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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 7 March 2020

"A Life in the Theatre" by Tyrone Guthrie

I hadn't heard of this gentleman; I had muddled him up with Tyrone Power the film star (they are cousins). Mr Guthrie was a small-time actor and important theatre director and producer from the 1920s until the early 1960s; he also developed talk radio in the very early days of the BBC, and possibly produced the very first drama serial for Canadian radio. He had an influential life and he worked with an enormous number of much better known people including Robert Donat, Flora Robson ("I ... persuaded Flora Robson to return to the stage. She had quit in despair after a series of wretchedly insignificant parts followed by a long period out of work, and was doing welfare work in a factory."; C 4), Edith Evans, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Laurence Olivier, Robert Morley, Emlyn Williams, Sybil Thorndike, Alec Guinness (as Hamlet), John Mills, Jack Hawkins, Andrew Cruickshank, Ralph Richardson (as Bottom and Othello), Vivien Leigh (as Titania), Margaret Leighton, Anthony Quayle, Leonard Bernstein, and many others. His influence included him working on the first Edinburgh festival. Yet the memoir is modest; he seems genuinely more interested in giving other people credit and in explaining the technical issues involved with staging plays. This was a very interesting memoir from a man who seems unjustly forgotten.

The Old Vic, where, under the management of Lilian Baylis, Mr Guthrie spents several seasons, was opened in 1818 as the Royal Coburg, named after Prince Leopold, the husband of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and the Heir Presumptive. When she died in childbrith Leopold left Britain (having declined the throne of Greece, he later became the first King of the Belgians)' the theatre subsequently became known as the Royal Victoria after Leopold's niece (and the Queen).

Some delightful moments:

  • "My mechanical capacities are a little limited. I can pump a bicycle tyre; switch an electric light on - and off; and, if I count twelve slowly, take a deep breath, and clear the mind of cant, I can recall whether, if you turn it clockwise, you can make a screw go in, or out." (C 3)
  • "Who would want caviar if it were not only cheaper and more available than cod, but it appeared at every meal; if it were not merely familiar, but inescapable?" (C 3)
  • "A good journalist must discipline himself to write intelligibly and fast ... but I can conceive that in knocking the nonsense out of you, it may knock out much of the sensibility too." (C 5)
  • "None of Hamlet's scenes demand a very close rapport between the participants. Most of the psychological material is conveyed in soliloquy." (C 5)
  • "Just as doctors prescribe bread pills in Latin and a handwriting totally baffling to every human eye except that of the particular pharmacist with whom they are hand in glove; just as musicians have to say fortissimo instead of 'very loud' so stage-lighting experts like to make use of a highly technical vocabulary" (C 5)
  • "Like most ardent young people ... I thought it my duty to make people like what I liked, I even thought that if I tried hard enough the attempt would succeed." (C 5)
  • "once God had told Miss Baylis what to do, there was really no point in opposing their joint will." (C 8)
  • "Pommer looked agonized but grimly determined, like Prometheus after the eagle had pecked out his gizzard for the millionth time." (C 9)
  • "If people say a thing is good for you, it is merely a ruse to induce you to undergo a thoroughly unpleasant experience." (C 10)
  • "No one thinks well of a medicine that tastes nice; to be good for you it must taste filthy and if possible smell filthy, and look filthy too; disinfectants must sting; a good book must be a penance to read - one of the reasons why the Bible is printed as it is." (C 10)
  • "On the opening night ... one of the actors got lost and flew about in a frenzy through room after room, pre-set on a turntable. The actors on stage, making up lines and pretending to look for their lost colleague in the garden, were startled to see him crawl through a fireplace." (C 11)
  • "One of the charms of a tall tale is its tallness." (C 13)
  • "Personality - the great euphemism for sex appeal" (C 15)
  • "The whole effect was like Chopin scored for military band." (C 15)
  • "At its best, grand opera is the greatest experience the theatre can offer to an audience. ... Opera is such a great, grinding, galumphing behemoth n- so much energy goes into battling with the multitude of people concerned, the masses of scenery, the mountainous heaps of coronets, riding boots, fans, goblets, scimitars and rosaries that the purpose of it all gets lost." (C 16)
  • "Feeling rather as I imagine some of the less gregarious animals must have felt on the first night in the Ark." (C 17)
  • "It is extraordinary to what an extent British life is still dominated by the traditions and opinions of a numerically tiny upper class. ... The Times is the house magazine of quite a small, exclusive, but overwhelmingly influential club. To 'get anywhere' in England ... it is still almost a prerequisite that you subscribe the 'establishment' conventions of speech, manners and morals. If you do not, then you must make your way ... by enacting, rather cleverly, the character role of an Outsider." (C 18)
  • "I for one do not subscribe to the belief that there exists a vast body of unproduced masterpieces just because all the metropolitan managers, agents, producers, actors and directors are too dull to know a good thing when they see it." (C 19)
  • "She lacked the push, the restless demonic energy which alone lifts a player into the first rank." (C 19)
  • "She liked the life of a touring, or provincial, player: knitting and companionable chats in draughty, grimy dressing-rooms, the brightly lit two hours of painted fantasy, then the long trudge through the rain, under the railway arch, past the gasworks, round by the Sacred Heart convent to the digs and cocoa in a Thermos." (C 19)
  • "It was a sparrow slum. By day it was comparatively quiet; but towards evening, when the business sparrows came back home, their love life become most obtrusive. Boy sparrow would meet girl and pursue her all over our stage. They were impervious to fear, or for that matter shame. Scenes of unbridled bird sexuality made the life of Richard III seem very anaemic and suburban. These dear little feathered friends would not have hesitated to make away with their nephews. Why, they had no compunction whatever about the death of their own offspring. As the weeks wore on and their eggs hatched, the nestlings fell to their death on the concrete floor below literally by the dozen." (C 21)
  • "In schoolmastering or the Church, the labourer is in a seller's market. You can get a job unless you are patently half-witted or have a record blacker than even the hardest-pressed employer can overlook." (C 22)


A fascintating and very readable memoir of A Life in the Theatre. March 2020; 314 pages

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