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Stage struck! Oldest playwright doesn’t miss a show

91-year-old James Macdonald’s first play, Happy Warriors, tells Second World War story featuring author Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill

15 April, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Playwright James Macdonald in the green room at Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre

BRITAIN’S oldest playwright has watched every perform­ance during the run of his first play.

James Macdonald, from Angel, has yet to miss a performance of Happy Warriors at Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre in Highgate.

The 91-year-old, who travels by bus and tube every night, has become a familiar face to the three actors.

“The actors are wonderful. They are simply first class. I have to go every night,” he said.

The play centres on the interactions between author Evelyn Waugh, Randolph Churchill, the only son of Britain’s wartime leader, and their cook, Zora Panic, in Yugoslavia during World War II. It is based on a true story and pokes fun at the petulant Mr Churchill.

A scene from Happy Warriors

Mr Macdonald said: “The performance doesn’t change depending on the night. It’s wonderfully identical.

“Our director, Andrew Wadsworth, is very, very, very experienced. He has got the thing working beautifully.”

The former academic started writing plays after the death of his wife around a decade ago.

“I’ve always been interested in the stage and from the age of eight have been connected with writing,” he said. “My poem attracted a certain attent­ion in school. It was about a picture on my bedroom wall caused by lamplight – it looked like a cook with a cook’s hat.”

Joan Lane, from Wild Thyme Productions, which picked up Mr Macdonald’s play, was one of the early backers of The King’s Speech, which won an Oscar for best film.

There are hopes that Happy Warriors may also transfer to the big screen. It continues at Upstairs At The Gatehouse until April 22.


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