Review: ‘Great Performances Common Pursuit’

Simon Gray's 1986 comedy laced with melancholia deals with five undergrad Cambridge students starting a literary magazine aptly called "Common Pursuit" and observing as their own common pursuits shift targets over a dozen years. It's more brittle than Gray's former GP outing, "Quartermain's Terms," and sketchier; but its style will hold the patient theater lover.

Simon Gray’s 1986 comedy laced with melancholia deals with five undergrad Cambridge students starting a literary magazine aptly called “Common Pursuit” and observing as their own common pursuits shift targets over a dozen years. It’s more brittle than Gray’s former GP outing, “Quartermain’s Terms,” and sketchier; but its style will hold the patient theater lover.

Play intro’s editor Stuart (Kevin McNally), who’s having an affair with Marigold (Stella Gonet); would-be theater critic and neurotic Nick (Tim Roth); wealthy American Andrew McCarthy, who’ll bankroll the lit effort; philosopher Humphry (Stephen Fry), and womanizing Peter (James Fleet). In satellite is the aging, stuffy poet Hubert Stout (Ian Bannen), who may or may not contribute to the periodical.

Action starts in 1975, when the characters are sprung on viewers, and leaps seven years ahead to reestabish them. Attitudes shift, but their traits are constant and more visible as they continue their varying pursuits of happiness.

One is murdered offstage in just such a pursuit;one commits adultery with the wife of another; children are born and relationships assert themselves, with the dialogue brisk, if at times lower-drawer aphoristic (“I find writing even more of a chore than sex,” whines Nick).

Gray fails to bring off an ending, instead recalls the group’s (and play’s) beginning as both a sentimental surveillance and a comment on the wheel of life.

Players are generally sharp, though McCarthy’s American Martin doesn’t match the pace of the other actors. Christopher Morahan’s direction supplies an appropriately dizzying getting-to-know-you gait that ably suits the venture. The play, though it’s unfulfilled, gives fans of legit a good shot at TV theater.

Great Performances Common Pursuit

(Mon. (9), 9-10:30 p.m., PBS)

Production

Filmed in England by BBC in association with 13/WNET. Producer, Kenith Trodd; director, Christopher Morahan; writer, Simon Gray; dramaturg, Kim Powers.

Crew

Camera , Ian Punter; editor, Dave King; sound, Dick Manton; music, Ilona Sekacz; production designer, Don Taylor.

Cast

Cast: Stella Gonet, Kevin McNally, Tim Roth, Andrew McCarthy, James Fleet, Stephen Fry, Ian Bannen, Lill Roughley, Helen Hazeldene, Ina Clare, Eamon Maguire, Gerard O'Hagan, Philip Newman, Bryan Matheson.
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