Thursday, July 09, 2009

Two for the price of one.

The plays were Chekhov’s Swansong, where an elderly clown drunkenly regrets his failure to have been a serious actor, whilst an aged prompt - the only person left in the deserted theatre - tries to comfort him. Gradually one realised that the old soak was Peter Bowles and one marvelled at his ability to play two demanding leading parts in one afternoon. But The Browning Version was the thing for me. Since producing Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea and Separate Tables in another life, he has been one of my favourite playwrights and no-one does desperate women like himself. He was gay you know.


There was a 20 minute interval between the plays – surely necessary for Peter Bowles to transform himself from an old drunk into the impeccable school master Crocker-Harris. We were wedged right in the centre of the stalls and I was telling Margaret how the beautiful decoration on the theatre walls reminded me of the Taj Mahal when - oh joy – there was Sir Peter Hall- looking more like Fu Manchu than ever, returning to his seat at the rear. It's years since I last saw him and he has aged quite a bit but the afternoon proved he has lost none of his talent to get actors to be amazing. The luck of the draw- one of our ladies was sitting near him and got her programme signed.


Some of you may remember Michael Redgrave giving the performance of his career in the film with Jean Kent and Nigel (sex on legs) Patrick. When Jean and Nigel had their illicit affair, it was steamy windows all round. Crocker-Harris is an embittered, school master who feels his life has been a failure. His health is failing; his marriage is failing and with the derision of his pupils life is very bleak until a young boy, Taplow, one of his pupils, gives him a present which makes him think perhaps he hasn’t been a complete washout His wife resents her husband’s lack of success and is having an affair with a young master.


To complete his despair Crocker Harris is being forced to retire with the probability of no pension. The unexpected kindness from one of his students touches him deeply. Margaret had wondered if The Browning Version was to do with Robert Browning. Come to think of it there was a Browning connection; Taplow buys Crocker-​Harris the Brown­ing ver­sion of the Agamem­non, and inscribes, in Greek, the ded­i­ca­tion “God from afar looks gra­ciously on a gentle master.”


I love it when a combination of the skill of the writer and the art of the actors make me want to shout and encourage or hiss and boo. I didn’t I promise you but there were a few gasps. It is a heart- breaking story of remorse and atonement and we both felt transported by the end of the play when we helped to raise the roof. We walked down to the coach in that dream like state that happens when one has been touched by something magical on stage.


PS Noticing the peg top skirt, fitted bosom, silk stockings and heels reminded me of how very sexy our formal dress was in the forties before the New Look. The air positively sizzled with it.

15 comments:

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, it sounds like it was a glorious afternoon, my dear. I remember the movie quite well and what a touching story it was...Michael Redgrave, as I recall, was very wonderful....
This double bill sounds like something I would have LOVED!
It does my heart good to hear about your Theatre excursions, Pat...It is one of the things I miss most being confined as I am...I use to go see Everything....So, I live vicariously through your lovely afternoons in Bath and other places....More, More, More..lol!

Many moons ago, Peter Hall wanted to bring "SPOON RIVER" to London....It didn't happen, I'm sorry to say. It's great to hear he is still at the top of his game.

Jimmy Bastard said...

Peter Bowles... a gentlemens gentleman.

PI said...

Naomi: wouldn't that have been wonderful - with Peter Hall. I've noticed he often revises what he did in the fifties so maybe there is still time. He was born the same year as me and is Scorpio - like MTL but I never fancied him:)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I forgot to answer your question about the Photo on my sideboard or whatever one might call,it..It's my mother when she was in her late teens or very early twenties....! I love that picture of her.

Peter Hall had not directed SPOON RIVER, but did come to see it back in 1963...And there was talk that he wanted to bring it over to London, in tact---with all of us and as presented on Broadway---He was acting more as a Producer actually, but....it didn't happen. That would have been something!

Interesting that you didn't "fancy" him, but had the opportunity....just not your type, my dear? (lol) I never got to meet him.

R. Sherman said...

Sounds like fun. I'd not heard of either of those two plays but must look for them at some of the off-beat local theaters.

Cheers.

PI said...

Jimmy: always impeccably dressed. I hadn't realised he was much more than a light comedy actor.

Naomi: there was strong likeness with your mother I think.
Peter Hall attracted many beautiful women - quite a few married him. Pisceans and Scorpioeans are meant to be attracted to each other - but not in this case:) I'm sure he wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

Randall: I think it is an unusual combination. My favourite was The Browning Version.

Mickle in NZ said...

Oh my goodness - what an incredible evening of acting and theatre. To see Peter Bowles in two so different parts, and played so well.

So very happy that you got to see them with Margaret, so very saddened that your MTL couldn't,
and completely in awe that you had the opportunity.

Sincere thank yous for sharing, Peter Bowles still looks so handsome - hope you got to enjoy some of his voice,

Michelle in Wellington, xxx (Zebbycat sound asleep!! , hooray for now)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Oh, how well you captured the mood of the evening.

I long, LONG to see a good play and be in that dream-like state afterwards. There are some experiences that tv can never bring, no matter how good the story is.

Guyana-Gyal said...

And yes, you're right about the forties look. It just might come back in fashion one day.

PI said...

Michelle and Zebby: you know I think he outshone Michael Redgrave who got lots of awards in the film. Peter's performance was very moving and I wanted to rush on stage and comfort him.

GG: it happens too rarely but one treasures the experience. John Gielgud in Ivanov in the fifties - a matinee. I always meant to write and tell him how his performance had affected me - I never did and now it is too late,
The fashion will return - it always does - with slight adjustments so you have to buy again.

Kanani said...

What a great recollection of your day, and also a great insight into the play. Anyway, I really enjoyed this, Pat!

PI said...

Kanani: thank you:)

Kevin Musgrove said...

What is it about Nigel Patrick? I can't see it myself, but my mum always goes all Wembley at the knees about him.

savannah said...

I just added the film version with Sir Redgrave and the 1994 version with Albert Finney to my Netflix queue! I'm looking forward to watching both, sugar and Thank You!
xoxoxoo ;~D

PI said...

Kevin: I'd be a bit concerned if you could. It's the sardonic leer for me. Glad I'm not the only one. Your mum's got good taste.

Savannah: that's great - I'm guessing Netflix gives you the ability to watch it. I'll be very interested in what you think of it.
The final speech of Crocker-Harrris was written for the film only but it works both ways.