HAMPTON ON HAMPTON: A series of interviews edited by Alistair Owen
Published by Faber and Faber 2005
ISBN: 0–571-21418-5 / 9 780571 214181
UK RRP £14.99
Review: Rod Dungate
Absorbing, detailed, important insights – and a deal of good humour
There are two ways to read this absorbing and detailed book. One is to read it as an analysis of Christopher Hampton’s plays (in whatever forms); the other is to read it for his insights into writing and the writer’s craft. His list of writing credits is formidable – it runs to some 80 titles.
Over a period of about twelve interviews Alistair Owen explores with Hampton each of Hampton’s works; the book is organised chronologically according to work, so as a reference book it’s easy to find your way around. However, and not surprisingly given Hampton’s obvious intelligence and breadth of interests, Hampton’s interviews have a relevance beyond the specific work under discussion.
I’m particularly struck by the accounts of writing scripts for television and film. You’d think that someone like Hampton could write a script and it would get done. But his accounts of production machinations are among the most fascinating areas of the book; they’re often told with characteristic charm and real humour. Anyone aspiring to write films should take note of Hampton’s experiences.
Discussing Nostromo, for instance, he observes ‘One of the dangers of working on a screenplay for a long time: you forget the principles you started with.’ With the ups and downs and the scripts which never made it into production, it’s surprising that Hampton managed to keep going.
Most fascinating, for me, is his discussion about Alice’s Adventures Underground; this is his only play developed from improvisation and he also developed it into a screenplay. He examines the ‘dark’ side of Carroll. ‘He had lots of photographic plates of nude children . . . he smashed them all except for four which have somehow survived. It’s as if he suddenly opened the door and saw the monster and said, I can’t go there any more.’
Overall, while it becomes clear Hampton’s career is full and successful, it’s by no means ‘charmed’. There is a sense, though, that in early years people were willing to take chances and wanted to do works that were about something, both in television and theatre. Hampton declares he has no more interest in writing for television, he comments (characteristically to the point): ‘It was claimed that writers like David Mercer and Dennis Potter actually made a difference to people’s attitudes, and I think they did, but now there’s an entirely craven corporate ethos prevailing. What the fuck do these people think they’re doing?’
On theatre . . . ‘It’s becoming more and more difficult to put plays on at all in the West End unless you have big stars in them, and we’re only just coming to terms with the fact that you can only run a play for as long as the star is available . . . As a corollary to that, you can put on terrible plays with big stars in and people will flock to see them, which is equally regrettable.’
We ignore these stark comments at our peril.
If you’d like to buy the book on-line, here’s a link to Amazon