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At 91, Angel playwright awaits his first premiere

Ex-soldier, diplomat and politics lecturer turned to writing for the stage after death of his wife

23 March, 2018 — By Emily Finch

James Hugh Macdonald, whose play Happy Warriors runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse from Wednesday

BRITAIN’S oldest playwright will see his work performed for the first time at an acclaimed theatre next week.

James Hugh Macdonald, a former soldier, diplomat and politics lecturer, turned to writing for the stage after the death of his wife and partner. He started work on Happy Warriors almost a decade ago.

The 91-year-old, who lives on the top floor of a converted school in Angel, said he was “thrilled” at the prospect of seeing the play performed at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gate­house theatre from Wednesday.

“The great thing about Happy Warriors is that I enjoyed the work and the writing of it. But the professionals have been delighted by it too,” he said.

Mr Macdonald’s play was picked up by Joan Lane, from Wild Thyme Productions, one of the early backers of the script for The King’s Speech, which went on to win an Oscar for best picture in 2011.

Happy Warriors, set in a farmhouse in Topusko, a small town in Croatia, formerly Yugoslavia, is based on a true story from World War II. The comic plot sees author Evelyn Waugh, best known for Brideshead Revisited, antagonised by Randolph, son of Winston Churchill, and also features a “belligerent” young cook.

Mr Macdonald said: “When I read that Waugh and Churchill had been together in this farmhouse in Croatia and Waugh had got Churchill to read the Bible in a week, that seemed to me a godsend plot.

“There are two strong characters and both want something the other is not prepared to give and one way or another they succeed or don’t succeed.”

He has three other plays which have been accepted for production and has written two screenplays.

“I just couldn’t stop writing after the first one,” he said.

Mr Macdonald, who speaks Mandarin Chinese and worked as a politics lecturer at Leeds University, drew on his experiences with the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Rhine, where he was stationed shortly after World War II.

He originally trainedas a journalist after studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, working as a reporter for the Coventry Telegraph. He would then go on to be a diplomat before turning to academia.

When asked how he kept his mind young and his body healthy, Mr Macdonald said that until five years ago he ran for 30 minutes every morning. He still eats six pieces of fruit and veg for breakfast, some of which he buys at Chapel Market.

He is now writing a play based on Tybalt, a stormy character in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Happy Warriors runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate Village from Wednesday to April 22. It is directed by Andrew C Wadsworth.


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