Eric Chappell talks about the Ground Rules of being a successful playwright

L-R Judith (Sally Lawrence) and Gerry (Chris Rees)

L-R Judith (Sally Lawrence) and Gerry (Chris Rees) - Credit: Archant

Eric Chappell, the comedy writer, is happy to reveal how he came up with the idea for his new play, Ground Rules.

Eric Chappell

Eric Chappell - Credit: Archant

A younger, lesser-known playwright may not have been so willing to reveal his formula, but when you have had the success which Chappell has had with The Banana Box (which later became British sitcom Rising Damp, which he also wrote), Dead Reckoning and Theft, you can see why he was unperturbed with the inquiry.

Ground Rules follows the trials of a settled couple – Gerry and his wife Judith, experienced in counselling – who try to intervene into another couple’s problematic relationship.

Gerry and Judith soon realise that it would perhaps have been better to stay well clear of Ashley and Jo after their initial meeting.

“It happened to me many years ago when coming out of a restaurant we asked a lady, who was clearly distressed after an argument with her partner, if she wanted to come with us,” says Chappell, taking up the story.


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“It was only when we were driving her to a police station that I realised her partner was following us.

“I knew then that it would be a wonderful opening to a play.”

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Despite the rather sinister start, Chappell insists Ground Rules is “a comedy throughout”.

When pressed on the outcome to his original story, Chappell says “nothing really happened” once the lady was escorted to the police station.

“I just noticed his car following close behind,” he smiles.

Chappell began writing full time in 1973, so he has become well accustomed to watching his work be abridged and stripped apart during the production stage.

It was only last week, the Grantham-born writer sat down with the cast and production team to read through the Ground Rules script for the first time.

“The script is not Holy writ – it is normally for reasons of health and safety why the play gets changed,” Chappell explains.

“You cannot smoke on stage these days or have a sword fight at the end, for example.

“You need to have a fight director back stage. Smoking seems to be a worry for people, especially on stage,” he jokes.

Chappell’s relaxed nature may stem from the fact he got into writing relatively late in life.

After trying his hand at writing his novels – much to his wife’s dismay – he switched to writing plays instead. It was a decision which would propel him into the spotlight.

“It took me until my 30s before anyone paid me anything,” he says. “After 20 years I decided to fulfil my true ambition.

So what keeps that desire to keep going after four decades in the cut and thrust world of stage writing?

“Every now and then someone will do one of my plays and I think that is not so bad,” he says. “That’s what keeps me going. I was in Whitby the other day and I saw my play Theft and the amateur dramatic society did it so well. It gave me a real thrill.”

Watching an audience enjoy a play he has written gives him as much enjoyment as seeing his work on television, Chappell says.

“Only a few people would call me up after Rising Damp,” he reveals.

Despite the knockbacks he received from both his wife and publishers early in his career, it is easy to see why Chappell’s enthusiasm for writing continues unabated.

- Ground Rules is to be performed on Thursday October 16 at the Brookside Theatre in Romford at 8pm. For tickets visit www.brooksidetheatre.com or call 01708 755 775.

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