Wife of the late Stephen Jeffreys, Annabel Arden is a director, actor and teacher, acclaimed both nationally and internationally. Her distinguished career encompasses not only acting and directing, but also opera, broadcast and the devising of new work. She has directed at The Arcola, The Almeida Theatre, and The National Theatre. Her opera work is seen regularly at Glyndebourne and Opera North. Further to this, Annabel co-founded the renowned Theatre de Complicité in 1983. Here, she shares her insight into the play which launched Stephen Jeffreys’ accomplished career, and reflects upon the poignancy and humour of Valued Friends thirty years on.
I met Stephen in 1997, so I have never seen a production of Valued Friends. For those who did see the two celebrated productions, it is very often their favourite play and they all recall how hilarious, sad and incredibly prophetic the play is. When reading the script, I laugh out loud. I am genuinely astonished at how relevant the play is to today’s economic and political climate, even while perfectly capturing the time and location of Earls Court in the 1980s.
When I attended a read-through earlier this year, under Michael Fentiman’s direction, I was even more
intrigued to witness how strongly it affected the audience emotionally. All the characters are bursting with life and surprises, and their stories resonate with us. The tension builds remorselessly and is punctured by shafts of laughter at exactly the right moments.
I was also delighted to find the female characters so acutely drawn and their stories so empowered. Stephen was ahead of the game there, but in a completely unostentatious way. The title holds the clue: Valued Friends is an understated compression of witty irony and an expression of the play’s heart – the true value of relationships.
Stephen was an incredible observer of people. He loved women, had a very musical ear and had an unbelievable memory. This play is a most forensic, yet joyful and compassionate representation of life both as he lived it and as he observed his generation living it.
Stephen’s sons and I are thrilled that there is now a chance to see it on stage for the first time in 30 years. And Stephen, that most generous of men, would be happy to know that the play which launched his career will be the first of his plays to be staged after his death, and so launch his lasting legacy.