Sunday, September 20, 2009

Random Thoughts

There’s a new production of Rattigan’s splendid play ‘Separate Tables’ which I first saw in the presence of Queen Soraya and her husband the Sha of Persia. In the fifities they were the most glamorous couple and very popular over here. ‘Queen So Radiant’ one newspaper dubbed her. From where I was sitting they were both in my eye line and it’s a testament to Rattigan that my eyes were glued to the stage.

The play consists of two one act plays set in a fusty hotel in Bournemouth and separated by about eighteen months in time. The first ’Table by the Window’ is about the destructive, passionate relationship between a disgraced politician and his ex wife – an ageing model. The second ‘Table by the Window’ is a moving account of the gentle relationship between a repressed, misfit spinster and a retired army officer.

Apparently in the new production the second play is a version which was never performed in Rattigan’s lifetime because of his fear of being exposed as a homosexual. In the original version the major was convicted of molesting women in a local cinema. According to Charles Spencer in the new version:

‘”Major Pollock” has been bound over for soliciting men on the esplanade, an idea partly inspired by the notorious arrest of John Gielgud in a public lavatory.’

Spencer thinks this works better but I remember Sibyl’s (the spinster) shock and horror when she read about the molesting of women in the local rag and it was wholly convincing. Soon after Gielgud’s arrest I passed him in the street as I walked to my agent’s office. He was wearing a trilby and with his head down looked a broken man. Those days were very different and it could have ended his career. Happily he survived and went on to be acknowledged as one of our greatest actors.

In the fifties the two main parts in each play were acted by Eric Portman and Margaret Leighton – wildly different characters and realised perfectly by both actors. Margaret Leighton was congratulated on her make-up after changing from the ex model to the spinster – she was told she looked so plain and she confessed she wasn’t wearing any. In the film version the acting didn't come anywhere near the stage play IMO.

A few years later I directed the play in the theatre club but used different leads for each play. I had fun casting the eccentric old dears who lived in the hotel with our own old dears. It worked very well except for the night they had a bracing glass of sherry before going on stage and then proceeded to address everybody by the wrong names, I had kittens but the audience didn’t appear to notice and the old dears learned an important lesson. Afterwards fine – before never.


Eryl Shields said...

I have not seen this play, or even heard of it – I'm so provincial – but it sounds great. I do wish I lived nearer to the centre of things.

PI said...

Eryl: you're young - give yourself time.

Charlie said...

It's so sad, the Persia of the beautiful Queen and the nightmare of Persia today.

I love your stories, Pat—you've had (and are having) a hell of a life.

PI said...

Charlie: it was so very different them. Thank you Charlie.

Scarlet-Blue said...

I didn't know that about Sir John Gielgud. People wouldn't bat an eyelid these days, would they?
...btw, I have tagged you.

PI said...

Scarlet: there has been a complete volte face and things are much more above board now.
I'll be round to see what's in store.

Edelweiss Transplanted said...

Lucky you, PI, to have seen Gielgud in the flesh. Truly one of the most talented actors ever.

And beautiful Soraya -- didn't she have to be divorced by the Shah because she couldn't have children?

Both of them had their tragedies, but what amazing lives!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I never knew that dear John Guilgud was arrested! How horrifying for him. How truly truly terrible! But, as you say, he survived that---AND Beautifully, I might add....
I've never seen this play done on stage....I wish I had. And I love that the version Rattigan really wanted shown, finally was shown.
I also love that you were involved with this particular play in such an intimate way, Pat. I LOVE hearing about your Theatrical Days, my dear.....More, More, More...PLEASE!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Oh, and I promised I would tell you when a NEW post is up...Well, it is, my dear..It Is!

Pat said...

Edelweiss: I also saw him at the Phoenix theatre in Ivanov and at the end of each act my hair stood on end at the incredible force of his understated intensity.
Yes you are right about the divorce because of her infertility. I think they both loved each other but she wa unwilling to share him with a second wife and who can blame her?

Naomi: I think Hollywood made a film of the play with David Niven and Deborah Kerr in one half and Rita Heyworth and Burt Lancaster in the other.
I'll be over soon.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Oh yes...I did see the movie, but I meant I had never actually seen 'the play', on stage. So often the films made---especially in those days----did not stick to the Original Script....So I wish I could see this "on stage". My memeroies of the film are not particularly memorable---perhaps I should rent it and watch it once again---But the cast was certainly not ideal!

Pat said...

Naomi: My memories of the film were not good and I remember Portman complaining that Niven copied his performance to a T. Quite a compliment really - but it is always hard on the actor who has created the part on stage not to be given the film role. I think the film suffered because it is such a quintessentially English play so it didn't cross the Atlantic too well.

muriel said...

Hello Pat,
As a biographer of Margaret Leighton, I was interested in your having seen her"live" in her great success"Separate Tables". What a treat! As I am 45 and French, I was not that lucky. Would you please tell me more about her performance?
Do you know that when her mother saw her in the second part(Sybil), she said: "That is my little Margie , as she really is"!!
Thank you .

Pat said...

Hi Muriel and welcome. I was always a great fan of Margaret. I loved her elegance, her stillness, her aplomb; one felt she would be at ease in any situation. She had these dreamy, slightly squinty eyes - which made her beauty more interesting. It was only when I saw her as Sybil the strange misfit of a repressed spinster that I realised the power of her acting. When she lost it and had one of 'her turns' it was almost too distressing to witness.
Fascinating that her mother would say that.

rashbre said...

Great account. Covers several time spanned events and neatly links them, whilst blending a bracing sherry into the mix.

Pat said...

Rashbre: what a nice appraisal:)

muriel said...

Hello Pat,
Happy to know that Margaret has still a lot of great fans!!
When you speak about "her turns", do you mean the moments when she was flat or "bad" ? Did you notice one moment in particular when you saw her in "Separate Tables"? I agree with you :she seemed to be able to cope with everything, though, in her private and inner life she was far from being as "cool" and "in control" as she wanted to be seen...

muriel said...

Hello Pat,
Happy to find that Margaret still has great fans, and I must say, good for me!!
When you spoke about her "turns", I guess that means when she was "flat" or rather "bad".. Did you notice one such moment when you saw her? Enid bagnold said something in the same way in her memories, about her being afraid of losing her"magic"..

Pat said...

Muriel: I used the word 'turns' to describe what Sibyl's mother (spelling as used in the play)calls 'her states' a sort if hysterical fit. Sibyl was a strange woman of thirty plus, who behaved like a repressed young girl and suffered from 'high suppressed hysteria'.
To me her acting was impeccable and totally believable and one marvelled how such a soigne star could be convincing as the repressed, awkward spinster that Sibyl was.
Do please let me know when your book is available - I'd love to read it. I see from my original script that it was 1954 - a long time ago:)