Olivier Award - Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Toby Jones
Olivier Award - Best New Comedy: The Play What I Wrote
The Play What I Wrote - by The Right Size, directed by Kenneth Branagh
 
Tony Nominee: Best Special Theatrical Event

"Bless you, McColl and Foley, and Toby Jones, and director Kenneth Branagh, and even Roger Moore, who is so incapable of vaudevillian humour that the boys didnít even roast him, but who rolled his eyes a little, as though to acknowledge that neither he nor the Scarlet Pimple play-within-the-play would threaten to replace Hamlet or Medea in our hearts. Bless you one and all for helping New Yorkers laugh while facing danger."

Tish Dace, NYC correspondent, Plays International (read the whole review)

 

Kenneth Branagh and Sean Foley
Photo Aubrey Reuben
  From Playbill

PHOTO CALL: The Play What I Wrote: The Tea What I Pour
By Matt Urban
March 4, 2003

Kenneth Branagh did his part to keep ticket buyers warm on the morning of March 3.On March 3, bargain-hungry ticket buyers came out to the Lyceum box office, located at 149 West 45th Street, to take advantage of the cheap tickets offered for early performances of The Play What I Wrote. Producers offered tickets for the first previews at the prices of, respectively, $1, $2, $3, $4 and $5. Branagh directs the London import, which is scheduled to begin previews March 7.

More photos here.

 

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"It returns in virtually the same comic shape that it was then, thanks to the slick precision and elegance of Kenneth Branagh's direction."
Evening Standard 6 November 2002
Click here for press from the UK run
 
 
The Play What I Wrote on Broadway: Press
The Play What I Wrote Cited for Award, The Scotsman, 12 May 2003 Starring... You'll See, Newsweek, 28 April 2003 Wit Parade, People, 5 May 2003
Loons Migrate Across Pond: Silly Brits Take Broadway, New York Observer, 3 April 2003 New Dogs and Old Tricks, New York Sun, 1 April 2003 A Manic Masterpiece, New York Post, 31 March 2003
The Play They Wrote Is All in Good Fun, USA Today, 31 March 2003 British Gags Run Amok in Pratfalls, New York Times, 31 March 2003 The Stars What I Lured, New York Times, 30 March 2003
Caught in The Draft, Newsday.com, 16 March 2003 Bringing Us Sunshine, New York Daily News, 16 March 2003 HOOP-DE-DO, New York Post, 20 March 2003
 
Newsday.com, 16 March 2003

Caught in The Draft - 'The Play What I Wrote,' a Hit Comedy from London, Is a Play What They Love to Be In
By Blake Green

The beehive of activity on stage at the Lyceum Theatre has spilled into the empty rows of seats below. It's the final rehearsal before preview performances commence for "The Play What I Wrote," a daft hit comedy that's transferred from London to Broadway, and the director and the celebrity guest are conferring in whispers.

Standing is the director, Kenneth Branagh, someone often spied in Shakespearean tights in his numerous movie roles, but today wearing the cognoscenti's ubiquitous, baggy, all-black togs. Seated is the guest, Roger Moore, still sporting his dapper black overcoat, silk muffler and leather gloves - his own variation on the actor who came in from the cold - although he's soon to don tights and the rest of a more-than-slightly-ridiculous French Revolution period costume.

"Hysterical fun," the ever-suave Moore describes this gig, his blue eyes twinkling.

That night's audience would first see Moore in an elegant dressing gown more in keeping with the 007 image James Bond lovers of a certain era are bound to remember. He'll be appearing for the next couple of performances, to be followed by Liam Neeson, Zoe Caldwell and - well, the revolving list of guest performers is supposed to be a surprise.

In London, "The Play What I Wrote" became something of a must-appear for actors from Moore to Ralph Fiennes to Sting to Daniel Radcliffe. (Harry Potter himself felt right at home with both Branagh - who played Gilderoy Lockhart in "The Chamber of Secrets" - and Toby Jones, the voice of Dobby the House Elf in "Chamber" who recently won an Olivier for his wacky performance in "The Play.")

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley are the stars of this show, two silly Brits who've been performing as the comedic team of the Right Size for more than a decade (they appeared Off-Broadway in "Do You Come Here Often" in 1999). They, like Jones, are still a bit giddy about exchanging lines on stage with their famous guests.

"Roger Moore was my James Bond," says the rubber-limbed Foley, whose hairstyle manages to run the gamut from bald to brush cut. "That I'm on stage with James Bond is unbelievable. And who'd have thought we'd be taking the mick out of Ralph Fiennes," he crows, using the British slang for teasing.

"Sting was like the wallpaper of my childhood," exclaims the zany, gnome-like Jones, whose role includes impersonating a number of famous people, including whoever's appearing in the show. (As Moore, he sports a safari suit, a style that's slipped out of vogue, probably even to the relief of the stately actor who helped make it popular.)

David Pugh, the British impresario who's one of the play's producers, says the idea of having mystery celebrity guests came from the format of the BBC's popular variety shows hosted by Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, a legendary British comedy duo who were the inspiration for "The Play What I Wrote."

"Everyone clamored to appear on that," he recalls of television shows watched by literally millions of viewers in the '70s. "Glenda Jackson, Tom Jones, even Prime Minister Harold Wilson." At the moment, guests for "The Play What I Wrote" are restricted to show business figures, although if the show's a hit here, there's talk of expanding the guest list into sports, rock and, yes, politics. "But we won't be asking Mr. Bush, because he's too busy," jokes Pugh, whose own depiction by Jones in the London show has been replaced by "Mike Tickles," a play on Mike Nichols, the show's best-known producer on this side of the Atlantic.

Many guests are invited, some have even volunteered their services after they've seen the show. "We pay them all $1,000 a performance," says Pugh, "nobody's treated differently" - even if there is a gag in the script about the possibility of securing Robert Goulet "for $3 more."

While "a sense of humor about oneself" is definitely important, "overtly comedic people are less effective" than straight actors, explains Branagh, who's been a guest himself. "What's particularly delicious is if the actor is seen as rather serious. Then the fun of our pricking their pretend vanity seems to be especially enjoyed by the audience."

Although he grouses that he was "treated mercilessly" by the cast he affectionately refers to as "the boys" when he appeared, Branagh promises that the intent toward guests is "benign fun. Nothing at all like a roast."

"A big part of British humor is the cheekiness of it," says Foley.

Moore, who played the mystery guest on more than a dozen occasions in London, flew from his home in Switzerland to be first up in the America production. "I'd been in films for so long that I was nervous at first that if someone coughed in the audience I'd stop, thinking they'd shoot the scene again," he jokes about his return to the stage.

Part of the pleasure of coming here, Moore says, is the delicate matter of his last Broadway appearance. "That would be 'A Pin to See the Peepshow,' which opened on Sept. 17, 1953, and closed on Sept. 17, 1953. So this time I'll do more performances than I did in '53." And he expects to return.

The loosely formed story of "The Play What I Wrote" concerns whether a comic duo should stick to its usual tricks or do what McColl's prickly, sad-eyed character prefers: produce one of his ghastly plays, a French drama (all the better to get in a few cracks about the currently unpopular French). Celebrity guests co-star in this play-with-the-play titled "A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple."

There's a drag aspect for both male guests, who morph into Marie Antoinette, and females, who become Fat Friar Bugeye. "Jerry Hall," recalls Pugh, "took one look at the fat costume and said, 'This could be the end of my career.'"

On the contrary, it may have given it a boost. Pugh says Fiennes later thanked him for the chance to expose his lunatic side, "that otherwise he'd never have gotten to do that comedy ['Maid in Manhattan'] with J-Lo."



New York Daily News, 16 March 2003

Bringing Us Sunshine
'The Play What I Wrote,' a Hit Comedy from London, Is a Play What They Love to Be In

By Ellen Tumposky

LONDON - The stars of "The Play What I Wrote" are betting that British humor can survive a transatlantic crossing. But just to be on the safe side, Hamish McColl and Sean Foley, lounging around their London producer's office, are tossing out some one-liners that might work on Broadway. Explaining the play's premise, McColl says his character - also called Hamish - has left England because "he wants to be the next important playwright in America." "He wants to be the next Shaquille O'Neal," deadpans Foley. McColl glares at him. "People often say that double acts are like marriages," he mutters. "That's absolute nonsense, isn't it, darling?" says Foley.

McColl and Foley - known professionally as the Right Size - can't stop working for laughs, especially now when they're taking their act on the road. Their London hit is in previews at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway, where it opens on March 30. They're hoping that a Broadway battered by the post-Sept. 11 downturn and the musicians' strike will find this confection the right show for tough times - though as Mike Nichols, who is co-producing in New York, says, "It's always the right moment for very funny. It always makes you happy, it always reminds you of what you love in your life."

The play, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is about a double act in crisis. Hamish (McColl) - a straight man so unfunny that he has a beatup recording of the one laugh he got years ago - has come to New York to pursue his playwriting dreams. Desperate to keep him in the act, Sean (Foley) books the Lyceum. They perform Hamish's ludicrous play, "A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple," with the help of Toby Jones (the voice of Dobby the house elf in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"), who plays a variety of roles. Every night there is a secret special guest star.

The show was a sellout in London, helped by guest stars like Ralph Fiennes - playing the Count of Toblerone - who showed surprising flair for comedy, and crackling direction by Branagh. "Everybody thinks of Ken Branagh as walking around in doublet and hose in his kitchen reciting Shakespeare," says McColl. "He's actually extremely skilled at shaping comedy."

"The Play What I Wrote" had a particular resonance with the West End audience because it is a tribute to one of Britain's best-loved comic acts, Morecambe and Wise. Their 1970s TV shows, in which Eric Morecambe clowned to Ernie Wise's straight man, invariably included a silly playlet "written" by Wise, a famous guest star whom Morecambe often mistook for a drunk wandering onstage, and their vaudeville-style closing song, "Bring Me Sunshine." "It was a small guy, Ernie, dominated by a big guy, Eric," says Brian Highley, director of the British Comedy Society. "Every male in Britain associated himself with one or the other."

The New York production is playing down Morecambe and Wise because New York audiences wouldn't get the reference. "It's not like referring to Desi and Lucy here," says Nichols. Still, when he saw the show in London, Nichols felt confident its humor could work in New York. "I'm American, I laughed a lot, why shouldn't there be others like me?" he says. "A lot of it is wonderful physical humor which knows no country. The nature of the people doing it is so utterly sunny."

BATHROOM HUMOR
Himself once part of a legendary double act with Elaine May, Nichols worked with McColl and Foley at his Martha's Vineyard home last summer to doctor the show for Broadway and is lining up the guest stars, though he won't name names. "We have stars who like the idea and are surprised in their ability to do silly things," says David Pugh, who produced "The Play What I Wrote" in London. "They all get $1,000 a performance. In London, they got £500 - they've had a raise because it's Broadway! And a cab to and from the theater - that's it." Among the West End show's guests were Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Sting, who each had only a couple of hours' rehearsal time.

Foley, 38, and McColl, 40, a double act for 15 years, have appeared in New York before, when their Olivier Award-winning entertainment, "Do You Come Here Often?" - about two men stuck in a bathroom together for 25 years - played at the Off-Off-Broadway venue P.S. 122. They think American audiences will bring their collective memory of vaudeville to the experience. "Morecambe and Wise were the last throes of English music hall, and vaudeville and music hall were so similar," says Foley. "Our aim is to get people laughing and keep them laughing for two hours. When they get out, they'll think, what on Earth was I laughing at?"

"Funny is funny - it doesn't matter what accent you've got," says Don Ward, founder of the Comedy Store, which showcases the caustic, topical standup that is popular in Britain today. British humor, he suggests, has its roots in troubled times. "The ability to laugh at yourself and be happy to do it - that's what it's all about. World wars have done it to us: You've got to come out laughing."



New York Post Online, 20 March 2003

HOOP-DE-DO
By Barbara Hoffman

He's battled evil in "Schindler's List," "Star Wars" and "The Crucible" - but Liam Neeson has never seemed braver than last week on Broadway.

In a hoop skirt and blond wig, the brawny star sang and shuffled about in a jig before heading off to the guillotine in "The Play What I Wrote." He's not the only big star to lose his head in the comedy - audiences never know who may appear as the Mystery Guest Star in Act II. Roger Moore and Nathan Lane have already turned up at Broadway's Lyceum Theater, where the play opens March 30.

In London, Sting, Kylie Minogue, Twiggy, Minnie Driver and three dozen others made a mockery of themselves in the play, about a comedy team whose straight man yearns to write a serious play for a big star. It's clearly not about the money - guests are paid just $1,000 per show. "If you're going to do something in the theater, you have to plan it a year in advance," Neeson told The Post. "For this [show], you rehearse Tuesday and you go on Wednesday and do as many performances as you can give. "It's as simple and as terrifying as that."

Liam Neeson - or "Leslie Nielsen," as he was called in the show - did four shows last week and says he'd love to do another. But he's still far from topping Ralph Fiennes, the reigning champ, who did 24 shows including London's opening night.

And you never know who'll turn up next. So far, Neeson's wife, Natasha Richardson, has seen the play, as have Edie Falco, Al Pacino, Kevin Bacon and Stanley Tucci. If the past is an indication, they may follow suit. But before Fiennes, there were no stars on the horizon.

"When we started making phone calls trying to explain to an agent what we wanted, we'd be greeted by silence on the other end," said Dafydd Rogers, the show's executive producer. With days to go before opening night and not a guest star in sight, Kenneth Branagh, the show's director, asked his friend Fiennes to appear as a favor.

Fiennes went on, the audience went wild - and the phones started ringing. "Once [the mystery guests] saw we'd look after them and they'd have a good time, they loved it," says "What I Wrote" star Hamish McColl, whom Nathan Lane kept calling "Amish" ("I loved you in 'Witness' ").

Each star gets two three-hour sessions to help write and rehearse the script. But not everything's scripted. The other week when Roger Moore was on, someone in the audience shouted, "I love you, Roger!" To which the former James Bond replied, "What on earth are you doing here, Mother?"

Who's on next? The show's staff isn't telling. But Neeson is urging several actor pals to follow in his white-stockinged footsteps. "You go on, and they make fun of you," he says. "It's very healthy for the ego."



Newsweek, 28 April 2003

Periscope

Starring... You'll See

In "The Play What I Wrote," a divinely sill hit from Britain that opened on Broadway March 30, a new guest star is featured every few days.

A delightful concept, to be sue, but that amount of star power is also quite a logistical challenge. Costumer Susan Gomez not only has to adjust the costumes for both males and females of varying sizes (the dresses come in large, medium and Kylie Minogue, she says) but also designs a concept costume based on each new guest. For John Lithgow? An oversize planet Earth. Nathan Lane? A Nathan's hot dog. Jason Biggs: Well, let's just say there's pie involved.

It's no easier on the rest of the ensemble. Getting the stars to come is easy ("When Mike Nicholas calls you up you don't say no," Glenn Close says about the well-connected producer). But writing new jokes tailored to each guest and teaching them the play within a few hours has made for some ricky nights. Even Kenneth Branagh, the show's director, blanked on his first line -- "I am Kenneth Branagh" -- when he took his turn as the mystery guest.

But it's the gimmick -- not the show's paltry plot -- that packs the house each night. Call it the Cracker Jack effect. The guest is a closely guarded secret, so it leaves audiences guessing. In the first act there are references to Ian McKellen ("Is he here?"), Daryl Hannah ("I be it's her") and Glenn Close ("Is it her?"). Last Wednesday night, it was indeed. When Close made her grand entrance '' -- "I am Glenn Close" -- the audience went wild. And that is really how you draw top talent for a mere $1,000 per performance.



People, 5 May 2003

WIT PARADE
"From London to Broadway, celebs dress up and goof off in THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE.

Sting pranced in a hoop skirt. Kevin Kline was mistaken for Calvin Klein. Liam Neeson forgot his first line - which was "I am Liam Neeson." It's all part of the giggles in THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE, a British import that opened on Broadway last month. Stars Sean Foley, 38, and Hamish McColl, 41, subject each night's surprise guest star to indignities galore. Director Kenneth Branagh allots guests only two rehearsals. "It's like the actor's nightmare, where you're waking up on a stage and doing lines you don't know," says Nathan Lane, but "it's the most fun anyone can have."

Photo captions:
Sting - In London Foley and McColl dressed the star in drag and rechristened him "Stink".

Ewan McGregor - "At the end he was doubled over laughing in the wings," says Foley. "He said, 'What a way to make a living.'"

Jerry Hall - "I couldn't stop laughing the whole time," says Hall, who like other female stars, dressed as a friar.

Liam Neeson - "It's very healthy for the ego." says the actor, who got called "Leslie Nielson" onstage.

Nathan Lane - "I went out drinking with Ken Branagh and five days later woke up in a hoop skirt," jokes Lane.

Kylie Minogue - Starring at a benefit at Prince Charles' request, she "didn't make one mistake," marvels McColl.

Kevin Kline - "Someone who thinks he's dignified is taken down a few pegs," Kline says.

Daniel Radcliffe - "We had loads of Harry Potter gags, says McColl. "He tried not to laugh but couldn't help himself."