The Handyman

Written by Ronald Harwood

Thursday 18th July to Saturday 20th July and Tuesday 23rd July to Saturday 27th July 2002

Directed by John Batstone

Cressida and Julian Field live comfortably in the English countryside with their elderly Ukrainian odd-job man and friend of the family, Romka. Suddenly the police arrive. What has Romka done? ... Is he guilty? ... Is there a time limit on revenge and punishment? ...
The Handyman looks at questions surrounding culpability, retribution, universal responsibility and the possibility of evil in a story that holds and intrigues the audience from start to finish.

AuthorRonald Harwood

Ronald Harwood

Ronald Harwood is an actor, playwright and BAFTA-and-Oscar-winning screenwriter well-known for his plays for the stage as well as the screenplays for 'The Dresser', 'Diving Bell and the Butterfly' and 'The Pianist'.

Born Ronald Horwitz in Cape Town, South Africa, Harwood moved from Cape Town to London in 1951 to pursue a career in the theatre. He changed his name from Horwitz after an English master told him it was too foreign and too Jewish for a stage actor. After training for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he joined the Shakespeare Company of Sir Donald Wolfit. From 1953 to 1958, Harwood was Sir Donald's personal dresser. He would later draw on this experience when he wrote the stage play, 'The Dresser', and the biography: 'Sir Donald Wolfit CBE: His life and work in the Unfashionable Theatre'.

In 1960, Harwood began a career as a writer and published his first novel, 'All the Same Shadows' in 1961, the screenplay, 'Private Potter' in 1962, and the stage play, 'March Hares' in 1964. Harwood continued at a prolific pace penning more than 21 stage plays, and 10 books. He also created more than 16 screenplays, but seldom wrote original material directly for the screen, usually acting as an adapter, sometimes of his own work (notably The Dresser).

Harwood also wrote the screenplay for the films, 'The Browning Version' and 'Oliver Twist'. He won an Academy Award for 'The Pianist', having already been nominated for 'The Dresser' in 1983. Harwood received his third Oscar nomination for his adaptation of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', for which he also won a BAFTA and the Prix Jacques Prevert Du Scenario. In 2008, he was awarded the Humanitas Award and he was knighted in the 2010 birthday honours list.

PlayThe Handyman

'The Handyman' was written in 1996 and first performed that year at Chichester Festival Theatre. The play takes place in the 1990's on warm summer's days in the garden of a house in the Sussex countryside, with some scenes in interview rooms at Scotland Yard where recorded interviews are also played.

The plot centres on the gradually unravelling history of elderly jobbing gardener, Romka, who now works for middle aged, middle-class couple Cressida and Julian. It takes as its theme, issues arising from World War II: war crimes, attitudes towards Jews, guilt and responsibility. This play asks questions about how far society should demand retribution for crimes, even if committed in another place, at another time. How can we be sure that in seeking punishment we are not in fact seeking revenge, and if so what does this tell us about ourselves?

In the original version of the play which was performed at Chichester, the playwright was dissatisfied with the ending. He therefore re-wrote it especially for the production in 2002 by amateur theatre company Bench Theatre of Havant. The new ending refocused attention on Romka himself and highlighted the fact that the play offers many uncomfortable questions, but not always answers. Harwood also changed the gender of the character of the Detective Inspector.

The Bench Production

The Handyman poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was in fact the world premiere of this version of the story, which included a revised ending and a change of gender for the character of The Detective Inspector. Bench Theatre was also lucky enough to be visited by the author during rehearsals, only the second time that this had occurred, when the author was not a competition winner or from the company's own membership.


Roman Kozachenko 'Romka'David Penrose
Cressida FieldJudy Bodenham
Julian FieldChris Walker
D I WashbourneSharman Callam
D C MatherRichard Le Moingan
Marian StoneSally Hartley
Nikita FedorenkoJohn Scadding
Sister SophiaRuth Prior


Director John Batstone
Stage Management Sam Emery
Mark Wakeman
Set Design Simon Walton
Lighting Design Andrew Caple
Lighting Operator Simon Walton

Interview with Ronald Harwood

Playwright, Ronald Harwood, came to a rehearsal and to discuss the play with us. Here are some highlights of the discussion:

Do you think Romka is guilty?
RH: I don't know and if I did I wouldn't tell the audience. I don't believe in using the theatre to teach but rather to provoke, intrigue and leave them wondering. I like the play to have grey areas.

Where do you stand on Jewish issues?
RH: I happen to be Jewish but I don't consider myself a 'Jewish' playwright. Sometimes in conversation with people I don't know I say early on that I am Jewish; this is not being self-conscious but rather to prevent any embarrassment about what may be said later. I was not pleased when on a TV Arts discussion programme the poet and critic Tom Paulin, speaking of Mahler's Conversion, referred to me as 'the Jewish playwright'. I don't start from an agenda but I don't think any thoughtful or serious person can address aspects of the last century without acknowledging the critical area of the Nazi regime. So called 'Holocaust denial' is very dangerous at the moment, the work of David Irvine and attitudes towards Israel, frightening in their implications.

'The Handyman' was first staged in 1996. Do you think that in its referring to special legislation to deal with post-war immigrants, a key issue at the time, it is now dated?
RH: Far from it. The concerns I've tried to give voice to are if anything, more relevant. Outbursts of anti-Semitic feeling, the emergence of aggressive right-wing populism demand continual vigilance on the part of people who like to consider themselves civilised.

How do you feel about us, a small local amateur company, putting on your play?
RH: Very happy. It will be particularly interesting the new ending getting an airing. Normally I never go back. When a play is done, it's done. On to the next thing. You will know this play now better than I remember it. Good luck!


The NewsDaniel Bardsley

Superb acting in often forgotten story

This play brings up the often forgotten second world war massacre of Jews in the Ukraine. However it is not set on the continent, but in 1990s Sussex.

Despite having only a handful of scenes, most lengthy, but creates great tension as the handyman, a seemingly inoffensive old man working for a well-off English couple, is accused of terrible war crimes. The horror of what took place is recounted vividly. The trauma of those caught up in the hunt to find those responsible is just as moving.

This play premiered at Chichester in 1996 and it's doubtful that professional show was any better than this amateur one - the acting really is superb.

The News, 19th July 2002

Production Photographs