Michael Frayn is an acclaimed playwright, journalist and novelist. As a playwright, he has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Tony, the London Evening Standard and the Olivier.
His work in theatre actually began as a child—writing scripts and acting at school and at home. His interest initially grew in his time at Cambridge, where he joined the famed Footlights. It is here, however, where he soured on theatre. While acting in a production of The Government Inspector, he was prevented from making an exit due to a stuck door. He was further traumatised when the Footlights revue he wrote was deemed a failure and became the first in that company’s history to not transfer to London.
Turning away from the stage, Frayn became a journalist, first writing for the Guardian and then the Observer as a columnist. His work at the Guardian included reviewing plays—a job that allowed him to take revenge on theatre by allowing him to focus on all the mistakes he saw onstage. However, his work as a columnist afforded him the opportunity to travel the world.
His return to the theatre came in his late 30s when he was asked to contribute a short play on the theme of marriage. What he submitted was deemed too vulgar and so was not to be used. However, the spark for theatre returned, which led him to write The Two Of Us—a critical failure but a commercial success. He would continue having successes throughout his career, including the ever-popular Noises Off (inspired by watching a performance of Two backstage) and the acclaimed Copenhagen.
Democracy was a long-time coming. Frayn says that he always had an interest in German history and had read about Brandt and Guillaume when the events of a Stasi spy being exposed within the offices of the West German Chancellor play took place. He was intrigued by the idea of Brandt and Guillaume both spying and being spied on by each other. ‘It is a dramatised version of what we all do all the time’ he said in a recent interview. ‘We are all trying to work out what each other’s intentions are.’ He also describes it as a play having ‘fictional versions of real characters’.
Frayn is married to the biographer and critic Claire Tomalin. In 2003 he was awarded a knighthood but turned it down. In 2013 he won a Special Olivier Award for ‘outstanding achievement’.
© Michael Cox