Late Afternoon in the Script Department

SUNSET AT THE VILLA THALIA, a new play by Alexi Kaye Campbell, directed by Simon Godwin, with Elizabeth McGovern and Ben Miles, National Theatre, Thursday 2nd June, 7.30pm

Sunset etc is a play about gentrification, aimed at an audience of gentrifiers, sponsored by an investment company probably not averse to the concept of gentrification. Hmmm, bit of a problem given that plays generally require conflict, bite, controversy.

What to do?

Let's go back in time, say a year or so. Late afternoon, everyone is tired and emotional. (Maybe they've had a long lunch.)

The place, The National Theatre script department, junior branch. (This is only the Cottesloe, you know... sorry, the Dorfman - the small theatre at the back; a training wheels kind of place; somewhere for those just down from Oxford to get a start.)

Listen, we've got to find a play for next June. Our selection has to be upstairs by five.

Oh, God, I feel sick.

There was a play, ticked lots of boxes, Greece, property prices, Morgan Stanley, Americans...

Americans! That's good. There's an actress, McSomething. Downton. Get her in. That'll be a bonus.

Where is that script? Look, can't you! Who's read the f... thing?

Sarah, I think. Where is she?

Passed out on the sofa. Here it is. I've got it. Needs work, Sarah says.

When's it set?

Before the meltdown, 2006, and after the meltdown, 2012. In Greece. Some arty types meet an American couple, he's a banker from Morgan Stanley. He has a thing with the arty wife. He talks the arty types into negatively gearing a house. Fast forward to 2012. House prices are f...ed. Arty wife blames banker. Lots of sun and sex. Bit of a winner. Job done. Open the bubbly!

Hang on. We can't send that upstairs! They'd have a fit!

Why not?

Greece is good, but let's set it in the past. Some mythical far away time when property in Greece was cheap. I mean really cheap. Our audience loves a bargain.

The 60s, I love the 60s.

And then we could jump to the 70s. Maybe bring in some kind of political reference. Who did History? What happened in Greece in the 60s and 70s?

And we can't have Morgan Stanley. Our sponsors wouldn't like it. What else could the American be? Someone selling ice cream?

I know! The CIA!

Yes, spies are sexy. The arty wife will be totally smitten. Putty.

But the American wife? What can the wife be? She's the McDownton drawcard, don't forget.

Don't worry about that now. She's just a wife. Being cheated on. We can fix it all up in the re-writes.

Ok, we're on a roll. Are you getting this down?

Arty couple on holiday in Greece. He's a playwright.

God, that's good! Postmodern. You're so good!

They meet an American couple. He's in the CIA. He and arty wife have a torrid affair.

Not too torrid. Our audience are pretty old, you know. Don't want anyone dying. Remember Downton - restraint, restraint.

He tells them to buy a house.

He tells them? Why would they listen?

It's just so cheap. I mean so cheap. It makes your eyes water.

That's good. So cheap. Why do the Greeks want to sell?

They're emigrating. To Australia.

How awful. That's a tragedy, right there.

So, dear readers, our intrepid script department made their deadline and the rest is history. The writer took some persuading to make the changes they wanted, but hey, this is the National Theatre. Who argues with the National Theatre?

I'm not a hundred percent convinced that you should make the effort to see this play. Even if you are a Downton fan.

Paul Corcoran