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Playwright finds a seagull!

AUSTRALIAN PLAYWRIGHT Hugh Hatting! inspects the, painting on the front door of hit father's house at Hunter s Ml y S K ?. <¡one in hit honor by a neighboring artist. Best knoten as the author of "Seagulls Over Sorrento," Hugh Holling! is the son of photographer Hugh Williamson. He has had great success in England. His "A Touch of the

Sun," which has been well received in London, will be produced in Australia this year.

over Sydney

When playwright Hugh Hastings, author of "Seagulls Over Sorrento," arrived at his father's home at Hunter's Hill, N.S.W., after years abroad, he found that there were "Seagulls Over Sydney."

Tacked to the top half of the stable-type front door was a painting of a giant seagull confronting two tipsy Navy types. There were more agulls inside the house.

THE seagulls and sailors

were painted by neigh- boring artist Fred Jones to commemorate Hugh Hastings' play which has been running for over 1000 performances at London's Apollo Theatre and is now in its fourth year.

It will begin its Sydney run on January 29.

I met Mr. Hastings on his first Sunday morning back in


Except tor a brief six weeks' leave from the Royal Navy in 1944, he had not been in Aus- tralia since he left in 1936 at the age of 18.

Son of photographer Hugh Williamson and grand-nephew of J. C. Williamson, he in- vented thc name Hastings be- cause he fancied "the two H's and two G's."

He discarded the name

Williamson regretfully because of its similarity to those of the actor Hugh Williams and the plavwright Hugh Ross Williamson.

Now 55, well off and suc eo,H Mr. Hastings ("just »T Hugh' was perched on a "wi by a semi-circular bar tn .he front room of the Hunter's Hill house.

Recuperating after night dubbini! till dawn, he was drinking rUp after cup of black coffre, smoking cigarettes, eat "i? bi'cuits, answering the

telephone, and opening the door to droppers-in.

His father and stepmother were enjoying it all as much

as he was.

This hard-working play- wright, who averages two plays a year, whose total is 16 plays and two film scripts,

has had little relaxation to date.

Tall, with just-greying hair brushed straight back from a peak, he has alert hazel eyes and an expressive face. His voice, that of a well-trained actor, is a pleasant amalgam of English and Australian.

When we found a quieter room to talk, away from the rest of the coffee drinkers, he told me something of himself.

Before leaving for England in 1936 he had worked as a farmhand, schoolteacher, en- gineering apprentice, and in advertising.

He had even written a play, "Quadrille," which, after be- ing put on by the Rowe Street Players, received devastating


Undeterred, Hugh arrived in England with "a ready mnde job as Third Assistant Director in a film company."

"Sounds good," he ex- plained, "but it was the equivalent of a call-boy. It didn't last very long. Then I did extra work in films."

Last month, returning in the Oronsay, Hugh went to the



staff reporter

ship's picture show and found himself watching himself in the film, "The Drum."

"It was a very odd and nostalgic feeling to see my- self, aged 21, seated at the table of an officers' mess in India," he said

"Later on in the film I saw myself again, as a private (no, not de-ranked, but another person altogether) taking part in a charge against the enemy.

"About all I got out of that charge, I remember, was gravel rash."

After early film work the young Australian made a liv- ing by playing the piano in night-clubs and cabarets, and by singing and acting in reper- tory companies.

"Thc repertory companies gave me my basic training," he told me. "I saw how a play was put together, I absorbed the technicalities of acting. But the war came and in June, 1940, I joined the Navy."

He lit another cigarette.

Being in the Dieppe raid and travelling with his ship from the English Channel to the Pacific allowed little time for playwriting.

The war over, he worked on "Seagulls," at first called "Somewhere in Scapa Flow."

When it was finished he tried to sell it, but two years of disappointment followed. Then, after a small group put it on, it was snapped up for

! the West End.

Usually Hugh Hastings first finds the background and theme before deriding on his characters. Once he begins to write, he finds his characters developing their own destinies. He likes down-to-earth dia- logue, and wherever he goes keeps an ear rocked for it.

"You often hear someone beside you in a bus or tube ? phrasing something in a way

that needs no alteration for the stage," he said.

He dislikes drawing-room plays.

A play with an Indian set- ting ("I was there during the war") will be produced in Australia this year. Called "A Touch of the Sun," it has been received well in London.

Background for a play "in Tchekov style, with the atmos- phere and moods of youth," is the country near Kurrajong, where Hugh lived as a boy on

his father's citrus farm.

"It's called 'The Blue Mountains,' " he said .

Whatever else he writes, Hugh Hastings won't forget "Seagulls."

"It gave me my start," he said, "and it has brought in the money-over £250 a week -though British taxation takes away most of that. With the money I bought myself a typewriter, a piano (I've writ-

ten a musical called 'Soho

Rhapsody'), and a very pleas?n* home in Chelsea."

"Seagulls" also brought in many letters, one from a prison warden.

"Because the cast is all male, a prison drama group wanted to act my play," Hugh ex- plained. "Usually amateurs are not allowed to produre a play while it is running pro- fessionally. I took some time finding out whether prisoners

could waive this rule.

"Just as I was about to tell them to go ahead, another letter arrived from the warden.

"It read: 'Could you please give me an answer as soon as possible, as some of the casi will soon be taking their final


"Good Lord! 'Final curtain,' I thought. It sounded as if they were going to be executed. But I checked up and found

that the main actors were due for release."

For Hugh, the curtains are still going up. A self-styled "complete bachelor," he in- tends to keep writing until hr drops.