Alan Franks is a playwright, author, musician and former journalist at The Times.
His latest play A World Elsewhere is being performed at Theatre503 and Alexandra Rucki caught up within him befor opening night
Alexandra Rucki: What happens in A World Elsewhere?
Alan Franks: Pippa, a young woman studying at Oxford in 1968, starts to fall for a highly charismatic and slightly older American postgraduate. This makes Toby jealous. He is the old schoolfriend of Pippa's brother Nick, who has been suspended from the college for shoplifting from Blackwells bookstore.
AR: The play is set at Oxford University where you were educated alongside Bill Clinton. How much of this piece is based on your own experiences?
AF: I saw Bill Clinton around the college, but I can't claim to have known him. He was one of several Rhodes Scholars there, of whom great futures were expected. I did know one of his fellow Rhodes Scholars, Robert Reich, who became Secretary of Labour in the first Clinton administration. Robert and I were in a student review together at the Edinburgh Fringe the following summer, 1969.
AR: The play is set in 1968 - how much of the plot still has resonance today?
AF: I'm not sure. It's a good question. People other than me are saying that the Occupy movement is very reminiscent of 1960s ideology. Also, of course, the big preoccupation of 1968 was an unpopular foreign war. Bad as Iraq and Afghanistan have been, they have not created anything like the fury of Vietnam. The play, remember, is set in the days just before the presidential election, in which the war was the big issue.
AR: What was it like working with director Sally Knyvette?
AF: Lovely. A pleasure. I'd do it again. She's got a great, questing energy, she gets the characters, she gets their context and their interplay. Perhaps most important from my point of view, she's been an actor herself and she knows just how to get the others to bring the best of out themselves. They also think she's the business.
AR: What are your highlights of working at The Times? Who was the most memorable person you interviewed?
AF: The highlights were many. After all, I was there for over thirty years. I did some really challenging assignments, like going up a 23,000-foot mountain in the Andes and, even tougher, writing about the experience of Dying On Stage at the old Comedy Store. Of the people I met, goodness. There were some absolute giants. But if you're asking who the most memorable were, I suppose I couldn't leave out Arthur Miller as he was such an embodiment of the postwar American story; Leonard Cohen, who had an extraordinary combination of humility and charisma; Woody Allen - yes, I know, these are all Americans but there you go - who fielded my questions about the affair with his stepdaughter with great forthrightness; Tom Stoppard, Andre Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Mick, Dame Judi, Dame Barbara (Cartland), Sir Paul, Sir Tom, the list is too long.
A World Elsewhere is on at Theatre503, Battersea Park Road, January 22 to February 15, visit theatre503.com or call 020 7978 7040