Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde discuss what impelled them to bring the relationship of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook to the stage
So why a play about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore? As Come Again reaches the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after a journey of almost three years, it is hard to recall precisely what it was that prompted us as writers to want to bring the story of one of Britain’s greatest comedy double acts to the stage.
We were fans, obviously, but there was more. So rewind to autumn 2002. It was a few months after Moore had died. We were working as sub-editors on The Stage and among the tributes that flowed in during that time, Moore was praised for his success as a Hollywood leading man and for his musicianship. Lastly, it seemed, he was remembered as Cook’s comedy other half. When Cook passed away, in 1995, he was hailed as the king of satire and the driving force behind the partnership. When it came to their double act, Moore was clearly regarded as the junior partner to Cook’s comedy genius.
We both grew up with Cook and Moore’s comedy, whether first time round or through records or scant but memorable re-runs. But what we both acknowledged that that while there was no doubting Cook was a brilliant and inventive comedian, he was at his funniest and most accessible when he was with Moore.
This wasn’t a traditional funny man-straight man pairing. They had an almost symbiotic relationship. As their most famous creations, Dagenham pub philosophers Pete and Dud, you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. Cook was in the driving seat but it was Moore’s upbringing that he appropriated and fed on and his everyman charm that let the audience in on the joke. His role cannot be underestimated. Perversely, though, it often was.
So, along with how that potent chemistry evolved, this was what we set out to explore. We didn’t want to create a tribute show, reliant on sketches, but a drama about two funny people. Our original idea – to build it around a familiar ‘An Audience With…’ format – developed into a more dramatic retelling, while still retaining a television show set-up.
All that was left was to immerse ourselves in every interview and nugget of information – from such sources as the excellent Publish and Bedazzled fanzine – we could lay our hands on and get cracking. The result was a weighty first draft. We were lucky to get feedback from a number of people on where to go next, including invaluable advice from David Renwick, the One Foot in the Grave creator who had worked with Cook in the comic’s autumn years. The consensus was we had written a comprehensive canter through the many episodes of their lives together. The next step was to give it a stronger focus.
When it came to honing it, we were mindful of not worrying about ticking biographical boxes because, ultimately, we wanted this to be a story about two individuals and their relationship. A story with a beginning, a middle and an end, that you didn’t have to be a Cook and Moore enthusiast to appreciate. This meant, rather than a cradle to grave epic, it would concentrate on their most intense years together from 1960 to the early eighties.
Redraft upon redraft followed and by October last year, during which time one of us had got married and both of us had produced offspring, we had shaped this two-hour behemoth into a 60-minute one-acter for five actors and suitable for a London studio or Edinburgh fringe space.
In the transition it had become very much Moore’s story – or Cook and Moore’s story from his point of view – with the onstage action mapping his personal journey. This was fitting considering what prompted us to write the play in the first place and this direction was borne out by the fact the other productions about them that came along in the interim were all more Cook-centric.
Things took a giant leap forward when our director Izzy Mant came onboard. A staged reading in February at the Hen and Chickens Theatre in Islington, London, got the play – produced by Weasel and Sons – a spot at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms for this year’s Fringe. Since then it has been immensely rewarding to watch our cast of Kevin Bishop, Scott Handy, Alexander Kirk, Fergus Craig and Colin Hoult bring this version of Cook and Moore’s reality to life.
* Come Again – The World of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore runs at the Assembly @ George Street, Edinburgh, until August 29.