- British Tour: February, 1983
- The Royal Alexander Theatre, Toronto, Canada. March-May 1983
- Prince of Wales Theatre, London: July-August, 1983.
‘Twelve people on a journey that ends in death’
‘Underground’ is a dramatic play set on the London Underground, which opened in February 1983. Although the play was only given a lukewarm reception by the critics, it did little to dampen audience enthusiasm, as the play went on to brake all box office records at the time.
At the time the play was staged author, Michael Slone, had just written and produced The ‘Return of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ for CBS TV, which brought back the original stars, Robert Vaughan and David McCallum. ‘Underground’ was his first stage play.
Director, Simon Williams, was perhaps best known for playing James Bellamy in the long-running drama series, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’.
Raymond Burr, who played American lawyer, Jim Maclain, had been eager to work on the British stage, because of its tradition of fine acting. “It was one of the reasons they got a long list of big names for the play”. That list included PETER as Alexander Howard, Alfred Marks, Gerald Flood, Elspeth March and Ronald Leigh-Hunt.
Raymond Burr and PETER during a performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre: Whilst the play was at the Royal Alexander Theatre, Toronto, Burr had tripped on cables backstage and damaged the cartilage in his knee. He had to use a walking stick for the rest of the tour.
Much of the equipment for the sets were loaned to the production by London Underground, which included all the carriage seats and guard uniforms.
“Take twelve people at random and put them in a confined space with the temperature rising, and there you’ll see the layers of humanity slowly being stripped away”.
One of the characters says this early on in the first act of the play, but is it prophetic or calculated?
A London Underground train, carrying eleven passengers and a guard (Glynn Mills), hurtles through the black tunnels underneath City traffic. It slows in one of the claustrophobic arteries and stops. Nothing unusual in that, as every weary London commuter who’s passed through Edgeware Road could testify. However, the difference on this occasion is that the train does not start up again.
All the passengers know is that there is certainly another carriage next door to them, but nothing after that; no cab and no driver. They’re cut off – completely stranded.
As they sit, totally isolated, listening to the reverberations of other trains thunder around them, they have no idea whether they might strike at any moment.
With the temperature rising and claustrophobia closing in, this odd assortment of characters – all confined within a sweating nightmare, little by little begin to divulge his thoughts to the audience. These individuals include Jim Maclain – an American lawyer from New York who’s says he’s in London for a holiday… or might it really be business of a deadly kind?
There’s Alexander Howard (PETER WYNGARDE) – an English businessman, in his three-piece suit and gold watch chain, who says that he has an appointment in the city… and a lot of suppressed anger inside.
(From left to right): Alfred Marks, PETER, Elspeth March, Eric Carte and Raymond Burr.
A cynical computer programmer, Graham Craig (Ian Cullen), who looks at human beings as cyphers that could be put through one of his machines.
Michael Preston and Elizabeth Snowden (Marc Sinden and Linda Hayden) – A young British couple; he, an abrasive and she, frightened.
A beautiful raucous dancer (Liz Edminston) who uses sex for defence, and an old tramp (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) whose delirious memories in some strange oblique way appear to reflect the atmosphere of what’s happening to them.
But what IS happening?
The passengers get to know each other as the minutes lengthen and the tempers shorten. Suddenly a window is smashed and the lights go out in the carriage, then two gunshots are heard. When the lights come on again, a man lays dead in a pool of blood. Which one of them shot him? And why? Were the fatal bullets meant for someone else and, more importantly, will the killer strike again?
While the audience watches and reacts to the passengers’ same feelings of claustrophobic terror, they wonder if there’s more to all this than a simple case of murder?
Shapes and shadows; what seems real could be a trick of the light. A terrifying plan unfolding in a dark place where it cannot be stopped. What is really happening on the London Underground carriage?
Take twelve people at random….
During one performance of the play at the Birmingham Hippodrome, Ronald Leigh-Hunt’s wig accidently caught fire, but PETER and Alfred Marks were of little use, as all the pair could do was fall about laughing!
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/