Poetic licence lets Fry write final act to 1947 classic 50 years on

Christopher Fry, one of Britain's most celebrated 20th- century playwrights, has decided to rewrite his most famous play just months before his 90th birthday.

He revealed yesterday that it was freezing cold when he wrote it 50 years ago; and it got rather "congealed" in the process.

Fry has changed the structure and cut some of the dialogue of his comic masterpiece The Lady's Not For Burning, a title that Margaret Thatcher brought back to public attention when she made her rather laboured pun "The Lady's Not For Turning."

The play, a landmark in English theatre, was first performed in 1948, and starred Alec Clunes. It was revived the following year and starred Sir John Gielgud. Now it will have a new world premiere later this year, a curious case of a playwright rewriting one of his classic works half a century after its premiere, which will make a footnote in theatrical history.

At his home in Chichester, West Sussex, yesterday, the playwright who is 90 in December, said: "I've always wanted to make it into a two-act play rather than a three-act. That seems to be the thing nowadays.

"The first act I wrote in the very cold winter of 1947. My wife and I were lent a flat near Holland Park Tube station and there was just a two-bar electric fire, all the heating in the house went. We had to go for water to the Tube station. And the first act got a bit congealed in the process. So now I've cut out all the bits I didn't like. About 20 minutes has gone."

It is 27 years since Fry last wrote a play for the stage.

Shortly after the War, around the time he wrote The Lady's Not For Burning, Fry and TS Eliot were at the centre of a debate on the relative merits of poetry versus prose in dramatic writing.

Fry, the leading exponent of poetic drama, maintained that "poetry is the language by which man explores his own amazement".

The Lady's Not For Burning is written entirely in verse. A non-naturalistic comedy in heightened language, it is about a discharged soldier, an accused witch and a harassed mayor. It explores people's irrationality and prejudices.

The rewritten version will be presented by Actions & Words, a classical touring company, this autumn.

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