Theatre in Film: A Chorus of Disapproval (1989)

Written by Ashleigh Gardner

September 9, 2016

Welcome to Part IV in Performer Stuff’s Theatre in Film series. In this installment, we feature films from 1989 to 1995 that focus on interpersonal relationships within theatre — the love, the complications, and the comedy that inevitably occur when actors, directors, playwrights, and technicians share the same space for extended periods of time. We begin Part IV with the obscure 1989 UK romantic comedy, A Chorus of Disapproval, based on the play of the same name by Alan Ayckbourn.

The video below is not a trailer, but it’s a great depiction of the comical, awkward tone of the film. (The trailer is currently unavailable, as many are for obscure, hidden gems like this one.)

A Chorus of Disapproval (1989)

Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Prunella Scales, Jenny Seagrove, and Sylvia Syms

What happens:

Guy Jones (Jeremy Irons), a well-meaning and gentle widower, has been transferred by his company to Scarborough, Liverpool, England. Upon his arrival, he sees an advertisement for an audition for the local theatre’s production of The Beggar’s Opera. After an awkward audition with the show’s director, Dafydd (pronounced “DAV-ith”, played by Anthony Hopkins), Guy is cast in a small role, goes out to drink with the cast, is invited back to Dafydd’s home, and meets Dafydd’s wife, Hannah (Prunella Scales). Guy and Hannah, not expecting their attraction, begin an affair. In rehearsals, they are smitten with each other until Fay (Jenny Seagrove) seduces Guy during a dinner party.

In the middle of Guy’s two affairs, he attempts to avoid involving himself in a conflict of interest — it is rumored that GRV, his firm, is expanding. If the rumor is true, the land directly adjacent to GRV that fellow-actor Ian Hubbard (Gareth Hunt) wants to buy could be worth a lot of money. (Ian would buy the land, then sell it to GRV for a higher price.) Ian drops his large role in the play as bribery for Guy’s information, something Guy never asks of Ian. When Guy doesn’t deliver on news of the business collapsing (which the newspaper covers on the night of final dress), Ian, in revenge, tells Dafydd about Guy’s affair with Hannah. After the performance, a guilty Guy leaves town.

Why it matters:

If you’ve been in a play, chances are you’ve probably had a “showmance” — a small, amorous relationship with a cast member that lasts the length of rehearsals and performance (and sometimes after). As actors, we must be emotionally and physically vulnerable as part of our craft, and this openness leads to intense trust and comfortability among castmates. It’s when these connections intensify that showmances blossom. Sometimes they’re innocent — hanging out during lunch or dinner breaks, linking arms, lounging in the green room together.

And then there are the serious showmances. Clandestine make-out sessions. Illicit affairs… et cetera, et cetera.

A Chorus of Disapproval shows audiences that theatre isn’t just about people acting, singing, and dancing onstage (while that is a lot of it). It showcases how relationships, specifically romantic ones, can develop between those closest to us in a show. In the case of Guy and Hannah, their relationship is, like Guy’s problems with Ian Hubbard, a conflict of interest — Dafydd is Hannah’s husband and Guy’s director. To fraternize so closely with the wife of the theatre’s leader is nothing short of dangerous, not to mention unethical, no matter how much Guy and Hannah love each other.

Interestingly, the film uses The Beggar’s Opera to help frame the company’s experiences. John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch wrote The Beggar’s Opera in 1728, and though the plot is long and complicated, suffice it to say that the story includes secret marriages, high-class sexually eager older women, a large transfer of money, and dubious business dealings, all elements in A Chorus of Disapproval. Additionally, the film uses the opera’s various musical numbers in their own context, giving new life and meaning to both the movie’s scenes and the opera’s music.

This film is the first featured in Part IV of “Theatre in Film”. See below for the others in Part IV.


Want to start with Part I? Begin with 42nd Street (1933).
Miss Part II? Check out The Band Wagon (1953).
Need a refresh for Part III? Start with our feature on All That Jazz (1979).

Ashleigh Gardner received her AA in Theatre/Drama/Dramatic Arts from Valencia College and her Bachelors Degree in English Literature and Masters Degree in Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies from the University of Central Florida. She is a playwright, an actor, and’s Editor. 
Thumbnail Image from A Chorus of Disapproval. Copyright © 1989 Curzon Films.