Australian's play is big hit
in West End
By BILL STRUTTON, of our London staff
A hit play, "Seagulls Over Sorrento," by Australian actor and playwright Hugh Hastings, has made
him the man of the hour in London's West End.
"Seagulls Over Sorrento" is getting a bigger ovation at each curtain fall than greeted the first-night performance of Noel Coward's latest play, "Ace of Clubs." It will be seen in Australia this year.
HASTINGS, who is 33, tall
and clean - cut, came to England from Australia in 1936. Except for war service and a six weeks' holiday at home in Sydney, he has been here ever
He wrote "Seagulls Over Sor- rento" three years ago, and took most of that time getting a West
End management to put it on.
"They wouldn't touch it," he told me, "because they said it was not box-office. They complained about the all-male cast and the war topic it contained.
"Finally the Repertory Players were game enough to perform it for me in a Sunday night tryout. It was
so successful that I had five West End offers for it in four days.
"Since then we haven't looked back. I can hardly believe the first night reception it got. It was my first successful play.''
Success of "Seagulls Over Sor- rento" has helped Hastings sell two other plays. They are "The Red Dragon and "Inner Circle."
"The Red Dragon," which is based on the escape of H.M.S. Amethyst
from the Chinese Communists in
1949, had its premiere in London at the beginning of last December.
"Inner Circle," which Hastings describes as "a Cockney kitchen drama full of plot and twist," has been accepted for production this
"I can't say who bought it," Hast- ings told me, "but he's a well-known producer and he seems very pleased
Hastings' real name is Hugh Wil- liamson. He is the son of photog- rapher Hugh Williamson, of Hunter's Hill, Sydney. His mother, Peggy Devine, was well known on Aus-
tralian vaudeville circuits as a popu- lar soubrette.
"I changed my name to Hastings because there is another play- wright in London called Hugh Ross Williamson, and, of course, stage and film actor
he said. Hastings, who is a bachelor, lives in a cottage in fashionable Knightsbridge, close to the West End. He shares his cottage with an actor friend. "He pays me a quarter of the rent when he's out of work, more when he's in," Hastings said.
"Seagulls Over Sorrento" is the eighth play Hastings has written.
"As an amateur actor in Aus- tralia I had a play, 'Quadrille,' per- formed by a little theatre company called the Rowe Street Players," he said. "The play got some stink- ing notices in the papers.
"I think all my varied jobs have helped me a great deal in writing —for characters, knowledge of jobs and situation, and general back- ground," he added.
"I've been a cowhand, refriger- ation engineer's assistant, a subsi- dised village schoolteacher, adver- tising salesman, third assistant direc- tor on an English film, a script reader with a movie company, a movie extra, a cabaret artist, night- club pianist, and repertory actor."
Hastings was in the Royal Navy for five and a half years with Com- bined Operations. He did landings and operational surveys along the occupied coastlines of Europe.
He culled the characters and the
atmosphere for "Seagulls Over Sor- rento" from his navy experiences.
RONALD SHINER is caught fooling by a bullying I petty, officer (William Hartnell) in a scene from I
the current London hit "Seagulls Over Sorrento."
AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR Hugh Hastings, who now has two plays showing in London, is working on
production of a third.
The play, which has an all-male cast, is about a hush-hush naval job on a lonely island off the coast of Scot- land. The sailors renamed the island fortress Sorrento.
Hastings wrote "Seagulls Over Sorrento" while he was touring England in the stage comedy suc- cess, "Worm's Eye View," with actor-producer Ronald Shiner.
Shiner is now the star of Hastings' play, as a Cockney able seaman.
Hastings is nurturing two ambi- tions. One is to go to Spain to write a musical. The other: "Well, it would be too good to be true, really, but I would like to go to Australia with 'Seagulls Over Sor- rento,' produce it there, and see my people at home again. To be a success in the West End is great, but the real thrill would be to be a success in my own country."
(J. C. Williamson has bought the Australian rights of "Seagulls Over Sorrento." It will be produced in Australia about June. Mr. Eric Wahlquist. who recently returned to Australia after a world tour for J. C. Williamson, said: "I hope Mr. Hastings will be able to take a small part in the play. I don't know, though, what part he may take.")
Hugh Hastings has sold the film rights of "Seagulls Over Sorrento" for £10,000. But as the play will probably run in London for two years or more, the film will not be
made until about 1953.