A DAY BY THE SEA, set in a seaside town in Dorset after the Second World War, is a moving and often funny depiction of shattered ambitions and personal isolation. Julian Anson, a civil servant approaching middle age, is demoted after learning that his appetite for hard work has only antagonized his superiors.

A DAY BY THE SEA opened on the West End in 1953 and ran for 386 performances in a production that starred Dame Sybil Thorndike, Irene Worth, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson. In New York, the play opened in 1955 with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn headlining the cast; Hunter’s only Broadway production.

In reviewing A DAY BY THE SEA, Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called Hunter “a writer with a lot of charm, skill and taste” and went on to call the play, “a subtle, civilized comedy… humorous, touching, gentle, wistful, and wise.” Atkinson continued to praise the playwright, comparing him to the masterful Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov:

“To call a playwright ‘Chekhovian’ today is to utter opprobrium and to consign him to the doghouse. For ‘Chekhovian’ has become a synonym for preciousness and languor. But the word is not applied to [N.C. Hunter] maliciously…For he is a reflective writer in his own right. The dawdling pace, the improvised narrative, the characterizations of people who associate but never blend, the random remarks—are methods of style that become him.”

N.C. Hunter (1908-1971) was one of the leading English dramatists of the 1950s and early 1960s. As theatrical revolution—spearheaded by John Osborne and his school of “angry young men”—exploded around him, Hunter kept his head down and provided moving portraits of a people questioning their own purpose in chaotic post-war England.

Norman Charles Hunter was born on September 18, 1908 in Derbyshire. Originally intending to follow in the footsteps of his father, a decorated Lieutenant Colonel, Hunter was educated at the Royal Military College. In 1930 he was commissioned in the Dragoon Guards but relinquished his position three years later, deciding to devote his life to literary pursuits. He found a day job on the staff of the BBC and began writing. In the years prior to the outbreak of World War II, Hunter produced six plays and four novels. His early plays, all farcical comedies, showed the promise of a true writer with a strong sense of craftsmanship.

Hunter returned to playwriting in 1947 after having served with the Royal Artillery during the war. Over the next four years, Hunter continued to develop his craft, discovering a voice that would be considered distinctly his own. In 1951, Hunter introduced A Picture of Autumn as the first in a series of plays that would establish his reputation as an “English Chekhov.” Mint presented the play’s American Premiere in 2013 in a production that Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal described as “so strong, that in a perfect world it would trigger a general revival of interest in Mr. Hunter’s work.”

Hunter’s major success came later in 1951: Waters of the Moon. Another nuanced portrayal of faded gentility struggling for survival, the play opened at the Theatre Royal in London with a cast that included Dame Sybil Thorndike and Dame Edith Evans. The production ran for 835 performances and established Hunter as one of Britain’s most popular dramatists.

Hunter’s firmly crafted and bittersweet comedies continued to garner successful West End runs, attracting many of the leading actors of the day. A Day by the Sea opened in 1953 and ran for 386 performances starring Dame Sybil Thorndike, Irene Worth, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson. In New York, A Day by the Sea opened in 1955 with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn headlining the cast; Hunter’s only Broadway production.

Hunter wrote four more plays in the decade preceding his death on April 19, 1971. By this time, England’s cultural revolution was in full swing. Hunter’s restrained naturalism fell out of fashion as playwrights like Joe Orton introduced flamboyance and controversy into the British theatre. In reviewing Mint’s 2013 production of A Picture of Autumn David Barbour of Lighting and Sound America wrote:

It’s strange to think that N. C. Hunter was more or less put out of business by the likes of John Osborne and his angry young colleagues. A Picture of Autumn is a far more playable work than, say, Look Back in Anger, which has looked distinctly arthritic in recent revivals. And for all its gentle manners, A Picture of Autumn, in its presentation of a country suffering profound spiritual drift, is as pointed and devastating as anything Osborne ever wrote. Say hello to N. C. Hunter, and let’s hope we hear from him again soon.

Mint Theater Company will happily oblige, beginning July 23rd, 2016