Written by Tom Stoppard with music by André Previn

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Ian McKellen in the role of Alexander

Royal Festival Hall, London

1 July 1977


Words from Ian McKellen

EGBDF are the notes of the lines on the treble clef, though its mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, being a Tom Stoppard title, is wittily and doubly relevant to his play about a Russian orchestra that gets mixed-up with the fate of an unjustly incarcerated political prisoner. That was my role, based on the real life case of a man who attacked the Soviet government for imprisoning a felow-dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. When Bukovsky slipped into our rehearsals one afternoon in London, the juxtaposition of dramatic fiction and actual fact, rendered me speechless and we abandoned rehearsals for tea.

The play was a luxurious folly, or would have been had it been confined to its single performance at the Royal Festival Hall, with the Royal Shakespeare Company actors and the London Symphony Orchestra. We recorded a version later for BBC TV and there has been many a revival, albeit with smaller bands, in London and elsewhere.

The conductor for the first performance was the composer of the play's incidental music, André Previn. He had been late delivering the score because of an injury, which meant it had been completed while André was flat on his back on a day-bed. Because the Orchestra (a character in the play) does not have a conductor in charge, Andre was again almost prone, out of sight of the audience during performance, crouched and conducting from below stage level.

The play has not been judged one of Stoppard's best but it is the one perhaps closest to his heart, which he wears openly on his sleeve in the passionate irony of the longer speeches. — Ian McKellen, April 2008

Comments and Reviews


"Virtually assaulting the audience with a cascade of words and a conspicuous display of intellect, Stoppard, in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, contrasts the circumstances of a political prisoner and a mental patient in a Soviet insane asylum, to question the difference, if any, between free will and the freedom to conform. The situation, in which the mental patient 'hears' an orchestra, is both chilling and funny as we are introduced to two men who happen to share the same name, are incarcerated in the same cell, and are attended by the same doctor." — from the 1978 Grove Press edition. 

In 1974, composer André Previn approached playwright Tom Stoppard with the idea of creating a play that would feature a live symphony orchestra on stage. Two years later, Stoppard found a suitable subject when he met Victor Fainberg, a Russian political dissident. Fainberg had been arrested in 1968, diagnosed by state psychiatrists as insane, and confined for five years in the notorious Soviet prison/hospital system. By 1976 he had left Russia and was working to secure the release of fellow-dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. Stoppard writes of Bukovsky: "He was not a man to be broken or silenced; an insistent, discordant note, one might say, in an orchestrated society." Thanks to an international campaign, Bukovsky was released and sent to the West in 1976. He attended a rehearsal of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in June 1977. The play is dedicated to him and to Victor Fainberg.


Banner photo: Theatre Poster


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