Theatre is a collaborative art, and the obituary of Peter Wilson reveals a man who played many roles – performer, producer, director, saviour of the Theatre Royal Norwich. But his greatest hit, The Woman in Black, was adapted from Susan Hill’s novel not by Robin Herford, as the article had it initially, but by Stephen Mallatratt, a gifted actor and playwright whose obituary appeared in 2004.
In 1987 Herford (standing in for Alan Ayckbourn as director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough) commissioned a seasonal entertainment from Mallatratt, then the resident playwright, who turned the Scarborough-born writer’s ghost story into a scary play, which Herford directed. Wilson had the vision to take this Christmas stocking filler, performed in the theatre’s cafe, and in 1989 transfer it to the West End – where it ran for more than 30 years.
Mallatratt had joined the theatre-in-the-round as an actor, but was soon writing plays for the company as well. Ayckbourn described An Englishman’s Home as a near-perfect first play. He was later to become a prolific member of the Coronation Street scriptwriting team, and wrote the much-admired episode in which Bet Lynch left the Street for the last time – in a taxi.
Ayckbourn had recruited Mallatratt after seeing him acting in rep at Ipswich. “He was tall, slim, blond, good looking,” he observed. “Despite these handicaps, he struggled through.”