The Common Pursuit follows the lives of six characters who first meet in Stuart Thorne’s rooms as undergraduates at Cambridge, when he invites them to the first meeting of his new literary magazine called The Common Pursuit. The title is an allusion to F. R. Leavis’s 1952 collection of essays Scrutiny: The Common Pursuit. It then follows their lives and careers over the next twenty years.

TCP Lyric FC(1)

The Common Pursuit: Scenes from the Literary Life was first performed on 3rd July 1984 at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, with the following cast:

STUART – Nicholas Le Prevost
MARIGOLD – Nina Thomas
MARTIN – Ian Ogilvy
NICK – Robert East
PETER – Simon Williams
HUMPHRY – Clive Francis

Director: Harold Pinter
Designer: Eileen Diss
Costumes: Liz Walker
Lighting: Dave Horn

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Harold Pinter and Simon Gray rehearsing the original production of The Common Pursuit. Photo by Donald Cooper/Rex Features

From An Unnatural Pursuit, 25 November 1983:

‘I finished the play at six this morning, having worked through half the night. I’d also worked through three packages of cigarettes and half a bottle of malt whisky. But the main thing is that it’s finished. Ole.

I numbered the pages, packed and shaped them into a completed-looking pile, toasted myself with a further gulp of whisky and a few more cigarettes, gloated. This, for me, is the only moment of pure happiness I ever experience in the playwriting business…. ‘

Simon Gray kept a diary during the rehearsals and performance of the original production of The Common Pursuit at the Lyric Hammersmith, directed by Harold Pinter. An Unnatural Pursuit is published by Faber & Faber.

Simon also recorded the trials and tribulations of two productions of The Common Pursuit in Los Angeles and New York in his 1988 diary How’s That For Telling ’em, Fat Lady?, also published by Faber & Faber.

The American Premiere of The Common Pursuit took place at the Long Wharf Theatre on the 11th January, 1985. It ran until the 24th February with the following cast:

STUART THORNE – William Converse-Roberts
MARIGOLD WATSON – Ellen Parker
MARTIN MUSGROVE – Michael Countryman
HUMPHRY TAYLOR – Peter Friedman
NICK FINCHLING – Nathan Lane
PETER WHETWORTH – Mark Arnott

Directed by Kenneth Frankel
Designed by David Jenkins
Costumes by David Murin
Lighting by Pat Collins

1986 – Los Angeles

STUART THORNE – Kristoffer Tabori
MARIGOLD WATSON – Judy Geeson
MARTIN MUSGROVE – Wayne Alexander
HUMPHREY TAYLOR – John de Lancie
NICK FINCHLING – Nathan Lane
PATER WHETWORTH – Chistopher Neame

Directed by Sam Welsman
Produced by Joseph Stern/Actors for Themsleves
Setting by Cliff Faulkner
Lighting by Peter Maradudin

Following this production, Simon Gray won the Hollywood Drama-logue Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre and the LA Weekly Theatre Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting.

The Common Pursuit was presented at the Promenade Theatre in New York City on 19th October 1986, with the following cast:

STUART THORNE – Kristoffer Tabori
MARIGOLD WATSON – Judy Geeson
MARTIN MUSGROVE – Michael Countryman
HUMPHREY TAYLOR – Peter Friedman
NICK FINCHLING – Nathan Lane
PETER WHETWORTH – Dylan Baker

Director: Simon Gray & Michael McGuire
Setting: David Jenkins
Costumes: David Murin
Lighting: Frances Aronson

“[I]n its evocation of the judgmental and forgiving ways of friendship — of how a long acquaintance enables people to divine and condone each other’s darkest secrets — The Common Pursuit does indeed portray what is common in all humanity.”

William A. Henry III, Time Magazine

The Common Pursuit was performed at the Watford Palace Theatre from the 3rd – 26th March 1988, and subsequently at the Phoenix Theatre, London from 7th April to the 30th July 1988, with the following cast:

STUART THORNE – John Sessions
MARIGOLD WATSON – Sarah Berger
MARTIN MUSGROVE – Paul Mooney
HUMPHREY TAYLOR – Stephen Fry
NICK FINCHLING – Rik Mayall
PETER WHETWORTH – John Gordon – Sinclair

Directed by Simon Gray
Designed by David Jenkins
Lighting by Leonard Tucker

The Common Pursuit was presented at The Menier Chocolate Factory from 10th May to 20th July 2008, with the following cast:

STUART THORNE – Robert Portal
MARIGOLD WATSON – Mary Stockley
MARTIN MUSGROVE – Ben Caplan
HUMPHREY TAYLOR – James Dreyfus
NICK FINCHLING – Reece Shearsmith
PETER WHETWORTH – Nigel Harman

Directed by Fiona Laird

PUBLISHING INFORMATION

The Common Pursuit is now available as a Faber Contemporary Classic in Simon Gray: Plays 4. To order a copy on special offer at 25% discount please contact Faber using code GRAYPLAYS. Or check out the plays section of our bookshop.

The Common Pursuit is also available in the following editions:

The Definitive Simon Gray IV (1993 ISBN 0-571-16659-8)

Plays 1 (Methuen 1986 ISBN 0-413-40420-X)

The Common Pursuit (Eyre Methuen 1984)

The Common Pursuit (Samuel French UK ISBN 978-0-573-01696-7)

The Common Pursuit: Other Productions