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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism
(1969)

Rosenberg, James
Notes and discussion: looking for the third world: theatre report from England,   pp. [437]-444 PDF (6.6 MB)


Page 440

to be truly a novelty, for, in a theatre world where nearly every director
can be
traced back to Stanislavsky or Brecht or Artaud (or perhaps all three), Nunn
appears
to come from an entirely different world, and one pretty much overlooked
in modern
theatre practice, that of Reinhardt - and, through him, Craig and Appia.
Nunn's
productions, in other words, are not just intellectual puzzles and/or moral
tracts
(which is not to say that they are lacking in either of these qualities),
they are also feasts
for the eye and ear as well, great splashing acknowledgments that the theatre
appeals
not only to the mind and the spirit but also, and most directly, to the senses.
I have rarely, if ever, seen such beautifully lit, sumptuously costumed,
brilliantly
choreographed productions as at Stratford this past year, and, while some
strait-laced
critics of the old school may -tsk! tsk!" at all this foolishness and
frippery, I must
confess that, in a world of theatre where plays seem to be getting more and
more dry
and spare and self-pitying and bitter (cf. Osborne's HOTEL IN AMSTERDAM),
this kind
of sumptuousness and panache comes like a delightful blast of fresh air.
I know
I shall not soon forget the opening of Nunn's KING LEAR, with its drumrolls,
trumpet-calls, flaming torches, chanting, and Lear being borne in within
a huge,
portable pavilion, like some ancient idol out of a civilization that seemed
as much Aztec
or Babylonian as it did Celtic, which was undoubtedly all wrong, in one sense,
but
in another sense terribly right, for it placed the play where it really belongs,
not in the
world of prehistoric Britain, or even of Shakespear's time, for that matter,
but in the
world of fairy-tale and myth and pure theatre. That the rest of the play,
after this
opening sequence, was pretty much of a letdown, was not altogether the fault
of the
director, but part of the current story of the RSC, which is that, with a
sort of wholesale
abdication by the great names having taken place, it is essentially a young
and
inexperienced company, most notably lacking in the elder actors of the Olivier
and
Gielgud stature, so that the major tragedies at the moment lie outside its
scope.
Its Lear was an actor named Eric Porter (who also essayed Dr. Faustus), and,
while
he is an actor with an interestingly dry, harsh, very narrow sort of range,
he is certainly
not at the moment quite up to the demands of roles like this. I intend no
undue
440       flippancy when I say that he played Faustus like a born Malvolio,
and that his Lear,
got up in bald pate, wispy beard, putty nose and white nightgown, resembled,
in voice
and stature as well, a cross between Father Christmas and Justice Shallow;
the
creaky, querulous irritability of old age was there, all right, but little
if any of the
great blasted oak on the heath, the "authority" that Kent claimed
to have seen in his
visage. On the other hand, this was the first time I ever found myself believing
in,
or even interested in, Edgar, with a most promising young actor named Alan
Howard
delineating the progress from a kind of doltish naivete through a feigned
madness
to a shrewd and hard-won maturity in a way that made the play, for me, far
more the
story of Edgar than it was of Lear or Gloucester. (To give some idea of the
flexibility of
some of the younger members of this company, Howard also played the comic
Benedick
in MUCH ADO and a ragingly homosexual Achilles in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
with equal skill.)
THE FAUSTUS, directed by one of the RSC's numerous visiting firemen, Clifford
Williams,
was rather a mistake, I thought, its main feature being a Helen of Troy who
strolled
about the stage clad only in body makeup and vaseline, but Eric Porter's
Dr. Faust
seemed as sniffily disapproving of this as of all the other visions in the
play; and
why not, since who can be truly moved by a stage full of hopping, creeping,
masked
and costumed Mardi Gras grotesques representing allegories of evil, in a
world where
the daily headlines scream of real evil in Biafra and Viet Nam and Prague
and Chicago
and Harlem? That Marlowe's fragment is structurally pretty badly flawed is
by now
a commonplace among critics, which means that it is up to the director to
do something
about it, and nothing of this sort was attemped in this production; it also
helps
for Faustus to have a "mighty opposite," and Terence Hardiman's
Mephistopheles, gotten
up in monk's habit, was so dull and bland and ordinary as to fade into the
scenery
most of the time. I suppose the idea was to avoid the melodramatic and operatic
cliche of the bearded and horned villain clad in red tights, and perhaps
to illustrate
what Hannah Arendt has called "the banality of evil," but this
is one of those


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