Make and Break

Michael Frayn
Part of The Judi Dench Collection
(2007)

Make and Break is a television version of the 1980 stage comedy that starred Leonard Rossiter and Prunella Scales when it was directed by Frayn regular Michael Blakemore in the West End.

In this 1986 production, Michael Darlow directs Dame Judi Dench and Robert Hardy, with a host of well-known faces in support. Hardy plays John Garrard, an obsessive managing director who is more interested in the walls and doors that his company sells than anything else, even his devoted secretary, the workaholic Mrs Rogers. We catch up with this perpetual worrier at a trade exhibition in Frankfurt, as terrorists symbolically disrupt the city with bombs.

The first half shows the salesmen at work with Ronald Hines and Martin Jarvis demonstrating different styles before we get a final master class from Garrard himself.

While apparently blind to anything apart from his business, following a colleague's suggestion Garrard invites the ugly duckling Mrs R. to dinner.

All seems to be going swimmingly until a spanner is thrown into the works by the arrival of a Hungarian with those Iron Curtain false teeth that you do not see any more. While he offers an opportunity to open up the Eastern European market, the canny businessman is only willing to do so at a price.

A night of drinking turns into one of frequently delayed passion until not one but two heart attacks inevitably change the lives of all.

Make and Break allows its two stars to provide sensitive comic performances with good support from a cast that also includes Frank Windsor and John Finch playing wily businessmen who know how to survive in a cut-throat milieu.

Michael Frayn has achieved something rare in bringing business to the stage convincingly. Not only does he portray an overseas sales conference with conviction but then spices it up with a brief fling between two lonely people. For Mrs Rogers, it is a dream come true but become something closer to a nightmare fraught with problems that eventually lead to a hilarious sequence with an East German doctor that is undoubtedly the play's highlight.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher