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Stars of their own stories

By Jake Guastella

During the run of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park at Richmond Theatre, Oliver Cotton approached his co-star Maureen Lipman with a self-penned script. Now, two years later and after an acclaimed summer in the West End, the pair somewhat poetically return to our stage to star in that very play! Daytona is a powerful story of revenge and atonement, focusing on a couple in their 70s and how they react when a presumed-dead relative resurfaces.

Oliver Cotton says the idea for the story came to him while vacationing in Daytona Beach, Florida: 'Lying by a crowded pool I suddenly imagined seeing the inciting moment of the play and couldn't get it out of my head. For me, plays always start with an image or a 'what if?' situation.'

What other actors have decided to pick up a pen and put their own characters on paper? We take a look.

Maureen Lipman & Oliver Cotton in Daytona

Prior to Oliver Cotton, Scrubs actor Zach Braff took the main role in his play All New People at the Duke of York's Theatre. A black comedy about a man from New Jersey who hits rock bottom, the sitcom star was able to use his understanding of the rhythms of comedy to great effect, throwing relief on the dark themes of the play with witty one-liners, describing love as 'like trying to build a house of cards on the back of a squirrel'.

Eve Myles and Zach Braff in All New People

Harold Pinter is remembered for penning haunting classics such as The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, but he was also an actor for eight years before writing his first play. In 1960, during the run of The Caretaker at The Duchess Theatre, the playwright treaded the boards once more, taking the part of Mick after the actor Alan Bates pulled out.

His co-star Donald Pleasence described what it was like to play opposite the dramatist, famous for  inventing the ominous pause: 'He was very good. Of all the Micks I've played it with - about five - he was the most frightening. By far the most frightening. He used to terrify me every night.'

Donald Pleasence and Harold Pinter in The Caretaker

Actors are turning their hand to playwriting stateside too. Jesse Eisenberg, Oscar nominated for channelling Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, describes his technique for creating characters for his Off-Broadway play, Asuncion - a story about a writer who can’t get off the couch:  ‘I think it's very important to sympathize with, or at least understand where each character is coming from, because it makes the characters more real, and it makes the conflicts more interesting.’

Jesse Eisenberg and Camille Mana in Asuncion 

Later in September, Felicity Kendal plays Judith Bliss in Hay Fever, the classic ‘comedy of bad manners’ by Noël Coward. The writer of The Vortex and Private Lives starred in many of his own productions, starting with the light comedy I’ll Leave It To You written at the age of just 20.

What was Coward’s approach to acting? In his own words, ‘speak clearly, don’t bump into the furniture and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.’ Wise words!

Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward in Private Lives

Daytona runs from 1 - 6 September, Hay Fever from 15 - 20 September.

**** 'A gripping story, powerfully told and excellently performed'
Daily Telegraph on Daytona

**** 'Hysteria rules- Felicity Kendal is an ideal Judith Bliss'
The Guardian on Hay Fever