It’s not often that Kansas City audiences are lucky enough to witness the North American premiere of a new British comedy in our backyard. It’s even less common for the playwright to make the monumental leap across the pond to share notes with cast and production staff. This is the case of the British playwright, author and journalist Jennifer Selway. The new production of her play, a British farce called ‘CONDO-MONIUM’ opened this week at the New Theater & Restaurant in Overland Park for an extended run.
Broadway World had the opportunity to enjoy a splendid hour getting to know this lovely, petite, funny lady in the conference room of the New Theatre. She has a very iconic, understated yet outrageous sense of humor. Jennifer Selway has spent most of her career as a serious reporter with publications spread across the political spectrum. She is also the mother of three, a published author, a secret pianist, and a mostly comedic playwright.
After graduating from University College London, Jennifer first came to New York as a film critic governess for ‘The New Yorker’ magazine.CONDO-MONIUMPlaywright Jennifer SelwayPhoto by Alan Portner
“It was a pretty peculiar job. We didn’t get along very well,” Jennifer said with a chuckle. “Then I went back to London and joined a new magazine called TIME OUT. It really was an icon. It was of her time; an anti-culture publication.”
TIME OUT still exists as a worldwide online brand covering entertainment and listing things to do in particular cities around the world. The London print edition ceased publication after fifty-four years in 2022.
Jennifer moved on to THE OBSERVER NEWSPAPERS, one of London’s most respected dailies as Entertainment Editor before settling down for a twenty-two year stint as Assistant Editor of THE DAILY EXPRESS. While her portfolio encompassed a wide range of subjects, Selway focused on the Commentary/Opinion sections of the paper until her retirement in 2018.
Selway is a lady with broad interests. You have written several books including one on “The Making Of Horror Movies”. She’s not that she likes to be scared as much as she is fascinated by the process and the people involved in making the genre.
While still in high school at age 15, Jennifer took a summer job as a set designer at a local theater. She told me she was in awe of all the famous people. Hence, she caught the theater bug early on and made a lifelong friend of hers in the person of John Plews. Mr. Plews became a prominent London artistic director and remains so to this day.
About ten years ago, John invited his friend Jennifer to collaborate on a stage play. The result had the unlikely title of “There’s a Guy Who Works at the Chip Shop, He Claims He’s Elvis”. This was the start of a successful series of shows. “Wallis … A Certain Person” tells the story of an American divorcee and her 1930s romance with the then Prince of Wales. ‘Treating Odette’ shares the true friendship of a WWII British spy and the actress who played her in the movies.” Next comes ‘Summer In The City’, a musical Juke Box.
“CONDO-MONIUM” is a getaway to Selway. It started life as a ‘Flat Out’ in the UK. The name change and significant script changes occurred due to language differences in the two countries. As Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once remarked, “We are two nations separated by a common language.”
The play was written due to Selway’s love of an underappreciated theater genre called ‘Farce’. Farces are supposed to be inappropriate, happen on the worst possible day of your life, and make you laugh so hard that tears run down your face.
Selway fondly remembers a British TV comedian named Brian Rix from childhood. He was famous for his live ‘Farce’ broadcast live from the Whitehall Theatre. They were very physical and very funny, but also so current that they didn’t age very well. This is sexy, situational; drop your pants kind of humor.
Jennifer Selway has always been the entertainer at school. She thinks writing plays is so much fun; she should have done it much sooner. “CONDO-MONIUM” was born out of her desire to write an up-to-date farce. The show is a bunch of sight gags and one-line jokes that came to Jennifer in a flurry.
“It’s so hard to do well,” she said. “I’d sit on the floor with pieces of paper that represented costumes and people and move the pieces in and out. And suddenly you know you’ve done it,” she laughs. It “works” and brings you back to the creative moment.
“CONDO-MONIUM” continues at the New Theater through April 8.
Jennifer Selway returns home to the UK to begin her masters program in ‘Medieval Literature’ at Birkbeck College. She this is a lady with an insatiable curiosity and maybe she plays for all seasons.