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St Peter's Hill Players to put on production written by late Grantham playwright

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An amateur dramatic society is staging a show written by a legendary playwright who recently passed away.

St Peter's Hill Players will stage the play 'Wife After Death' written by Eric Chappell from May 5 at the Guildhall Arts Centre.

The group paid tribute to the Grantham-born playwright, famous for writing TV comedy Rising Damp, who died at the age of 88 on Thursday (April 21).

Eric Chappell (left) with Rising Damp star Leonard Rossiter. (56332601)
Eric Chappell (left) with Rising Damp star Leonard Rossiter. (56332601)

In a statement, the society said: "It was with great sadness, we, as a drama society, of which Eric Chappel was patron, heard of his death.

"Eric and his family would come to see and support our shows whenever we 'trod the boards'

"He would give the cast his feedback after the show which was greatly appreciated.

Eric Chappell (56237306)
Eric Chappell (56237306)

"We had hoped to perform our current production, Wife After Death, a gem from Eric's pen, two years ago, however, the pandemic got in the way and we were forced to postpone until this year

"Eric had already booked his ticket, so we will be aware of his absence during this run. RIP Eric, you will be sadly missed by many."

Ahead of Wife After Death being staged in Grantham, journalist and star of the play, Rachel Armitage, spoke to Eric before his death about his career and inspirations.

From the beginnings with his first play being performed in Leicester, to gracing the famous theatres of the West End and winning Baftas for his hilarious plays, it’s fair to say that writer Eric Chappell lived an incredible life.

Eric Chappell (56332595)
Eric Chappell (56332595)

“I was working for the electricity board in Hinckley and I wrote some truly awful novels,” he recalled, “I’m so embarrassed by them now!

“Then one day out of nowhere, I was in my mid 30s and decided to write a play and it became The Banana Box.”

This turned out to be the first of 200 TV comedy scripts and 25 plays Eric wrote throughout his career, with The Banana Box debuting at the Leicester Phoenix theatre and going on to star in the London West End.

Eric Chappell (56332598)
Eric Chappell (56332598)

“Leonard was quite insistent on being creative with his performance and he worked me very hard,” Eric remembered, “But he was brilliant to work with and we put on a great show.”

The Banana Box ended up inspiring Bafta award-winning TV comedy Rising Damp, starring famous actors Leonard Rossiter and Frances De La Tour, which also won the Evening Standard Film award for Best Comedy.

St Peter’s Hill Players is one of three amateur dramatics groups across the UK and Ireland to be performing one of his plays at this time, with others taking place in Walsall, West Midlands and in Ireland respectively.

Wife After Death was written by Eric in 2011, and famously starred legendary English actor Tom Conti in 2013.

Credit: David Dawson, St Peter's Hill Players present Wife After Death (55659729)
Credit: David Dawson, St Peter's Hill Players present Wife After Death (55659729)

The play takes place at the funeral of comedian and national treasure Dave Thursby, and at his casket, we meet his friends and former colleagues who have come to pay their respects, including his long-time friend and writing partner Harvey, his long-suffering wife Vi, his agent Kevin and his wife Jane and Dave’s widow Laura.

Then Dave’s ex-wife Kay comes to deliver a bombshell, and many other secrets come tumbling out, leaving all the characters to wonder if they ever knew the real Dave at all.

Eric said his inspiration for Wife After Death came after attending a number of funerals and noticing how different people are when it comes to the death of someone they know:

“People act totally differently with the person than when they were alive,” he said, “It’s the old adage of ‘you don’t speak ill of the dead’ and you’re supposed to eulogise about them and only say the best things about them - like when we hear all about Dave’s charity works and services to entertainment rather than him being a really awful person!”

Without giving too much of the plot of Wife After Death away, Eric said he wanted to give all four female cast members good parts to play: “I always like to write good roles for ladies - it was harder when I first started because I didn’t know how to identify with them and worked hard to write them good parts.”

This is why all four women in Wife After Death are far from one-dimensional characters, and they all have their own parts to play and secrets to tell.

“I want everyone who is in my plays to do what feels right to them with my plays,” Eric added, “As long as they remember it’s a black comedy they can do what they want and interpret the characters how they like.”

Wife After Death will be performed at the Guildhall Arts Centre on May 5, 6 and 7. Tickets are available by visiting the website at https://www.guildhallartscentre.com/whats-on/all-shows/wife-after-death-st-peters-hill-players or by calling the Box Office on 01476 406158.

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