Pity the playwright who sits down with a blisteringly good idea but can't quite conjure the characters to take it from the page to the stage.
It wasn't a problem Sir Roger Hall had with Winding Up, his 41st play – 46th if you count the pantomimes as well – which breathes fresh life into two characters from one of the most successful plays of his career.
The new comedy revisits Barry and Genevieve, the husband and wife from Hall's 1990 Conjugal Rites, which became a British TV series in the 1990s. Thirty years on, Barry (Mark Hadlow) and Gen (Alison Quigan) are now in their seventies, still married and coping with the new realities of their senior years.
Hall doesn't make a habit of "recycling" characters – he's done it just four times in a five-decade career – and had already started writing Winding Up for Auckland Theatre Company when Barry and Gen emerged.
"It sounds pretentious, but I was writing this play – and had been working on it for quite a while - about a couple in their seventies living in an apartment, when the Conjugal Rites characters knocked on the door and wouldn't go away," he says.
"I did hesitate, just for a moment, but then I thought, 'this is silly because they're just perfect for what I'm writing about'. I don't know if it's good or bad; I suppose it depends on the point of view of some people. The big advantages are that you have established them [the characters], because it's a lot of work establishing a character, and then you know that they have grown-up children so the back story's there and it felt right."
The new realities of Gen and Barry's lives include failing health, family estrangements, the death of friends and questions about whether it's time to downsize and move.
"It's not a good pitch, is it?" Hall says. "If you write about a funeral, nobody will want to come ... It's an example of the sort of funeral no one wants to go to so, I hope, it's very funny as a result."
Long described as a chronicler of "the foibles of the middle class", Hall's Winding Up draws on many of the things he has experienced and/or witnessed first hand. However, he thinks this will be the last play he writes about old age.
"The next one might have to be in an after life! I don't think there's much left to cover."
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It doesn't mean that Hall, knighted last year for his services to theatre, will necessarily retire. He's written plays about politics, the education system, local history and even Denis Glover but says those were "punished" at the box office.
"If you look at my range; I don't know what's left, really. I've done musicals and political plays; plays where people talk to the audience only and not to each other so there's a big range there plus a huge amount of TV," he says. "I've done different but nobody came; you try something else out – and I don't regret it – but it doesn't sell. Because people go to the hits, they are unaware of the big variety of work that I have done."
Hall has another idea but isn't convinced it's quite right and, in the meantime, there's a pantomime to finish custom-tweaking for the Central Hawke's Bay town of Waipawa. While Hall may have seen his name in lights on the West End, Waipawa holds an equally fond place in his heart.
He was invited last year to see the Waipawa Musical and Drama Club perform his version of Jack and the Beanstalk.
"It's a small town, a small rural town, and we got there on a hot Sunday afternoon at the end of November," he recalls. "The car park was full and it's not a small theatre – it's a big town-hall theatre – and the place was packed for the last performance of five.
"It was everything I wanted pantomime to achieve in that the community was involved, there were masses of children and parents and grandparents in the audience and there was another 20 or so children on stage.
"I was so excited, I asked them if they wanted another one. So, we're going to do Cinderella this year but it's set in Waipawa because that's how panto should be – local and topical. I'm thrilled to bits, really, because if anybody wants to be in a pantomime then they can be; it should be a community thing and the joy is kids discovering how fun live performance and theatre can be ...
"The only problem is that there are two major elections coming up, so will Jacinda still be there and will Donald Trump still be? Those things I have to hold back because they may have to be changed at the last minute."
Winding up opens in Auckland on Tuesday, February 11 at the ASB Waterfront Theatre and runs until Sunday, March 8. It then tours Hastings, Hamilton, New Plymouth and Tauranga.