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Prometheus: History

A comedy in four decades by Michael Armstrong

Originally started in 1971 and left unfinished.
Continued in 1982 and left unfinished.
Continued in 1992 and left unfinished.
Completed in 1999.

In 1971, Armstrong was involved in an intended summer drama season, Play Time '72 at the Roundhouse in London. A 24 strong company of rising young talent, which included David Essex and Paul Nicholas, were to appear in 5 productions running in repertory. His directorial contribution was going to be that of an early play, The Tale Of Aladdin, which he re-titled From The Arabian Nights to avoid audiences thinking they were going to see a family pantomime. Later, he would re-write it as The Tale Of Ala-ad-din.

Play Time '72

He also planned to write a new comedy for Joe McGrath to direct for the season.

They had worked together earlier on a film project for Elliot Kastner, intended as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Charles Aznavour and Robert Morley. The project only went as far as a treatment before Burton and Taylor opted for another subject better suited, by its location, to their tax requirements. While developing the treatment, however, Armstrong and McGrath had struck up an enjoyable working relationship which both were keen to develop further. Play Time '72 seemed the ideal opportunity.

With the tail end of the hippies, communes and the 60's 'revolution' still in evidence, Armstrong decided to turn his satirical eye on that world and some of the characters he had encountered. McGrath loved the idea and so Armstrong settled down to write a social comedy for him to direct.

Prometheus

Taking the myth of Prometheus, Armstrong created the character of the gullible and passionate idealist, Stephen Phillips, determined to bring enlightenment to the world. Opening with him rebelling against the world of his parents, the play rapidly transports him into the 60's world of a commune.

As Armstrong points out, "Believe it or not, they were all for real. In fact, a great number of the commune speeches I simply lifted from a notebook I'd been keeping at the time - word for word."

Armstrong intended to write a play that would self-destruct through anarchy and disintegrate into chaos. His original idea was that one of the 'characters' in the commune would suddenly break free from the play and, as the 'actor playing the role', quit the performance. The 'company manager' was then going to try and read in the part, which would become a cue for all the other 'actors' to step out of character and indulge in an argument that would drag in certain 'audience' members until the real audience became part of a squabbling microcosm of society sounding off to each other about their personal beliefs and prejudices concerning life, their own existence and society as a whole.

How this would have resolved itself in practice, we shall never know as Armstrong only got as far as the point where disintegration was about to happen and then stopped writing.

His reason for this was that, despite arousing tremendous interest in Play Time '72, the producers had failed to raise sufficient backing in the time required and were, finally, forced to abandon the project.

Prometheus, therefore, remained half-completed and, along with From The Arabian Nights, was returned to its shelf.

Prometheus

In 1977, Armstrong was commissioned to write a screenplay for The Sex Pistols, which he titled, A Star is Dead. It was this encounter with punk that made him realise it was simply another generation's credo - just as the hippies had theirs, as had every generation before them.

Returning to Prometheus in 1982 he added the punk scene - but it was the preceding scene that changed the entire path he had intended the play to travel. It was the character of George, the anthropologist who introduced what would become one of the principle themes of the final play and turn it into a comedy of decades.

Again setting it aside, Armstrong waited until the Thatcher years gave him the yuppie generation and the world of Public Relations to add in 1992.

In 1999, Armstrong completed the play. It still self-destructs at the end but for a more poignant and heightened reason than a simplistic disintegration into the anarchic farce he had originally intended in 1971.

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