradox, or no more than we should expect of someone with his powers of empathy, that Harold Pinter was worryingly convincing as the torturer in One for the Road and the head of a wacky totalitarian mental institution in The Hothouse?

It's playing yourself that can be hardest for a dramatist. Stephen Daldry, who has directed David Hare is his solo shows Via Dolorosa, Berlin and Wall, says that there is a Hare persona – someone who makes the pieces more dramatic by needing to struggle to understand slightly harder than the real-life original. When one of his actors was ill, Alan Bennett once went on to play one of the two versions of himself – the reluctant Good Samaritan; the copy-seeking professional author – who form a double act in The Lady in the Van. It's intriguing to speculate about which of these roles, as an actor, it would be easier for him to understudy.

April in Paris, 4 to 27 March, Hull Truck Theatre (01482 323638; Hulltruck.co.uk)

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