Bob Tickler recently received an unusual item by email from an old school friend – namely, the programme of a play The Happy Haven by John Arden which was a school play by his junior school in which he had a non-speaking role as a Lady Mayoress.
He forwarded it onto me and asked if I knew the play and its writer. The answer to the first question was “no” and to the second “yes”.
John Arden was a Barnsley boy and part of the successful group of northern writers of the early 1960s including Keith Waterhouse, Bill Naughton, David Storey, Alan Sillitoe and Willis Hall who are now all out of fashion.
It’s an irony that the critic Kenneth Tynan castigated Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan but their plays, rather than those of the Angry Young Men and Northern school, are the more enduring.
In my opinion they stood the test of time because they are better plays in structure, humour and characterisation.
My reaction to The Happy Haven – a play about old people in a nursing home being experimented on by a nutty doctor (Dr Copperthwaite) for rejuvenation – is that it totally inappropriate for schoolboy actors between the ages of 13-15.
There are 5 inmates – Mrs Letouzel, who is a financial chancer anxious to get her hands on Mrs Phineas’ money; Mr Golightly, a rather effete, probable gay; the blustering Mr Hardrader; and the self-appointed shop steward Mr Crape.
None of these are especially well drawn.
I think the play is supposed to be a comedy but its subject matter precludes this.
For some reason the characters often speak in doggerel.
In short the play is deficient in form and content.
Notwithstanding this, it opened at the Royal Court in September 1960 with a stellar cast of Peter Bowles as the supervisor and also Rachel Roberts, James Bolam, Edward Fox, Frank Finlay and Barrie Ingham.
I can find no record of it being performed again other than at Bob’s school.