Saunders, James (Arthur) 1925-2004

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SAUNDERS, James (Arthur) 1925-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born January 8, 1925, in London, England; died January 29, 2004, in Eastleach, Gloucestershire, England. Author. Saunders was a prominent award-winning English playwright known for his innovative concepts. Before having a chance to attend university, he joined the Royal Navy during World War II and served in the Arctic as part of the torpedo division. With war's end, he entered Southampton University, completing a degree in chemistry and physics, after which he worked as a chemistry tutor. But even before leaving school, Saunders had caught the theater bug after a friend suggested he write a pantomime. He enjoyed it so much that he began working on plays in the 1950s while still teaching. Some of these early works include Moonshine (1955), Alas, Poor Fred: A Duologue in the Style of Ionesco (1959), and A Slight Accident (1961). Saunders's first big success came with the innovative Next Time I'll Sing to You (1962), in which his interest in blurring fiction and reality came to the fore as the actors in the play interacted directly with the audience. The play won the Evening Standard Drama Award for Most Promising Playwright and allowed Saunders to quit teaching and write full time.

Though some critics have felt that Saunders would never quite repeat the success of Next Time I'll Sing to You with his later plays, the playwright continued to compose acclaimed dramas that blended psychology, philosophy, and word play. Sometimes compared to Harold Pinter, Saunders sought to engage the audience directly, not only by having the actors interact with them but also by blurring the lines between the actors and the roles they were playing, making it clear that the messages and themes of his dramas were not only about the characters but also about the actors, audience, and everyone else. Among his other many notable plays are The Borage Pigeon Affair (1975), Bodies (1978), Fall (1980), Making It Better (1992), and Retreat (1995). Often associated with the Orange Tree theater in Richmond, England, where he was chairman of the board for a time, Saunders was considered especially gifted with the short play form, including Games (1971) and Bye Bye Blues (1973), as well as being an outstanding adapter of fiction by writers like D. H. Lawrence and Vaclav Havel. He scripted films, too, such as The Sailor's Return (1978), radio plays, and television programs, such as Watch Me, I'm a Bird (1964) and Bloomers (1979). Among his other honors were a 1986 British Broadcasting Corporation Radio Play Award for Menocchio and a 1990 Moliere Award for Fall.



Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 31, 2004.

Guardian (London, England), February 5, 2004, p. 29.

Independent (London, England), February 14, 2004, p. 49.

Times (London, England), February 16, 2004.

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Saunders, James (Arthur) 1925-2004

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