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Skios: Michael Frayn, Charleston Festival, Charleston, June 2
No pressure for Michael Frayn, as he was introduced by Virginia Nicholson with a guarantee of a full refund if we didn’t laugh.
At Charleston to talk about his latest novel, Frayn’s reputation is for the farcical – he has shaped his wry perception of life’s absurdities into novels, plays (famously Noises Off) and a column for The Guardian. Even Lynne Truss, Frayn’s enviable interviewer, was in the shadow of his self-effacing wit, although she attracted plenty of titters herself, not least for daring to bring a Powerpoint presentation to the marquee.
Skios explores what happens when one Oliver Fish arrives at a Greek airport and randomly decides to pretend to a taxi driver that he is the Dr Norman Wilfred on the placard. We take each other at face value, explained Frayn. People present themselves in a way which seems plausible. In fact, have we checked him out? Do we know he’s the “real” Frayn?
We know Frayn as funny, yet he claimed to be slow-witted. To the member of the audience who suggested this was disingenuous, he shared his late father’s nickname for him as a boy – Weary Willy.
There’s no strategy to Frayn’s career. He has ideas, he writes them – or not. He has a good editor who takes out all the unfunny bits. He begged us not to ask what he meant “on page 97” of his book, because he really would have no idea. Was this Frayn having a laugh?
But most importantly we were laughing – Charleston’s takings were safe.