Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Who Is Stephen Mallatratt?

In the mid-1970s, Stephen Mallatratt, while working as an actor in Alan Ayckbourn's company in Scarborough, wrote An Englishman's Home. It was, recalls Ayckbourn, a near-perfect first play. Like his better known peers - John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Ayckbourn himself - Mallatratt's writing was addressed and stamped by his experience as an actor.

Playwright Stephen Mallatratt
Mallatratt, who has died of leukemia aged 57, went on to achieve fame and fortune as the adapting dramatist of Susan Hill's novel The Woman In Black, premiered in Scarborough as a stocking filler over Christmas in 1987.

The Woman In Black, a beautifully wrought, classic thriller for two actors, the successor to Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, is now the second longest-running West End play - after The Mousetrap. It has been translated into a dozen languages and produced in 40 countries.

Although never a "brand-name" playwright, Mallatratt's craft and professionalism made him well-known as a core member of the Coronation Street script-writing team from 1985, and as the author of such fine television series as his 2002 version of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga and last year's Island At War, set on a fictional Channel Island.

When Ayckbourn invited Mallatratt to Scarborough, he was still under contract to the Ipswich theatre, but he paid out his employers. Mallatratt originated roles in such Ayckbourn modern masterpieces as Confusions, Absent Friends and Bedroom Farce; other Ayckbourn proteges of this glorious past half-century at Scarborough were the playwrights James Saunders, Stephen Lowe, Robert Eaton and Tim Firth.

Mallatratt moved on to Bristol. When the Old Vic closed its collaborative operation in the nearby Little Theatre in the late 1970s, he and Neilson were among the outstanding group of actors who took the place over; others were Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Pam Ferris and George Costigan.
Mallatratt returned to Scarborough in autumn 1985 and acted in Ayckbourn's production of The Bront√ęs Of Howarth by Christopher Fry. When Ayckbourn took a sabbatical to join Peter Hall as a National Theatre associate, Mallatratt stayed on as the stand-in resident writer for stand-in artistic director Robin Herford.

Herford commissioned a play about witchcraft in Heptonstall that became the not too dissimilar precursor of The Woman In Black. The rest is history; Herford's only regret is that Mallatratt was about to hit "an even longer stride" as a dramatist.


(Taken from The Guardian's 2004 obituary for Stephen Mallatratt)

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