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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 442

more than just a kind of undergraduate cleverness and slickness to it -I
must say that
the impact of the National's now-famous production was a bit blurred for
me as a
result of having earlier in the Summer seen a German production of it in
Frankfurt-
one which was quite different from the British one (and presumably less "authentic,"
since rumor has it that the author himself did much of the directing of the
National's
version), but one which struck me, in its gorgeousness and austerity, its
odd wedding
of the Brechtian chronicle to the Strindberg dream-play, as much more haunting
and
evocative than the more traditional British approach.
The EDWARD 11, though, was more "Germanic" and Brechtian than Brecht
himself,
with a number of truly eye-opening novelties and innovations. The Edward
-John Stride,
the Rosencrantz of R. AND G. -was a tough little bulldog of a man, with no
trace
of effeminacy whatever in his bearing, and yet quite frankly and overtly
homosexual.
Gaveston was played as a muscular, red-haired Irish broth of a lad, a sort
of
combination of Christy Mahon and a Santa Monica beach-boy, yet when these
two
rather rugged virile types were reunited after a long separation Edward embraced
Gaveston passionately and kissed him, long and lingeringly, full on the mouth.
Similarly, in his final rejection of the Queen, Edward walks deliberately
up to her
and spits in her face - not once, but quite slowly, three times. When the
rebellion is
put down, the victorious soldiers haul in the horrifying realistic mangled
remnants
of the limbs and torsos of their defeated victims and leave them hanging
about
the lighted stage during the intermission. The Queen's decline into maundering
drunkenness and nymphomania is portrayed in a way which leaves little to
the imagination,
while Mortimer is here not a glamorous villain, but a rather fussy, pedantic,
balding
scholar, happiest among his books, in looks and manner rather like a suburban
bank-manager, but with an un-managerial propensity for brooding and melancholy.
It is a very long play - although Brecht did a lot of pruning of Marlowe's
chronological
untidiness, he winds up with as lengthy a script as the original - and not
without
its longeurs, particularly in the first half, but it develops a very real
"build,"
442        indeed, as the evening wears on, and the final result is a powerful
one.
HOME AND BEAUTY, a bit of Maugham trivia, has been roundly slated by the
critics,
who have wondered publicly why the National chose to resurrect Maugham, of
all
people, and why, of all possible Maugham plays, this one? But even HOME AND
BEAUTY was not treated quite as savagely as Natalie Guinzberg's THE ADVERTISEMENT,
reputedly offered solely as a vehicle for Joan Plowright (who had recently
complained
of the dearth of big parts for women in the modern theatre). Irving Wardle,
the critic of
the TIMES, damned the National's presentation of THE ADVERTISEMENT as "a
disgrace,"
and, while none of the others went quite that far, the "thumbs down"
verdict on it
wa's very nearly unanimous. As for its most recent play, Charles Wood's "H,"
opinions
have been rather mixed. What with the Royal Court taking up Edward Bond as
its
post-Osborne "house playwright," with three of his plays currently
in repertory there,
the suspicion is that the National may have selected Wood as its entrant
in this
undeclared war of the theatres. If so, the odds at the moment would appear
to be
heavily in favor of Bond, although the fact remains that the RSC's own built-in
"house
playwright" still leaves them both pretty well in the shade.
Apart from the two big companies and the Royal Court, struggling to redefine
itself somehow after the great Osborne-George Devine-Bill Gaskill days of
the late 50's
and early 60's, London theatre is rather predictable and, as I suggested
earlier,
not much different from Broadway. London's version of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway-
more dispersed and less insistent than Greenwich Village - lies in such places
as the
Round House (actually, a refurbished railroad round house), where Tony Richardson
is currently presenting Nicoll Williamson as Hamlet and where earlier in
the season
John Arden's THE HERO RISES UP briefly befuddled, titillated, and irritated
the critics
and the public; the Ambience, specializing in Americans, such as Ed Bullins
and
Ed Berman; and the Open Space, in Tottenham Court Road, presided over by
yet another
American abroad, Charles Marowitz.


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