Black Comedy

Written by Peter Shaffer

Wednesday 11th July to Saturday 14th July 1973

Directed by Tim Mahoney

A young sculptor arranges an evening at home with guests...and then the lights fail! "Bench 2" is a double bill with Prosper Mérimée's 'The Viceroy's Carriage' - both plays being performed on each evening.

AuthorPeter Shaffer

Sir Peter Shaffer (b 1926)

Peter Shaffer is the author of numerous award-winning plays, several of which have been filmed. Born to a Jewish family in Liverpool, he is also the twin brother of another playwright, Anthony Shaffer. He was educated at St Paul's School, London and subsequently gained a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge to study history. Shaffer was a 'Bevin Boy' coal miner during WW2 and took a number of jobs including bookshop clerk, and assistant at the New York Public Library, before discovering his dramatic talents.

Shaffer's first play, 'The Salt Land', was presented on the BBC. His second work 'Five Finger Exercise' won the Evening Standard Drama Award in London and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play in the US. Of his other plays, 'Equus' won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and Shaffer followed this success with Amadeus which won the Evening Standard Drama Award, the Theatre Critics Award and the Tony Award for Best Play and, like Equus, ran for more than 1000 performances.

PlayBlack Comedy

Black Comedy is a one-act play and was first performed in 1965. The play is, suitably enough, a black comedy in which the effect loss of light would have on a group of people who all hold things from each other is explored. It's a farce set in a London flat during an electrical blackout, and is written to be staged under a reversed lighting scheme: that is, the play opens with a dinner party beginning on a darkened stage, then a few minutes into the show "a fuse blows", the stage lights come up, and the characters are seen shambling around apparently invisible to one another.

Brindsley Miller and his fiancee Carol Melkett have "borrowed" some posh furniture from neighbour Harold Gorringe's flat in order to impress Carol's father, Colonel Melkett. Brindsley, an artist, is afraid that the Colonel will not give up his daughter to a starving artist. Things go awry when the lights go out, leaving Brindsley helpless as characters arrive, one by one. First is Brindsley's elderly neighbour, Miss Furnival. Colonel Melkett, unimpressed by the blackout, arrives, and Brindsley's worst nightmare comes true as Harold returns early, and Brindsley tries desperately to return the furniture without Harold noticing.

The Bench Production

Black Comedy poster image

Bench Theatre's original name was 'Theatre Union' and was later changed to reflect the name of the theatre in West Street where most of their early productions were staged. This play was performed under the original Theatre Union name and staged at The Bench Theatre building in West Street. Along with The Viceroy's Carriage, it was part of a double bill staged in July 1973 at that venue, which was their home for nearly 7 years. It was part of a double bill with Prosper Mérimée's 'The Viceroy's Carriage', with both plays being performed on each evening.


Brindsley MillerLawrie Noble
Carol MelkettJen Jones
Miss FurnivalBenita Oakley
Colonel MelkettTony Starr
Harold GorringePeter Corrigan
CleaJune Jaques
SchuppanzighTim Morris
George BambergerDavid Lings


Director Tim Mahoney
Stage Manager Derek Ream
Lighting and Sound Peter Orford
Sets David Lings

Director's Notes

Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer was produced at Chichester Festival Theatre five years ago. A young sculptor arranges an evening at home with his fiancee, her father and a millionaire art collector. Then the lights fail - hence the title Black Comedy.

Tim Mahoney


The NewsAnon

Bench Theatre in the dark

Mix together a soppy debutante and her boyfriend, an Army colonel, a middle-class, middle aged spinster and a fellow with a voice like Frankie Howerd... add several glasses of whisky, gin and vodka, fuse the lights putting the whole lot in darkness, and what have you got? Instant comedy. Last night Havant's Bench Theatre put on one of their best comedy performances with 'Black Comedy', the play by Peter Shaffer and had a very mixed first night audience in fits.

The plot involved a young sculptor trying to impress the Colonel father of his debutante girlfriend by inviting the girl's father to his flat at the same time as a millionaire art collector. All is ready, including furniture 'borrowed' from another flat when the lights fuse and the whole evening is thrown in to utter chaos. In the meantime, the spinster who lives in the opposite flat, Miss Furnival, wanders in because she is afraid of the dark. Then Harold arrives, the man who owns all the furniture the young sculptor Brindsley, well played by Lawrie Noble, has borrowed to impress his future father-in-law.

To add more complications, Brindsley's old girlfriend arrives, played by attractive June Jaques. With superb timing and some remarkable character acting, the cast won applause for their rib-tickling performances. Produced by Tim Mahoney, the actors were extremely well chosen, especially Benita Oakley as the tee-total Miss Furnival. Jenny Jones played the debutante with Peter Corrigan giving a stunning performance of the character [Harold Gorringe] who resembled a mixture of Frankie Howerd and Larry Grayson.

Black Comedy was only one half of the Bench Theatre's double bill, which continues until Saturday... two of the most memorable performances came from the two actors with the smallest roles [in both plays] - John Scadding's Bishop in the first play [The Viceroy's Carriage] and Tim Morris's German electricity man who arrives to mend the fuse in Black Comedy and is mistaken as the millionaire German art collector.

The News, 12th July 1973