Michael Frayn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Michael Frayn
Born (1933-09-08) 8 September 1933 (age 84)
Mill Hill, Middlesex, United Kingdom
Occupation Reporter, columnist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Nationality England
Period 1962–present
Genre Farce, historical fiction, philosophy

Michael Frayn, FRSL (/frn/; born 8 September 1933) is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off[1] and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. He has also written philosophical works, such as The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of the Universe (2006).

Early life[edit]

Frayn was born to a deaf asbestos salesman[2] in Mill Hill,[3] then in Middlesex. He grew up in Ewell, Surrey, and was educated at Kingston Grammar School. Following two years of National Service, during which he learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists, Frayn read Moral Sciences (Philosophy) at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating in 1957. He then worked as a reporter and columnist for The Guardian and The Observer, where he established a reputation as a satirist and comic writer, and began publishing his plays and novels.


The play Copenhagen deals with a historical event, a 1941 meeting between the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his protégé, the German Werner Heisenberg, when Denmark is under German occupation, and Heisenberg is—maybe?—working on the development of an atomic bomb. Frayn was attracted to the topic because it seemed to 'encapsulate something about the difficulty of knowing why people do what they do and there is a parallel between that and the impossibility that Heisenberg established in physics, about ever knowing everything about the behaviour of physical objects'.[4] The play explores various possibilities.

Frayn's more recent play Democracy ran successfully in London (the National Theatre, 2003-4 and West End transfer), Copenhagen and on Broadway (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 2004-5); it dramatised the story of the German chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant, the East German spy Günter Guillaume. Five years later, again at the National Theatre, it was followed by Afterlife, a biographical drama of the life of the great Austrian impresario Max Reinhardt, director of the Salzburg Festival, which opened at the Lyttelton Theatre in June 2008, starring Roger Allam as Reinhardt.[5]

His other original plays include two evenings of short plays, The Two of Us and Alarms and Excursions, the philosophical comedies Alphabetical Order, Benefactors, Clouds, Make and Break and Here, and the farces Donkeys' Years, Balmoral (also known as Liberty Hall), and Noises Off, which critic Frank Rich in his book The Hot Seat claimed "is, was, and probably always will be the funniest play written in my lifetime."

His novels include Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), The Tin Men (won the 1966 Somerset Maugham Award), The Russian Interpreter (1967, Hawthornden Prize) Towards the End of the Morning, Sweet Dreams, A Landing on the Sun, A Very Private Life, Now You Know and Skios, long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012. His novel, Spies, was long listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Prize for Fiction in 2002. He has also written a book about philosophy, Constructions, and a book of his own philosophy, The Human Touch.

His columns for The Guardian and The Observer (collected in The Day of the Dog, The Book of Fub and On the Outskirts) are models of the comic essay; in the 1980s a number of them were adapted and performed for BBC Radio 4 by Martin Jarvis.

He has also written screenplays for the films Clockwise, starring John Cleese, First and Last starring Tom Wilkinson, Birthday, Jamie on a Flying Visit, and the TV series Making Faces, starring Eleanor Bron.[6]

He is now considered to be Britain's finest translator of Anton Chekhov[7] (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard) as well as an early untitled work, which he titled Wild Honey (other translations of the work have called it Platonov or Don Juan in the Russian Manner) and a number of Chekhov's smaller plays for an evening called The Sneeze (originally performed on the West End by Rowan Atkinson).

He also translated Yuri Trifonov's play Exchange, Leo Tolstoy's The Fruits of Enlightenment, and Jean Anouilh's Number One.

In 1980, he presented the Australian journey of the BBC television series Great Railway Journeys of the World. His journey took him from Sydney to Perth on the Indian Pacific with side visits to the Lithgow Zig Zag and a journey on The Ghan's old route from Marree to Alice Springs shortly before the opening of the new line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs.

Frayn's wife, Claire Tomalin, is a biographer and literary journalist.





Black and Silver, Mr. Foot, Chinamen, and The new Quixote

Short fiction[edit]

  • Speak After The Beep: Studies in the Art of Communicating With Inanimate and Semi-Animate Objects (1995).


  • The Day of the Dog, articles reprinted from The Guardian (1962).
  • The Book of Fub, articles reprinted from The Guardian (1963).
  • On the Outskirts, articles reprinted from The Observer (1964).
  • At Bay in Gear Street, articles reprinted from The Observer (1967).
  • The Original Michael Frayn, a collection of the above four, plus nineteen new Observer pieces.
  • Constructions, a volume of philosophical twaddle (1974).
  • Celia's Secret: An Investigation (US title The Copenhagen Papers ), with David Burke (2000).
  • The Human Touch: Our part in the creation of the universe (2006).
  • Stage Directions: Writing on Theatre, 1970-2008 (2008), his path into theatre and a collection of the introductions to his plays.
  • Travels with a Typewriter (2009), a collection of Frayn's travel pieces from the 1960s and 70s from the Guardian and the Observer.
  • My Father's Fortune: A Life (2010), a memoir of Frayn's childhood.


  1. ^ "Michael Frayn British author and translator," Encyclopædia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-Frayn Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  2. ^ My Father's Fortune, A Life by Michael Frayn
  3. ^ 2009 Interview in the Observer
  4. ^ "Interview with Michael Frayn". British Library (sound recording). 
  5. ^ Fiona Maddocks, “The History Play Man; Daring: Frayn's Drama Slips in and out of Rhyming Couplets "To Blur the Distinction between Theatre and Life Just as Rheinhardt Did," The Evening Standard, 3 June 2008.
  6. ^ "Michael Frayn". IMDb. 
  7. ^ Donald Rayfield, "Review: Chekhov: Four Plays and Three Jokes by Sharon Marie - adapting the four major plays", Translation and Literature Vol. 20, No. 3, Translating Russia, 1890-1935 (Autumn 2011), pp. 408-410?
  8. ^ "Golden Pen Award, official website". English PEN. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Honorary Graduates of the University of Birmingham since 2000" (PDF). Retrieved 16 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University". www.slu.edu. 
  11. ^ John Banville. 1992. “Playing House. Rev. of A Landing on the Sun by Michael Frayn and Daughters of Albion by A. N. Wilson. The New York Review of Books. May 14, 1992.
  12. ^ New Statesman and Society. IV, September 13, 1991, p. 39.


External links[edit]