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Anne Kaufman On...You Can't Take It With You

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Told by and Idiot and The Royal Exchange Theatre's production of George S.Kaufman and Moss Hart's crazy Pulitzer Prize winning comedy You Can't Take It With You has just opened in Manchester to rave reviews. The writer's daughter Anne Kaufman was there on press night and we caught up with her to talk about her late father's work, including The Marx Brothers and the play's continued success.

What did you most enjoy about the performance?
I loved almost all of it. What’s really amazing is that it’s joyous, it makes you feel good and everything about it is ‘up’ and positive. I thought the cast were excellent, especially Christopher Benjamin who played Grandpa. If the actor doesn’t get it right, or or tries to be funny, it doesn’t work - I have seen it occasionally  that way. He has to be very real, and very sure of himself. He is the heart of the play. There were little tiny bits and pieces that I thought were over-done, like the snakes. In every performance I have ever seen , and there are many, they are locked in an aquarium, and that’s it - nothing more. That was the only thing that I thought they didn’t have to do.

Why do you think people should come and watch the show?
I think what has made it survive, since 1936 - I was only 5 then - is that it is funny, it is about love and it is about family ties and how important they are to people. Even the rich father near the end of the play catches on to what life can be, and I think that is important. It’s very positive - that is what I think has really kept it going all this time. It’s the third most popular play in Amateur American productions. My father was quite a stern man and the play is really about love, whether it is about love of playing the xylophone or a love of being a ballet dancer, and somehow I think people respond to that. There are no horrid people in it, no murders, and no people being miserable. 1935 was a long time ago and it has worked ever since.

What is it about the Royal Exchange theatre that suits the Broadway-style of the piece?
At first I thought “this is going to be weird” - people running in and out, and I thought it wouldn’t work, but it almost added to the play. I think people really get involved.

Where did your father get his inspiration from?
I don’t know, except that his father, my grandfather, was very like Grandpa in the play, who was gentle and nice. Where all the other people came from I have no idea. My father and Moss Hart wrote the play very quickly. Once they had the idea for it, it went along very fast. It won the Pulitzer Prize for the best play in 1936 and it was up against several rather important plays, and obviously it is really feel-good play, and that is what it is here. The audience laugh and love it. It shows things aren’t that awful - in America, at the time it came out, they were recovering from the Big Depression, and things were looking up. When things are looking down now, it works the other way.

Did he ever recall any stories about the Marx Brothers (who he wrote several musicals for) to you, and if so, what can you remember?
He was really only a friend with Harpo. I think he really liked working with them - he wrote good shows for them and the very famous movie, A Night at the Opera.

In your perspective, what was the biggest achievement of your father’s career?
I would think that one of the real highlights was the huge success of this play. I think my father would be astonished, I mean truly astonished, to know that the play gets done so often in amateur productions and schools, and in wonderful places like here, and theatres around America.

Anne Kaufman was speaking to Rebecca Cohen.

You Can't Take It With You runs until 14 January, 2012 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester


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