It’s been a treat to have Mark Bunyan as part of the Homo Promos Zoom Company, not only as a fine actor but a great psychological support. And now, for the second time, as an author.
I loved this play when he sent it to me, but I honestly couldn’t see how you could make farce work on Zoom, because of the great physical movement it requires. However, Mark has found an ingenious way to get around the difficulties, as you will see.
There are two reasons I like MYSTERIOUS WAYS, apart from the fact that it is very funny and well-constructed, of course. The first is that, for all the comings and goings, there is a serious point below the bubbling surface.
It was written at the time that Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were beginning to develop the bludgeon of Family Values as a distraction from the vandalising of British industry and the full-scale assault on workers’ rights.
This drew oxygen from the AIDS crisis, which was supposedly, in the immortal words of Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable James Anderton, “a cesspool of our own making”.
MYSTERIOUS WAYS picks up the ball of Family Values and hits it over the pavilion, to mix sporting metaphors. What are families? What are their values? There’s more than one way to skin the family cat.
What follows from that is what I can only describe as the flavour, which constantly reminds you of Joe Orton. I don’t mean in a derivative sense, although there are one or two lines which could have come from the pen of the Oscar Wilde of the Welfare State.
No, it’s more the attitude, of a wide-eyed cheerful cheekiness which can say something outrageous, and then innocently ask, “Did I say something?” It’s bracing and refreshing and thank you Mark for letting us do MYSTERIOUS WAYS.
Peter Scott-Presland (April 2021)
Author Mark Bunyan writes:
Farce was the theatrical treat of my childhood. As early as I can remember, the BBC used to do a live telecast of a farce with Brian Rix and his wife Elspeth Gray, direct from the Whitehall Theatre at every possible holiday.
My parents complained to everyone and everyone complained back to them about all this ‘tired old stuff’ being broadcast at every holiday. But I just loved it. Even I could tell that some were better than others and, yes, some of the modern ones were repetitive and samey.
But at their best, Ben Travers in particular, they were wonderfully crafted cuckoo clocks where the cuckoos came out perfectly on time but still unexpectedly.
As I grew older, I didn’t tire of farce; the Comedie Francaise production of Feydeau’s UN FIL A LA PATTE remains one of my ultimate evenings of great theatre, the timing of Robert Hirsch never bettered by anyone in anything.
The difficulty was that the subject matter of farce changed. It was always about adultery: in English farces, perceived adultery; in French farces, the way to get away with adultery. And adultery has ceased to be funny. Though there’s always still a way to go, the best marriages are based on trust and equality.
The idea of one partner lying to the other is the stuff of heavy drama if we care about them as characters not comedy. But, certainly by the mid-1980s, there were areas of hypocrisy that shouted out to be made into farce, none more so than closeted gay men in positions of power, often denying their sexuality even more often than they were bedding the next man to come along.
Nowhere did this seem truer than in the Church. And so, after a degree of research, in 1985, I wrote MYSTERIOUS WAYS, my first piece of non-musical theatre in quite a while.
My partner insisted that if he were going to pay for copies to be made (photocopying wasn’t cheap) I should send one copy to a literary agent who had been recommended to him (for me) on a project he’d been an adviser to.
I did so, not expecting a favourable reaction. But they rang and said how much they’d enjoyed the play and wanted me to come in for discussion. I did. They raved for a while about MYSTERIOUS WAYS and how funny it was and well-constructed etc.; how, at church the previous Sunday, all the characters seemed to be there.
We discussed all sorts of ways that they thought they could get me work. And then they said “Of course, there’s nothing we can do with this play.” And so, probably for lack of trying on their behalf and, maybe, lack of connections on mine, the play has never been done, and literally languished in a trunk in the attic.
But I’m really looking forward to finally seeing it in front of an audience.