Continuing with its reputation for placing cutting edge drama alongside popular restoration comedies, The Orange Tree Theatre is getting ready to stage a new play, Previous Convictions.

When Tony, an aid worker returns home from almost 20 years in South America, he finds England has changed beyond all recognition.

As the lead character and his sister get to know each other all over again they find themselves renewing an old conflict about the origins of their family's wealth, however, the argument is put into perspective, if only for a moment, by the return of a disowned brother.

Previous Convictions was written by Richmond-based Alan Franks, who as a journalist has written extensively for The Times Magazine. His novella Going Over won a number of awards and his previous plays include The Edge Of The Land and The Mother Tongue.

So what was his starting point for this particular play?

"I overheard a snippet of a conversation which was about a brother who was living abroad and had run into trouble with the tax authorities in the country he was living in and had returned.

"So I took the initial situation but that was all. The rest of the play when he returns home is entirely fictional.

"Obviously I can't say too much about the rest of the plot because that would give the story away, but basically when he returns he and his sister start to argue about the family's wealth and how it was acquired. Although they are not very rich, just well off."

This intriguing slice of sibling squabbling was written with no prior agenda or polemic idea. Unlike some playwrights, Alan has no desire to preach or force a message down the audience's throat.

This, however, has not always been the case and Alan seems to have learnt from past mistakes.

"About 20 years ago I did some very, angry-young-man dramas on the fringe and looking back they were a mistake. I am not the sort of writer happy making sweeping comments on society. I see my role as that of a facilitator.

"I invent the characters and then let them speak through me and hope they are able to tell a story and provide a conclusion to what has happened in the previous two hours."

Although a meticulous writer, once the play goes into production Alan sees his job as being done.

"I went to the initial read-through with the cast but that's as far as it goes. I am really excited about letting go of the piece.

"After all, it is a collaboration and a director and cast who are doing their job will know the characters better than the author.

"I once had a play on called The Mother Tongue, which starred Prunella Scales and I thought I would make myself useful and turn up for the rehearsals, but actually I was redundant and ended up making the tea."

Previous Convictions may be a work written in the 21st century, yet its themes of family discord are timeless. It opens at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond on April 6.

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